By Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt
One of my favourite Christmas hymns is a thoughtful and meditative reflection combining the wintry experience of the season known by the poet Christina Rossetti, with her devotional approach to being present at the stable scene as a wondering observer.
“What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him –
Give my heart.
(The Book of Common Praise – Hymn 691)
In a world where many would affirm the truth of that historic adage, “whoever dies with the most toys wins“, Rossetti’s words guide us along a different way of thinking. We do not need to have an answer for those who prior to Thanksgiving are asking, “Are you ready for Christmas?“ We do not need to succumb to the pressure of having a response for those who ask, ‘Have you done all your Christmas shopping ?”, when the calendar page has not yet been flipped to November.
Perhaps, before we try to find a good answer to the well-meaning question, “What would you like for Christmas?“, we might simply pause for a moment, and reflect on what we already have. What is the most precious “thing” that you possess? How would your life be different if you did not have it anymore?
The search for the special gift for the special someone we think of becomes a seasonal adventure for some, a period of distressing burden for others. Self-imposed pressure to be able to offer that perfect trinket, that costly item, that tangible expression of our love and affection may cause emotional distress if we feel that we have not succeeded in our mission.
As people of faith, the reality of the Christmas season is not something that is shaped by the gift exchanges between family and friends. That is one of the joys of the season, but it is not at the core of the moment. The gift of the tangible expression of Divine Love personified in a little baby named Jesus is at the centre of the Christmas story.
On a personal level, as I try to divest myself of the “stuff” which I have accumulated over the years, being gifted with more “stuff”, does not rank high on my list of priorities. Instead, I have been spending time thinking about how gifts that I have received recently have shaped my life. The gifts that I am grateful for are unique, precious and life – changing.
Recently I have tried to smile as I wonder out loud, “I wonder what the medical profession was doing prior to my retirement?” The simple fact of the matter is that without surgical procedures to repair torn retinas in both my eyes, cataracts in both eyes and two new hips, living my life, at this moment in time, would be radically different. You may be able to understand why I am grateful for the gifted surgeons, nurses and care givers who have shared my recent journey through life. There is much for which I am thankful.
Yet as much as this is a personal expression of thankfulness, I have also had a growing awareness that there are Canadians who do not have fresh water to drink each day. There are individuals for whom injustice being experienced in many ways, is a daily feature of their lives. The plea for time to be spent addressing peace and reconciliation is an ongoing petition that demands a response. This abbreviated list of priorities is not something that may be satiated by throwing “stuff” in the general direction of these items in the hope that something will stick.
What do these last paragraphs have to do with the Christmas season? I suggest that in the midst of life we need to pause and be grateful for the many blessings that have been given to us. As we experience the blessing of the Christmas season we need to reflect on what our part and role is as we witness Divine Love being gifted into the world. We need to look around us and contrast what we define as our own needs experienced from the perspective of abundance, with a list of the needs of others which is offered from the perspective of bare necessity.
“What can I give Him…..?” Once we give our heart to our Lord, then we will be able to see more clearly where the God given talents and blessings which have been given to each one of us in our own lives, will be able to be used to God’s glory and make a difference in God’s World.
This Christmas Season I invite you to be thankful and to be generous.
Rev. Canon Christopher B. J. Pratt has retired from full time parish ministry, but continues to offer priestly ministry in the Diocese of Huron.