Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is it in Giving that We Receive?

This Advent season was wonderful for me. It was minimally stressful and I managed to make time to wait expectantly for Jesus' birth. I broadened my creative horizons with a couple of exceptional Christmas choral concerts (besides the usual seasonal music at Sunday services) and also considered some Advent poetry. Familial get-togethers and nurtured relationships were all overwhelmingly positive and fulfilling. It is a time of year like no other for getting together with loved ones. But, I struggled with the commercial aspect of Christmas much more this year than ever before. I am not sure why. (In fact, I even had trouble expressing myself evenly for this blog entry.)
I am sure it says something about me, but I have never been very good with gifts – neither giving nor receiving. I am getting better though. I've learned to accept help and love much more readily in the past year. But this season, the consumerism associated with Christmas nearly overwhelmed the many magnificent aspects of the season for me.
I can accept that so much of people's attention and discussion focuses on sales, stores and presents. Ultimately, what threatens to get lost in the shopping is the very reason for the holiday, God's gift to us.
I do recognize that gifts bring joy to many. Still, it seems ironic that ubiquitous consumerism commemorates the humble birth of a poor man who spoke out consistently against economic injustice. The monetary costs of giving challenge those with little, and seem to encourage the haves to Lexus levels of lavishness. The material waste undermines our responsible stewardship of the Earth God gave us. Related to that is the question of how much is enough. Our culture rarely bothers to ask that question; more is always better. Finally, more things imply more clutter (a personal peeve of a former Manhattan studio dweller) which undermines my mental and spiritual clarity. I am not advocating asceticism, but there may be something to a simpler life. Or maybe I am expecting meaning where there isn't any.
We struggle to get the "perfect gift" for our spouses, mothers, sibling and/or friends - a thoughtful something that might say "I love you". I must admit that (much to the chagrin of my family) I struggle with expressing myself that way. Love is, after all, addressing the needs of another. It might be that a trip to Brookstone might be just the ticket. Often, though, our loved ones have told us exactly what they want from us. A gift that can't go on a credit card, is the more difficult to give. Given the choice between stuff and love, genuine love asks much more of us. And yet it is also the much more natural and life-affirming way.

So, we come back to the greatest gift that is the pretext for all of the presents at Christmastime. The Midnight Mass sermon at the Catholic Church in town asked whether - beyond the fact that God is with us, are we ready to be with him? I have experienced the wonderful gift of God's presence in my life as I have faced my most difficult trials. Traveling with him is the greater challenge. That is where the love lies. What more perfect gift to everyone in our lives than to follow his way and walk with him?

I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2010!

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