Over time I’ve come to learn (and believe) that entitlement, like atrophy, has a way of setting in when our motions of joy and thankfulness become irregular. As a child, I hate to say, there was no limit to my wants. Sadly, I probably could have supplicated Santa into submission with everything I wanted. I want this…I want that…I want…I want…I want… For longer than I’d like to admit, this was my way of thinking—the world revolved around me, or so I thought. (I say this not to point the finger at my parents, but rather naming my own adolescent attitude for what it was.) It took moving away, engaging with others who did not share my view of me being the center of everything, and having my vision reoriented towards the importance of why instead of how much that I began to see Christmas in a different light. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy receiving things as much as the next person. I’m no more immune to covetousness than anyone else. These days, as I look back into the blurry history of Christmases past, I’m beginning to see more clearly other, unrecognized gifts that went unacknowledged amidst my self-consumption in opening this and acquiring that. So much I failed to see—right before my very eyes. Gifts I missed, though priceless still more valuable than anything I ever got. As I come to this now from the other side—a parent of two young children, whom I want to give the world—I can’t help but think (ashamed) of the way I was, wonder what I should do for them (not a solicitation for advice), and hope that they never get to the place I resided in for far too long.
As I sit here in my office—less than a week out from Christmas—I’m reminded of a handful of people for whom I still need to shop. Each year I swear I’ll be better about not procrastinating on getting gifts for others, but it never fails how the calendar constantly gets away from me. Yet, in spite of the temptation to wander into any number of department stores or mindlessly search online through Amazon for the perfect something, I know those are really the lesser of the gifts shared this season. It’s all too easy to overlook and disregard the ones that aren’t wrapped in bright paper, fluffy bows, and tagged for me, me, me. I need to ask myself: What are those unrecognizable gifts that deserve a word of acknowledgment, thanks and praise? The gracious generosity of countless individuals around my family and I. Joy in my relationships and work. Basic necessities I don’t have to question. The freedom to be me, even if a festive jacket offends a few people on Sunday 😉 Being able to trust that I am heard and held up by others as valuable within our shared community. But honestly, when I think about these unrecognizable gifts they each bear familiar faces. A colleague, without whom, nearly nothing I do would be possible. A friend who has stood beside me from afar through ups and downs, twists and turns, many moves and endless questions. A spouse whose patience and love continue to surprise me, like the first blossoms of Springtime. A relative whom I struggle with, and yet cannot imagine not having in my life. These are but a few of the many gifts that can be missed when my sight is misplaced. What, or who, are the gifts in your life that perhaps have gone unrecognized recently? A relationship that has ceased, yet still bears fruit in unforeseeable ways? An unexpected act of kindness that caught you completely off guard? The laughter of a conversation that warmed your heart for days afterwards? A person whom you see weekly, whose care and diligence to detail actually serve as an unrealized comfort in your daily life? So many gifts stand right before our faces, and somehow we miss them for what they truly are for us.
The baby born to Mary is no less an unrecognized gift for us. Yes, right now we sing in wonder: What child is this? The other eleven months of the year, however—when we’re not running as hastily the rat race of consumerist cheerfulness (or so we presume)—do we see him for who he is and what he does? Are we truly aware of the gifts the Incarnate One so freely gives to us? Do our lives mirror that which we receive in this Christ child come among us? I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest: no, not always. All too often these gifts of God go unrecognized in my sight. Still they’re there. The grace, love, and forgiveness. In spite of my many times not seeing or acknowledging them for what they are, it’s all always been present from the beginning and remains irregardless. My inability (dare I say, unwillingness) to recognize them right before my face neither voids nor forfeits these gifts. They are the new reality that permeates outward from the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. These gifts exist in plain sight. Not dependent upon my words, actions, or lack thereof. Love. Peace. Hope. Joy. These words we assemble this time each year as interchangeable parts of our holiday decorations, are more than just blue banners hanging from an Advent wreath. They are gifts given to us daily. Do you see them active in and around your life? How might you acknowledge them, giving thanks and praise for these (among other) unrecognized gifts? As we enter into Christmas this next week, may we look with fresh eyes to see— beyond all the pretty presents—the many gifts around us. May we give thanks to God for them, sharing our appreciation even with these gifts themselves. God blesses us with far more than we will ever fully know—not just in possessions, but also our relationships. I guess what I’m saying is I want (cause there’s always another to be had) you to see and know you are blessed. Thanks be to God for the Christ child and the countless other unrecognized gifts he gives to us!
– Pastor Andrew