Receiving the magical, miraculous gifts of Christmas
By David Gibson
Catholic News Service
Is there something magical in Christmas gifts? Children think so.
As if struck by a holiday contagion, children hunt feverishly, furtively among the packages under the Christmas tree during the last days before the big day, hoping to learn precisely what magic awaits them there.
But what adults learned over time and children have yet to discover is that the most magical gifts on Christmas are not hidden under the tree.
Consider the 4-year-old’s Christmas gift, finely crafted for Mom or Dad under a preschool teacher’s watchful eye. Parents celebrate these gifts excitedly. True, the parents are happy at their child’s increased ability to cut out and glue rough drawings onto colorful construction paper. But isn’t it less the craft and far more the child that the parents celebrate when the gift is presented?
The child is the true gift here. And as Pope Francis might put it, the love between these parents and their child creates music in their home.
It is precisely this kind of music that households everywhere hope to play loudly on Christmas. They have the pope’s assurance that this music mixes well with home-based fun.
A family’s life together is filled with events of all kinds, Pope Francis observed when he spoke in October to an international pilgrimage of families. But he said that “if love is missing” in a family, joy is missing too, and “nothing is fun.”
For him, love is a gift, one to give and receive.
Pope Francis speaks of home life often. His thoughts on gifts and where to find them are noteworthy, too.
He is convinced that gifts await us in others. In a recent interview published in major Jesuit publications, he called attention to “what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us.”
Both home life and gifts were on the pope’s mind last May when he visited the Casa Dono di Maria soup kitchen and women’s shelter inside the Vatican walls. The Missionaries of Charity, founded by Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, run the shelter.
As a home, the shelter itself is a gift, Pope Francis said. Calling it a home means it is a place of “warmth, affection” -- the kind of “love that can be felt in a family.”
A home is a crucial place where gifts are given and received, the pope made clear. For him, a home is “where life grows and can be fulfilled because it is a place in which every person learns to receive love and to give love.”
Pope Francis then affirmed that all the people encountered inside the homeless shelter are a “mutual gift” for each other.
First, there are the gifts of “hospitality, material and spiritual sustenance” given by those who work there, he observed. As a home, he said, the shelter is “a ‘school’ of charity, which instructs me to go encounter every person, not for profit but for love.”
Those working in the shelter are not its only gift givers, however. To locate all the gifts hidden there, it is essential to look to its homeless and hungry guests. To them, Pope Francis said:
“You are also a gift for this home and for the church. You tell us that to love God and neighbor is not something abstract, but profoundly concrete. It means seeing in every person the face of the Lord to be served. ... You are, dear brothers and sisters, the face of Jesus.”
In this home, this shelter, “one tries to love one’s neighbor, but also to allow oneself to be loved by one’s neighbor,” he said. Those “two attitudes,” he insisted, “go together.”
“The music ... of this home is love,” said Pope Francis.
His reflections on the exchange of gifts in a homeless shelter are food for thought at Christmas. Where will gifts for you or me be found this Christmas?
One thing is certain: You can take the Christmas out of gift giving, but you cannot take the gift giving out of Christmas!
I will enjoy gifts that come wrapped in colorful packages. And when I open something handmade for me by a grandchild, I will relish the gift while celebrating the giver far more.
Truth be told, however, to discover some of the finest gifts of Christmas, it is essential to do what the shepherds did the night Jesus was born: Be watchful.
The watchful shepherds were fearful when “the angel of the Lord appeared to them” (Lk 2:9-10). But soon, upon arriving in Bethlehem, their fears dissipated, replaced by excited joy.
It is a great gift when someone eases our fears or clears a space for hope.
Something as small as the smile on the right person’s face can be an amazing gift on Christmas. Someone else’s announced plan to make important, needed life changes might be received not as a magical gift, but a miraculous one.
So be watchful on Christmas. Be on the lookout for “what the Spirit has sown” in others as a gift for you.
Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editorial staff for 37 years.