When we were boys, my two brothers and I always got up early on Christmas to open presents. We expected toys! Grandma Bessie didn’t understand this: underwear! One year a belt! Never toys or anything cool. She just didn’t get it, I thought. Christmas was mainly about the presents I was getting.
Things changed when I was a junior in high school, age 16: my family had a very rough Christmas. My father was very ill with Hepatitis and was in the hospital. My dad was a doctor and while we were not rich, we always were comfortable. But doctors don’t get paid if they don’t work, and he was in the hospital a long time. From something my mother said, I realized that money was very tight. And I realized I was the only one who had a job, a little part-time gig in the down drugstore, so I took the money I had saved, about $150, and made a determined effort to buy nice gifts for my family: mother, father, older brother in college, and younger brother in grade school. I even realized we did not have a Christmas tree, so on the day before Christmas I stopped by a lot and bought one. At age 16 it was one of the best Christmases I have ever had.
I had moved from the joy of getting, to a much greater joy: giving. Perhaps I understood a tiny bit of being godlike, the joy that God felt when he gave us his Son. Perhaps I had begun to know that no one was rejoicing more on the first Christmas than God the Father.
Now I have over 60 Christmases under my belt. I enjoy getting gifts from friends and loved ones. I enjoy giving gifts to friends and loved ones. But there is another stage. The families of guys like me will usually say, “He is hard to buy for! I never know what to get him!” For years when I was asked what I wanted for Christmas, I would say something like, “I just want your love.” But that missed the point. I was denying others the joy of giving. I had not learned how to receive.
The angels who greeted the shepherds gave glory to God. And God received their praise. Not because God’s ego needed a boost, but because God knew they needed to give and they needed him to received their gift.
And perhaps that is something about Christmas we miss. We are very human when our concern is getting gifts for ourselves. We are most human when we are disappointed in our gifts. But when we give and when we gratefully receive from others, we are more like God.
Remember Mary, when confronted with the news that she would become pregnant although a virgin took a minute to process. But then she said:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.
She received the greatest gift of all, a gift that blessed us today, with humility and grace. No wonder we love her so much.