Have you done all your shopping yet? I’ve not even begun. I will soon, but not just yet. I’ve got too much to do.
Gifts of course come in many forms. Not all are wrapped in paper and tied up in ribbons. Some come in other forms, some wrapped in flesh, human flesh. I remember at primary school once being asked what was my favourite Christmas present had been, to which my answer was “Our Natalie”, my youngest sister had just been born a few days before Christmas. Her life has proved to be a wonderful blessing, even if she is a little too well named. Our Natalie never stops nattering. That said she is a gift beyond gifts.
When I look back at my life I have known some wonderful gifts in human form. Some of whom I have known for only a short time and others all my life. I’ve been thinking of these folk quite a lot these last few days. While I may not carry those people with me physically, their love is tied up in my heart. I do not forget these things, in fact in many ways my life is an act of remembrance of the love they gave, and certainly my ministry is.
The conversation brought to mind another gift of a blessing that a dear friend gave me 11 months later, on the day my heart was broken, as I lost the most precious gift that ever entered my life, my friend Claire’s son Ethan, my Immanuel. The one who showed to me that God is indeed with us.
The day Ethan died I was utterly broken. I was alone with nowhere to go and ended up with friends from the Cross Street congregation, three in particular Alan Myerscough, Wynne Semeter and Peter Sampson. John Midgley had already come to the hospital and ministered to us as best he could. I will never forget what John gave that day, even though I have since learnt that he felt he let me down, nothing could be further from the truth. What I remember the most though about that day is a simple bowl of soup that Wynne warmed for me, sat me down and made me eat. It didn’t change anything about the hell I was in but the love warmed me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt God was with me, expressed in human form, incarnated in those around me. I also remember how much others were friends to me in the coming months, particularly my friend Derek.
Christmas is a time of celebration, of family and others coming together once again in love. It is a time when everything is heightened and illuminated. This can be difficult for some people, particularly Christmas Day. For some people who are not feeling so joyous, Christmas can actually increase those feelings of isolation and loss. As we sit round the Christmas dinner table we may notice not so much the ones that are there, but the ones who are not there. Often those we have lost due to death’s dark shadow, but also those who are not there due irreconcilable differences. I notice the empty chairs around my own family’s table. I always have done. I fully feel the joy of the day, but also its sadness.
Yes Christmas can be hard for some people. We need to remember this as we engage in our joy. And if we really want to bring the love at the centre of the season to life, we ought to perhaps think of ways in which we can bring a bit of love into their lives. One simple act of love can change a person’s life for ever. It certainly has mine.
Grief can sting more sharply at this time of the year because such feelings stand in contrast to what is the ideal of this Christmas season, namely, a time of the fullness of the heart, a time when one is united to all that one loves.
Christmas is about the heart, the ties of the heart, the loves of the heart, the dreams of the heart, the yearnings and longings of the heart. At Christmas we are called to concentrate on the heart; we are called to concentrate on what the heart wants, what it needs, and how it calls us to live. This is not easy if your heart is broken by grief.
By the way grief may not be the loss of person to death, it may be the end of a relationship, or the loss of livelihood and or health.
We need to remember this in this season of the heart. Such people need to gift at the heart of this season more than others.
So what can we do?
Well we can give the greatest gift of the season, we can give our heart. How do we do this by giving just a little bit of time and attention to someone who really needs it. In so doing we will truly begin to sanctify this season by giving one another perhaps the greatest present of them all, our true presence. A pearl of great price, a gift beyond material value. The most priceless commodity of them all.
This will be my focus this season, I invite you to come and join with me, in this giving of our true presence, the ultimate present. To open our hearts to those around us. To pay attention to those close at hand. To bring the heart of Christmas alive, to incarnate love in our own lives. To become one another’s Immanuel’s, to show that God is indeed with us.
We no longer have to wish it could be Christmas every day, we can make it Christmas every day. By simply blessing each day with our presence, by giving our whole hearts to those who really need it.