It’s Christmas Eve. Children are just about popping out of their skins with anticipation of gifts and candy and the prospects of a long period of no school (always my favorite element of the holiday). My aunt would heighten the joyfully anxious wait for THE DAY by happily intoning to us: “HO HO HO” as she still does for my cousins’ children.
My youngest sister began about two weeks prior to Christmas plea-bargaining with my father for a “preview,” otherwise known as an early present. Now my youngest sister was the most persuasive of us when it came to my father so we normally channeled all requests through her. I can’t remember a Christmas where she did not manage to get her preview—a sample of the delights to come on Christmas morning!
Anthropologists have always stressed the importance of gifts. In fact, Levi-Strauss tells us there would be no society or civilization without them. Marcel Mauss, in no way related to Mickey or Minnie, even wrote a book about gifts called The Gift.
Gifts make relationships.
But there are different kinds of gifts. In American society we like our gifts to be equal and immediate. We are completely embarrassed if someone gives us a gift and we don’t have one to return. We are only slightly less embarrassed if our gift to a person is not of equal value!
But the readings for today talk about another kind of gift-giving, imbalanced and delayed. Hardly gifts in our eyes it would seem. Yet imbalance and delay are the nature of the Divine gift.
Imbalanced means the recipient can never return the full value of gift. That’s what the first reading is about. The people of Israel TRY to return the gift of their freedom and election as the chosen people by giving God the grandest temple of all times. Not only does the Lord remind the people what the Lord has done for them but also tells about even more blessings that they will receive.
But the Lord also receives the gift of the temple from the people.
Delayed means that gifts are not given one for one immediately but that exchange is performed at different and sometimes unexpected times. Thus in the Gospel Zechariah, the father of John, prophesizes about his own child who will announce the coming of the Lord and tells us of the blessings we will receive from the Christ Child: light, freedom, mercy, justice peace. There are gifts the world has waited for and indeed we still wait for! But we have tasted them in the past and we anticipate and work for them in for our future.
They sure beat an Easy Bake Oven, Barbie Cell Phone, or even a Harry Potter Action Figure!
Tonight and tomorrow we will be popping out of our skins to receive and to give gifts. I bought a neon elephant for my grand-nephew John! It in no way repays the gift he is to me when he hauls up on my lap with a book for me to read to him or hugs me for no particular reason but it’s a return. It’s also delayed—I live on Omaha and he in New Jersey and I don’t see him too often.
Our best gifts are not the ones where we even up the score. Imbalance and delay are what sews us together socially and spiritually for as we wait for HO HO HO, we remember that the greatest gifts can never be reciprocated and that we are a people in anticipation of the fulfillment of God’s promises, the coming of Christ, remembered at Christmas and anticipated at the end of time!
Gifts keep relationships. Think about what we have received!
Think about what is yet to come!
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