Saturday, 5 December 2015
What can we give?
The early Christian church did not celebrate Christmas as we do today. The tradition of giving Christmas presents is really a modern one. By Victorian times the culture of gift giving and the mythos of Father Christmas, St Nicholas or Santa Claus was beginning to take hold, immortalised in the fiction of Dickens and the like. As the twentieth century moved on into the twenty first this culture developed into mass consumerism. Today it would seem that buying, wrapping and giving gifts has become nothing more than a mechanical chore and one of the worst examples of mass consumerism going. Is this really what Christmas is about? Is this really giving by heart? Is this really the spirit of Christmas?
I certainly do not think so. The spirit of Christmas is found I believe in those simple words from my favourite carol “In the Bleak mid-winter”…
“What shall I give him? Give my heart”
Gordon B Mckeeman once said “Christmas is not so much a matter of explanation and interpretation as it is a mood and a feeling. It is a time in the cycle of the year set apart by hope and fellowship and generosity. Christmas is the season of the heart.”
This is the religion, the spirit that can still be discovered beneath the ribbons and the wrapping paper. This is the spirit that can once again come alive if we engage in the giving and receiving of gifts and not merely presents. This is one way in which we can truly begin to become a gift to the world.
One thing that I believe is a worthwhile venture to do at this time of year is to think of and perhaps even make a list of the nicest gifts we have received. Not just Christmas gifts though, but also those we have received throughout our lives too. Now these could be actual presents, or they could be loving gestures or kindly acts. I will never forget a bowl of soup that Wynne Semester made for me when I was a completely broken man after Ethan had been killed some ten years ago now. She sat me down in the kitchen at Oldham Unitarian Chapel and just simply warmed up the soup and fed me while my heart broke. This simple act of love and countless others helped heal me in my utter despair; they helped to relight the fire of love and hope in me, in my darkest hour. I can name a 1001 or more times when others have done similar things. I have been and will continue to make a list of the many gifts I have been given throughout my life. This fills my heart with gratitude as I think of ways in which I can begin to give back what has been so freely given to me.
Why not give this a go. Spend some time in this Advent season compiling a list of all that has been given to you, freely, from the hearts of others and perhaps think of ways in which you too can give back from your heart. You never know, in so doing you may just be reigniting a fire that has gone out in someone’s heart.
There is another problem too in using this method of coercion. Once we see the lie in this Christmas manipulation we equate all life in the same way. I think that one of the biggest problems when it comes to question re faith etc is that people equate God with Father Christmas. The God I have come to know is nothing like Father Christmas or anything else for that matter. God is not some kind of super being handing out favours or not willy nilly. God is no thing at all. God is beyond being.
When I really think of the gifts I have been given the greatest is of course life itself. This is of course the ultimate free gift. The ultimate unearned grace. As the beautiful hymn goes “Life is the greatest gift of all the riches on this earth; life and its creatures, great and small, of high and lowly birth. So treasure it and measure it with deeds of shining worth.”
Well truth be told I can’t claim to have always treasured and measured it with deeds of shining worth. I haven’t always been grateful for all that I have been freely given, beginning with life itself. How many of us can truly say that they have?
“Gratitude is not a passive response to something given to us, gratitude is being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not something that is shown after the event, it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life. Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is privilege, that we are part of something, rather than nothing…Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort, this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative means we are simply not paying attention.”