Earlier this week Leah Egan, the Kindermusik instructor who teaches early childhood music classes here on Wednesday mornings, shared with me that her children will be home the full week before and after Christmas this year. She’s looking forward to that special time with her family – but I could see hints of panic in her eyes. “The week before Christmas?” I asked. “Won’t they be a bit squirrely by then?” She nodded her confirmation, “a whole week of looking at the presents under the tree that they have to wait to open.”
I remember those childhood days myself, days and nights of lifting the gifts and trying to guess what hid underneath the wrapping. Christmas carols sang their ubiquitous philosophy from every hidden speaker in cars and grocery stores and shopping malls, “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good… so be good for goodness’ sake!”
It wasn’t long before I realized that the size and number of my gifts had less to do with how good I’d been and more with the family’s budget. I could usually gauge what kind of Christmas to prepare myself for by how much attention (or lack thereof) my parents could muster for my guided tours of the toy section of our dog-eared copy of the annual JC Penny’s Christmas catalogue.
Still, in the quiet corners of my heart I do think I held on to the idea that the gifts I received represented some form of reward from my parents for good behavior, evidence of their love. Although I knew it was probably highly unlikely that they would spring for the jumbo Millenium Falcon, scaled to fit my Star Wars action figures, I held on to hope that if I was just good enough, my parents would find a way.
As our national economy continues its depressed lope toward the end of the year, many of us are celebrating the holidays in a more restrained fashion that we might be used to. Some of us continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment. New home construction in our neighborhood has slowed down, home sales have come to a halt, and plenty of folk are upside down in their mortgages. Retirements have been put on hold as pension funds have lost their value or disappeared. Although we may know that, on an individual level, very little of this is our own fault, it’s hard to feel like we’re not being punished. We experience the present economy like a child finding coal in her stocking on Christmas morning.
Hear then the Good News once again this Christmas season: in Christ Jesus, God gives us a gift beyond comparison, a priceless treasure – not because of how we have behaved, but because of who we belong to.
In Jesus of Nazareth God takes on human flesh and we assume Christ’s divinity. Heaven and nature sing. Together we become more than we have ever been alone, and the world is set free to love and be loved unconditionally. Wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, or wrapped up in your neighbor and waiting at the unemployment office, or wrapped up in the business of the secular holidays and standing in a checkout line – God arrives for us as one of us.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,