As we approach this most blessed of seasons, we must first navigate the frenzy and flurry of festivity. We will attend parties, drinks, family gatherings, the local shopping centres, all to the tune of Christmas carols and seasonal favourites humming in the background, a general hubbub of humanity and a tinkling at the tills. We will have lists of things to buy, gifts to give, stocking fillers, just-in-case small presents, the big-ticket item dreamed of or saved for, the voucher for teenagers who are very choosy, the toys for children and the books for adults.
I am not hard to please. A book voucher does it every time so I can dip into a popular beach read or follow my own predilections that may mean a little more searching on the shelves. A make-up voucher is useful and I have a hankering for Lush bath bombs. It is nice to be given these little gifts as tokens of love and affection, but my love and affection is not predicated on what I do or don’t receive.
Recently, I watched an Oprah Winfrey talk where she told the story of her Christmas as a 12-year-old. Growing up poor in Chicago, her mother had told her that they would not be having Christmas that year.
Christmas was cancelled. They did not have enough money to buy presents, put up lights, dine on fancy food. After a Christmas day bereft of all the seasonal trimmings, that evening three nuns came around with a doll, a food hamper and changed the colour of that day… and the course of Oprah’s life. In reflecting on this formative episode, Oprah recognised the energy of the Spirit at work in the way these good women had remembered her family and how they were struggling. More than what they were given, it was the gift of acknowledgement that remained with her. This small family had been noticed. These sisters gave the gift of themselves in charity, time, and energy – gifts of the Spirit attendant on the service to others in need.
Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit,
and there are varieties of services but the same Lord,
and there are varieties of activities,
but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom and
to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
to another the working of powerful deeds, to another prophecy,
to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues,
to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are activated by one and the same Spirit,
who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
How do we give the gift of our lives to others?
John Lennon’s lyrics And so this is Christmas and what have you done? gives us pause to consider how we have used the gifts we have been God-given over the last year. Have we squandered them or shared them? Have we done what we could where we are? Have we put time or energy into projects that go beyond the self, projects that build and strengthen community, projects that make life sparkle, projects that ask something of us?
The quote from Corinthians reminds us that we all have special gifts and that their manifestation is the Spirit alive in community. We are allotted that gift to do something with it. This might be a gift of patience, encouragement or solidarity; it might be the gift of organisation, counselling or outreach. Its manifestation may be public, such as when we donate to Vinnies. Or it may be private in the time and care spent with a person who is unwell and needs support. It might be the gift of networking or advocacy or fundraising for a good cause. It might be the gift of gentle listening and the quiet comfort and companionship of time spent where needed. Perhaps it is gift of cooking for others. It may well be the gift of noticing where the gaps are and doing something about it.
When we choose to use and share our gifts, we are revealing God to others; we are building the kingdom in our community (via the kin-dom of relationship) making it known that God’s love is all around.
Our gifts of self are everyday miracles that bloom in the giving.
As we close the year gently and thank God for all that has been, we acknowledge the gift of the Nativity and the time we have to ponder the blessings of the birth of the Christ child. We imaginatively join the three kings with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We bow our heads and pray in gratitude and wonderment. We find that still point in a turning world where peace and goodwill really can come true in the hearth and home, and then ripple out more widely into community.
As we look ahead to the gift of the New Year, its promise and invitation, perhaps we can think of new ways to share the gift of self with others. Imagine if one of our resolutions was to recreate the gift of self, to refresh and enlarge our giving to others, to walk in the energy of the Spirit, as alive today as it was when Paul wrote to the people of Corinth.
May you unwrap the gift of yourself and receive the gift of others with joy, as we hold Bethlehem in our hearts all the way through 2023.
Photos from Adobe Stock