Christmas is almost here, and with the last week of Advent comes the
frantic rush to finish buying and making Christmas gifts. Despite my best efforts, it seems like there are always one or two people (at least) who still have me stumped right into the week before Christmas.
Usually, it’s not the kids who create the difficulty. Little boys in particular are good at rejoicing over all kinds of toys, and thankfully all my kids love books. And then there is something about the way a child receives a present. Sometimes I am a little disheartened by the expectation that my children exude at Christmas: “I can’t wait for my presents!” and especially, right in the middle of Christmas morning, “Are there more?”
I think (I hope, anyway!) that there is something else going on here besides sheer selfishness. I hope that our children, for the most part, know that their parents, grandparents, and other friends and family love them, and often show that love by giving them good things. So even if I’d rather they seem a little less eager, it makes sense that they would expect many good things from the hands of their loved ones – their experience (again, for the most part!) has taught them that this is how life, and especially Christmas, works.
I just finished reading Marilynne Robinson’s Home for the first time, and when I finished it, I had to re-read its sister novel, Gilead. (Which I highly recommend doing during your Christmas break – read them both, back to back, in the order of your choice. They are rich separately, but magnificent together.) Anyway, as I was reading Gilead right at the beginning of Advent, one line stopped me cold: “But I hope you will put yourself in the way of the gift.” (Page 114, in case anyone is counting.)
Put yourself in the way of the gift. Robinson’s character, Reverend Ames, writes these words to his son, specifically about his faith and his acceptance of their church. He hopes his son will allow God to speak into his life, so that he can receive the gift of faith.
I think about our kids at Christmas time hanging around the decorated tree and the presents waiting under it. When an adult walks by, their eyes are uplifted and eager. Their hands are open, ready to receive whatever is offered. They are ready: they have put themselves “in the way of the gift.”
This is the posture we need to assume in the spiritual life as well, as Reverend Ames recognizes. We can’t accept whatever God has to give us with our hands in fists and our faces turned away; rather we must open our eyes, hands, and hearts to the Holy Infant like children around a Christmas tree, ready and eager for the gifts we know He desires to give us.