I never know what God is going to give me for Christmas.
This may seem like an odd thing for a Christian to say. After all, doesn’t He always give me the same thing – Himself, present in the Word made flesh?
Indeed. But He is also full of surprises. While sometimes surprises are fun and exciting, sometimes they are not. Sometimes they are confusing, even painful.
But God’s surprises are always good, even when they aren’t what I wanted and feel most unwelcome when they appear.
As I reflected on this matter last night, I found myself being reminded of so many gifts given in past years – some I had forgotten and was delighted to rediscover. Others have been fondly cherished through the years.
Going back some 30+ years, I will always treasure that one Christmas where I had a bad upper respiratory infection. My parents lived in Buffalo, NY and I in Cleveland. I wasn’t sure I was well enough to make the drive but God made the decision for me.
The snowfall was so heavy that they closed the roads between our two cities. And so I was home alone with the stillness, broken only by my coughing and the unexpected visit of a friend.
I was completely free of commercial Christmas and I could rest with the newborn Christ. I would never have asked for this gift but it was one of my favorites of all times.
Then there was the Christmas just 5 years ago… the first since my father had passed and I found my mother terribly sick with the flu. (Before I leave Minnesota). I had never seen her so debilitated. At her age, I did not know if she would live through it. Rather than go to my family’s gathering, I sat home with her. She slept and slept, waking for short intervals – until it hit her intestines and drained her further.
Never would I have asked for this. Yet it was a gift. There was a peacefulness in being her child, of staying by her even though I could do nothing to help her but be there. In some way I cannot explain, it was like being at the first Christmas.
Of course, not all of God’s Christmas presents involve someone getting sick. There was the year He gave me the poem, “I am the hay”, which became one of my favorites (When heaven came to earth). And there were a couple of years that He surprised me with stories. Only my most hardy of my readers will remember “The little hibiscus” (recording). Just last night, I reread The Infant and was deeply touched.
I had completely forgotten the precious gift He gave me on Christmas Eve, 2016 (The only gift) when He instructed me to turn off my computer and “Just become small…” Could He ever give me anything better than that?
Christmas, 2019, is but half over. Already I’ve been gifted: yesterday, by being present to encourage my mother to attempt the physical therapy that so frightens her since she fell and broke her arm last week; today, with a glorious liturgy punctuated with traditional English and African hymns.
Can there be still more? Like a child hopefully searching under the tree for yet one more present, I keep my eyes and heart open – just in case.
For the best gift is the one He is giving me right now – the present where I meet Him, whether in sickness or health, in sorrow or in joy. Every moment, every time, every place – it is all love…