We wrap our gifts to heighten the expectation, but also to hide the poverty of the attempt at saying such dramatically human sounds, such as, “I know you and love all that I know and will know.” Giving gifts to those we love deeply is such an embarrassing thing. In this way, giving is better than receiving. To receive might be humbling, but to not be able to speak appropriately the intimate truth can shame the poor giver.
Shame, humiliation, embarrassment, are put aside by the Giver Who says it all and means it all. There was a stable, poor, empty, available. The Gift was sent not to shame or embarrass, but to claim the poverty of the human stable as home. The Gift was wrapped in the flesh He came to embrace. The poverty of the stable remains; it is ours. God’s love for us is still too much for words, so God keeps sending the same gift, not each year, but each now of our lives. We do get tempted to avoid the messiness of the stable, but that is the precise spot where our rebirth takes place. To avoid Christ’s birth in our personal stables is a “chris-miss”, but the Giver never stops giving the shameless love which instead of embarrassing the Giver, ennobles and reveals that Love.
In our northern culture, wherein it is colder and the trees and bushes lie dormant until the warmth of the sun brings them back to life, we bring trees right into our homes. They have needles and are green. We decorate their boughs with round ornaments of various colors and little bulbs of light also of differing colors. The entering of the tree begets some temporary rearranging of the furniture. This can seem a most strange Christmas tradition; it is, but quite a powerful symbol of what we are recalling and reenacting.
By nature, such a big tree does not belong in a house; it is foreign and an intruder. We drag it in to stand as a sacrament of sorts. Jesus, divinity, a seeming foreign presence, makes a silent intrusion and immediately begins rearranging human furniture. The stable had to be arranged for a birth. The shepherds had their nightly-watch interrupted and the lives of Joseph and Mary were being intruded upon daily and nightly.
That which was distant and outside, came intimately close and the strange “pitched His tent among us.”
These ornaments and lights play their parts in God’s Christmas story. In the pre-Christian days, a tree was decorated with real fruit foretelling the fruitfulness which would be produced as a result of the sun’s returning at the winter solstice. The sun was alive and so would the crops come alive and so would the people stay alive. The fruited tree became a promise and life was enriched again.
The ornaments on our trees are a promise of the fruitfulness which the Tree of God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come to produce in those who are suspended in Him. He came that we might have life and how we live those lives is the brightness and roundness and oddness of His life within us. We are the brightness in our unique ways foretelling to “the people who walked in darkness,” that the “great Light” is still shining. The “Light” is come to those in “gloom” and we, looking at those many bulbs on our tree, say, “yes! that’s me right there. That’s what I want to be and do.”
The gifts, the tree, the decorations make Christ’s Mass a celebration, not just for children any more. It is way too much for words so we have to have some visual and touchable ways each year to take it all in. That is what Mary did, took it all in. That’s what the stable did, took it all in. We take in what we can this day, because the Giver of This Gift, keeps on giving. Though Christmas comes, but once a year, Christ has come to stay and we as gifts and ornaments and lights are the fruitfulness of His promise.
“A light will shine on us this day, the
Lord is born for us- He shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of
peace, Father of the world to come’; and His kingship will
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