Of all times for the financial health of the world to end up in Intensive Care—just as the holidays entice us to splurge, to buy a little beyond ourselves because gift-buying and gift-giving are expressions of care, appreciation, even remembrance. We bake richer foods at Christmastime. And wrap things in shinier paper. And we like to spend a little more, just because this time is special. It is a time for feasting and lingering. It is a time for extravagance.
There is some justification for extravagance at this time of year. We are celebrating the love of an extravagant God. The Christ Child is the ultimate gift. God’s love is lavish, overflowing. God did not hold back from us, in sending Jesus, the son of God. In that birth we were given God’s very self.
And so, this year in which money is especially the focus of stress and strategy, perhaps we should think in terms of giving the self instead of stuff. God gave God’s self in fairly plain wrapping—the infant of two pilgrims with limited resources. No fine blankets or silky bassinet for Jesus. No huge basket of Ghirardelli’s chocolate treats for his parents. But the presence of that child was so rich and fine that poor shepherds, great intellects from far countries, a pious widow and an old prophet were all drawn to him with tears and joy.
What kind of presence am I to those I love? If I can’t give a hefty gift certificate or even a nice set of bathroom towels this year, how can I be more present to that person for whom I’ve been willing to pull out an overextended credit card in years past? If I can offer no great cash value, then what is left? My stories? My welcome? My precious time for a phone conversation? My visit that lasts longer than it takes to exchange wrapped boxes?
This has been a stressful autumn for my husband and me. Unemployment, then underemployment, then major house repairs, and family too far away to travel to easily. And what we are discovering is that, to come home in the evening and eat a simple meal together, to give a long hug and a word of encouragement, to spend a little more time with our dogs and cats doing nothing but petting and cooing—all of that is lavish enough for us. There will be no expensive dining out this year, no big party thrown for friends. There will be cooking together in the kitchen, looking for the best price on clementines. There will be one trip to a family wedding and brief stops at other relatives on the way back. On each stop we will enter the home and be there with smaller gifts but a bigger sense of us—us coming in the door, giving hugs, having a relaxed conversation, enjoying the presence of those we don’t get to see very often.
We tend to forget, don’t we, that God’s presence is enough. God’s grace is sufficient. We forget that and follow after the big pay-off, the nicer car, the gadget that will make life more convenient, the vacation that will be more romantic and exotic than all the others. We hanker after finer and pricier presents, when the only answer to our real desire is that awesome Presence.
This Christmas seems like a great time to spend more time in that Presence. And more time exploring the power and wonder of our own presence with others.