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Gift Giving 101

We are familiar with the gifts of the wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh. And since this feast is part of the Christmas season, we reflect on giving gifts to one another. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Scientism said that she did not believe in giving material gifts for Christmas, she rather meditated on truth and purity until her friends were the better for it. G. K. Chesterton the Catholic British thinker said that Ms. Eddy missed the whole point of the feast. The point of the incarnation was to embody divine love. As the prologue of John's Gospel states: "And he pitched his tent and dwelled among us".

Gift giving is the way to make the invisible visible, the way to make what is hidden in the heart open and manifest. Gifts are ways to embody and communicate our spirit to someone about whom we care. To let you know how I feel. When the gift symbolizes a flow of love it becomes the perfect gift, no matter what the material object may be. It is true when it comes to gift giving; it is the thought that that counts.

The gifts of the wise men show that they know who the child is. Gold, symbol of his humanity, frankincense his divinity, and myrrh indicating that they know his death will be an act of sacrificial love. The magi's gifts also express what is in their own hearts: Gold symbolizing virtue, frankincense prayerfulness and myrrh symbolizing their own willingness to sacrifice. It is from their hearts to that of Christ- the perfect gift is the one that carries one person into another – and there is deeper union. The special gifts are always the ones where knowing and being known, loving and being loved were going on. True love doesn't happen without true knowledge.

Gift giving runs amok when the object, the gift, is valued or disvalued in terms of quality and expense. When the focus is on the gift above all else, then things go askew. If it costs a lot, it is a good gift; if it is inexpensive it is a poor gift. In this case we don't so much receive the gifts as rate them. And then we draw an inference on how the giver feels about us. Expensive= he likes me, inexpensive= he doesn't care. (I will make a confession here, maybe I'm the only one who does this: I often don't read the card with the gift, either what is printed or written in it, rather I rip it open to see what's inside, and I don't mean the verses.)

A song and a story give us insight into this dynamic. The Little drummer boy is poor, so he plays his drum, rump pa pump um, and coaxes a smile from the child Jesus- a heart to heart exchange. Or in O. Henry's short story, the "Gift of the Magi" about a married couple Jim and Della, who are poor but each has a prized possession. Della has long and beautiful hair and Jim has the watch. As Christmas nears Della cuts her hair, sells it and buys Jim a platinum fob chain for his watch. When she gives it to him, Jim reveals that he has sold his watch to buy her a set of pure tortoise shell combs for her hair. O. Henry ends his story with this line: "Of all who give and receive gifts, such as these are the wisest." They are wise because even though their gifts are useless, they strengthen their relationship, assuring them that they know and are known, love and are loved.

What about the gift God has given us: His Son. He didn't come wrapped but there are no strings attached. It was sent straight from God's heart to ours: this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. And what of our gift to God? What could I possibly give God in return for what God has given me? Remember God is love; God is a passionate, jealous lover. I give my heart. A heart that is poor, sinful and weak. A heart, at the same time, that is committed and consecrated. I close with the prayer of Mother Teresa: Mary, Mother of Jesus, give me your heart, so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate, so full of love and humility, that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of life, love him as you loved him, and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the Poorest of the poor. Amen.

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