The Gift ~ part one

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”~ Luke 2:8-14 
Elizabeth Marchman Lights #1

 A Little Piece of Wisdom

When I was a senior in high school, three weeks before Christmas, God gave me a special and unique gift.  At the time, I underestimated the significance of the gift, I barely recognized it as such.  But through the years the memory of a moment, in a back alley, on a cold winter day, spurred a non-linear pondering that cultivated two things: passion and a little piece of imparted wisdom.

One Sunday afternoon, I attended a matinee showing of “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Alliance Theater.  When the play was over and dusk eminent, I ambled alone, down the sidewalk, back to my car.  The city already reflected Christmas.  Wreaths and twinkle lights adorned many of the buildings and trees.  Distracted by thoughts of colleges I might attend and holiday party RSVPs and pretty Christmas lights all around me, I did not realize I had strayed in the opposite direction of my car.  The cold wind pierced my body even though I was dressed in a wool suit and long leather coat.  I burrowed deeper inside my scarf and shoved my gloved hands down into my pockets.  I scurried across the street, pausing to watch the sun as it drifted down, down, out of sight behind a hotel.  The sidewalks were deserted and quiet on the back streets.  My nose crinkled as it caught the smell of something burning.  I turned around and stared down the alley way.  A homeless woman sat on the frozen ground trying to light a small fire, but the fierce wind blew out each match she struck.  I could see the smoldering ashes of the last fire.  Beside her, a red milk crate held what appeared to be all her worldly possessions.  When she looked up, I could see the loneliness in her eyes.  I was overwhelmed and panicked.  She stared at me for a fleeting moment, but it seemed an eternity to me.  I stared at the torn clothes upon her emaciated body and beyond to the dumpster that partially concealed a torn cardboard appliance box.  I took a step closer and she feebly stood.  From her pocket, she pulled a dead dandelion, handed it to me, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

I walked away confused and feeling conflicted.  Should I take her home with me?  Should I buy her something to eat?  Should I give her my coat?  I do not remember my parents ever preparing me for this particular situation and I did not have a handbook to consult.  I know what I wanted to do. I wanted to take her to the nicest hotel, feed her a fancy meal, let her soak in a hot bath, but I did none of these things.  I just went home to a hot dinner waiting on me, a warm bed and soft pillows.  My dog slept across my feet that night as I dreamt of haunting eyes and eternal stares.  In my dream, I take her to the hotel and her smile sweeps away my hesitation to do what is right and good.

Over the years, I have often thought about this woman.  I try to imagine that someone helped her and she lived happily ever after.  I always wondered how I must have looked to her and why she wanted to give me something when it appeared I had so much and she had so little.  She did not boast or ask anything in return.  She was quiet and gentle in her words and in her actions.  It was a simple gift, one she must have treasured because the poor dandelion was like a much loved teddy bear, worn and twisted and held together by the bare threads of the stalk.  I gave her nothing but a smile and an enormous amount of pity.

In my life I have been, financially, in many different places.  There have been times when I worked more than one job to make ends meet.  I have taken a calculator to the store, carefully adding each item to make sure I had enough cash and stood stoic, heart pounding, sure I would have to put something back because I maybe added the tax wrong.  I have been at the opposite end where I could afford a little luxury – maybe not my own island – but maybe a dreamy, week long vacation in the Bahamas. I have been at every place in between. I have gleaned there will always be people with more, there will always be people with less.  And it is nothing to be ashamed of, not anything worthy of boasting.  Money is essential to existing in this world, but it will never buy you happiness or peace of mind.  Being financially wealthy does not make anyone more important than another in God’s eyes.

My Granddaddy always said that Christmas had become commercialized and it was a money making endeavor.  Sadly, I have to agree.  I must admit that I am as guilty as anyone to buy too many gifts.  It is all too easy to get caught up in all the hype and forget the real purpose of Christmas.  In the midst of all the shopping and checking names off lists as I fight the crowds at the mall, I forget the One who really deserves a gift.
I consider the charities and three sponsored families we support.  At church, a few weeks before Thanksgiving, items are gathered for gift baskets for families in need and Angel Tree tags hang from a fake fir tree.  I participate, then contemplate the rest of the year.  Jesus never said to love and serve only at Christmas.  He said to do it all the time.  Each and every day.  He never said it was the price of the gift that was important.  He never said spend equal amounts on everyone.  He never said, “go to the mall and buy bright shiny electronics.”

He said, “love one another.”  He said, “give to those in need.”  He said, “feed my sheep.”  And I do, but do I do it every day?  Am I drawing on my God-given talents?  Am I freely giving of my time?  Am I giving gifts from my heart?

Now all the pondering gives way to clarity and this is what I know. Gifts should never be given to impress and need not be expensive to have meaning. The lavishness of a gift should lie in the heart of the giver, not in the wallet.  It should only matter how big my heart is and that it stays big all year long.  The reason behind Christmas should be remembered always. It is about a gift that was given to me and to you.

More than two thousand years ago, God gave every person an equal opportunity gift.  It was not just for the rich or the poor, the best or the worst, the most or the least. Under a starlit sky, in a stable, God gave us the best He could offer.  He gave us Jesus. There was no parade, no fireworks.  He came quietly.  He came gently. He came to us all in the middle of the night; while shepherds kept watch over their flocks, kings sat on their thrones, gifts traveled from afar.  It was a night like no other.  It was a perfect night where angels sang to shepherds and Kings bowed down to an infant. It was a night that should leave me awe struck and bring me to my knees in reverence of a child that was sent to die so that I could live.  He gave all of Himself for me and I struggle to give even a little.

Many will tell you that signs and miracles and wonders must come to us in a grand way, but Jesus didn’t come that way at all.  He came to us on an ordinary day.  God sent His best to us and never boasted about. In return, can I say that I give my best to Him?  Can I say that every gift I give was given from my heart?  Can I say it contained even a little bit of Jesus?  I do not know that I have ever given away something I truly treasured above all else.

I want to believe my heart is bigger than the bad things that have happened in my life.  I want to believe I am not selfish and self-serving.  I want to believe that I walk in humility. I want to believe that Jesus shines through me every day. I want to say that I give the very best of me that I have to offer, that somewhere inside of me is something that makes me worthy enough to be loved by Jesus.  The truth is I am not, even in my best and most extraordinary moment, worthy enough to stand before God without Jesus to wash away my sins. And believe me, there sure is a lot of washing to do.

When I was seventeen, I stood still and watched a woman who seemed to have nothing, give me a gift.  In that gift, I found God.  I did not see Him at first, but over time, as I’ve grown, He revealed Himself to me.  I see Him in the wrinkles on her face.  I felt Him as her hand graced mine.  I heard Him as she spoke to me.  I have held the memory of her in my heart.  I accepted her gift and gave her nothing in return. Jesus has given me life, and I have given nothing to Him that would ever compare to what He has given to me and the humbling truth is, I will never come close.

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