Reflections on Life
By Melvin Arrington
Gift giving and the Christmas season go together like trees and decorations. It’s hard to think of one without the other. Adults understand this, but children usually have a different perspective.
When I was a little boy, Christmas to me was all about getting gifts rather than giving them. What was the best present you received as a child? I can still remember a few of mine. When I was in second grade my parents gave me a little robot. It was only about a foot tall, but it was simply the finest Christmas toy ever because it would come alive when I moved it forward and backward by remote control! Another year my favorite present was an illustrated copy of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, a book I still have on my shelf after all these years.
When I was around ten my favorite was a transistor radio. That little Zenith model really opened up the world to me. It wasn’t even necessary to stay home to listen to it. I could take it with me practically anywhere and listen to ball games and all the wonderful music of that era. To my young, immature way of thinking that was the greatest present ever.
But as I grew older those childhood attachments gradually became less significant as the things that really matter began to occupy more of my time and thoughts. Eventually, I came to realize that residents of Western democracies have been endowed with individual God-given liberties that oppressed and/or poverty-stricken peoples around the world do not have. How often do Americans take for granted clean air and water, abundant food, warm clothing, comfortable housing, good health and loving family members? And what a wonderful blessing to have children and grandchildren! Of course, not everyone in our country enjoys these benefits, but a lot of us do, and we should take the time to acknowledge these things and give thanks for them. And most of all we should be grateful for the gift of life itself.
But rather than focus on things received, our thoughts should concentrate on giving during this holy season. This means not only material gifts but monetary ones as well. Everybody has probably received requests for charitable contributions in which the sender lists a series of suggested donation amounts, ending with a blank space and the words “my best gift,” or something to that effect. The amount written in may be less than the minimum suggested donation or it may be greater. Either way, that phrase allows the contributor to set the amount according to his or her own resources.
This raises a question worth pondering: What’s my best offering? A friend of mine likes to say, God sent us His best: His Son and His Spirit. He loved us so much that He sent His love, His only Son, to be our Savior; and He sent the love He shares with the Son, the Holy Spirit, to be our advocate and comforter. Those are gifts that can’t be topped!
The Holy Family also left us beautiful models to follow. Mary gave her best when she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) What hope would the human race have if she had not agreed to become the Mother of God? In addition, Joseph set a high standard when he responded in the affirmative to God’s call by lovingly taking Mary into his home rather than denouncing her as the law prescribed.
Jesus offered Himself as well. The King of Kings left his celestial home and humbled himself by becoming the Babe in the manger. Then, at the end of His earthly life he sacrificed himself on the Cross in order to pay our sin debt. And now, so that we might have the Divine Life within us He offers His precious Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
So, if the members of the Holy Family gave their finest gifts, why shouldn’t I try to do likewise? Giving of self in service to others is not easy, but it affords tremendous bonuses because the giver receives abundant spiritual gifts in return. As St. Paul, quoting the words of Jesus, tells us: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
During this time of year many people, unfortunately, suffer from sadness and loneliness. If you are one of these, here’s a suggestion to bring some happiness into your life: do something to help another person. In doing so you will experience the joy that comes from cooperating with God’s plan. Here’s a quotation that helps put service to others in perspective: “Whenever you have an opportunity to do something for someone, do it, because you may be the instrument God uses to answer that person’s prayer.” The chorus to an old Protestant hymn gracefully captures the essence of these thoughts: “Others, Lord, yes others. Let this my motto be. Help me to live for others, that I may live like Thee.”
If we have God’s love in our hearts, it will be nearly impossible to keep it bottled up inside; we will feel compelled to share it with others. Christmas is about giving, and nothing has greater lasting value than the gift of God’s love. The more we love, the more we will want to give of ourselves. After all, that’s the most precious thing we can give this Christmas.
(Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.)