Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 17, 2001
Is there a spirituality of gift-giving?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Shopping and gift-giving seem to have become an obsession with people. Is there any way that these can become part of our spiritual experience of Christmas?
Yes, we begin to wonder when we see the packed malls at this time of year. Some people tell me they buy gifts all year whenever something is on sale. However, sometimes, they have no idea to whom they will give a particular gift so that it may turn out to be unsuitable. Or they have to go out anyway to buy more gifts.
Of course, after Christmas, people are lined up returning gifts. The shopper is all stressed out from the shopping and the recipients are not too happy with the gift. But does it have to be that way?
Through all this hype and commercialism, gift-giving can convey the Christian message as we reflect on God's gift to us. First and foremost is God's gift of creation: the earth and all that is in it, especially life itself and the sustenance that the earth gives us.
The psalmist proclaims: "How manifold are your works, O Lord. In wisdom you have wrought them all: (Psalm 104:24). God's special gift to the Israelites was the law which was a participation in God's wisdom: "I give you the statutes and decrees. . . . Observe them carefully, for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations" (Deuteronomy 4:6-7).
And of course, we have been given the incomparable gift of Jesus Christ. Christmas celebrates this very physical, visible, touchable event: the birth of a human baby who is also God. Christ became human to show us how to live a fully human life and how to love God with human love.
So, it's appropriate that we celebrate this great gift on a human and material level but we must not let the commercialism obstruct its meaning.
The shepherds had angels and the wise men had a star to open their eyes to the great event that was occurring. We don't have angels or a star but we do have Christmas lights, decorations and music a month ahead of time to alert us to the great gift that God has given and is giving us.
Let us open our minds and our hearts to this outward, physical demonstration as it can become for us a religious symbol if we want to enter fully into the physical, earthly domain as Christ did. Gift-giving is a symbol of selflessness and Christmas is the only time of year that society as a whole publicly acknowledges that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
As the shepherds and wise men journeyed toward the newborn infant so during the four weeks of Advent, we journey to God in our hearts by reflecting on God's promises in Scripture. Advent gives us the opportunity to gain new insights and new energy to continue to grow daily into a new awareness of Jesus who is with us always.
Paul says: "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing symbol" (1 Corinthians 13:1). Paul is referring to a spiritual, unconditional love that expects nothing in return.
Luke tells us: "Give and there will be gifts for you; a full measure pressed down, shaken together and running over" (Luke 6:38). However, our motive for giving cannot be just to receive, as that would be close to bribing. Gift giving must not be a way of bribing our children to be good or our spouses into believing we love them even though we hardly give them the time of day.
Giving in the Christian sense means giving of our selves and of our time, motivated by love. Many people give admirably of themselves to the poor at Christmas.
But we need to take a good look at our everyday practices, too. Do we stop to listen to others or do we rush past situations that call for listening? Do we lend a hand to those in need?
Even a smile or an encouraging word could raise the spirits of those who are depressed or lonely or simply worn out. These are lasting gifts and gifts in the truest sense that cost nothing.
Christmas gift giving shows gratitude to God when it comes from love which is of God. The wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, gifts which had an important material value in the culture of that time. But they were also symbolic of who Jesus is.
We must remember that our gifts, as we wrap them with the fruits of our Advent reflections, are symbols of what is in our hearts towards God and the recipients of our gifts.
Are we wearing ourselves out with Christmas shopping? Or do we carefully and thoughtfully select gifts, fewer in number perhaps but more worthwhile because of the love we put into them? Do we make time to create a gift for a particular individual? Do we include the needy in our gift giving and teach our children to do so?
Advent's hope and trust in God can transform our Christmas presents into our presence to others. And they can bring God's presence into our lives and into the lives of those to whom we give.
The celebration of Advent and Christmas teach us the way, as Scrooge says in A Christmas Carol: "to honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year."