Taking Christmas gifts for granted

Published 4:20 pm Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When I was 10 I asked Santa for a new bicycle.  My cousin’s old green hand-me-down girl’s bike was getting too small, plus it was embarrassing to be a guy riding a girlie bike.  So I respectfully wrote my letter to the jolly old elf, had dad check my spelling, stuck it in the mail right before Thanksgiving and I began to wait.  I thought that month would never pass.  I did the whole “better not pout, better not cry, better not shout” routine and tried my very best to be good enough to earn that new bicycle., but I failed pretty miserably at that all around.

Our family Christmas traditions in those days involved a large extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins who gathered on Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s for a huge meal and gift exchange where everyone gave everyone else a gift. For us grandkids it amounted to a huge haul, but we were not allowed to unwrap anything until Christmas morning at home.  Imagine the intensity of my anticipation when at 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve I was expected to go to bed and sleep knowing there was not only a pile of family gifts waiting to be opened, but that Santa was going to make his visit as well.  I am amazed I slept at all, though I had pretty well given up hope that I had earned the new bike. Being “good enough” has simply not happened.

Bright an early Christmas morning I dashed to the living room at 6 a.m. and there standing before the lighted Christmas tree was a new Schwinn Black Phantom bike with a tag attached saying, “With all my love, Santa.” What I did not know in those days was that cash was very tight around our house and that the sacrifices necessary to insure I received that dream bicycle had been significant.  Santa had come through all right, but at a cost I could only appreciate many, many years later.

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The season of Advent began last Sunday, Dec. 2, and we are now in that time of eager anticipation waiting for the gift all humanity has requested across eons of time – a time of peace and love. During Advent we wait, we prepare ourselves, we open our hearts, we pray, and we eagerly anticipate the gift that is coming in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate presence of God on earth, and the realization of our hopes and desires for peace.

But what we often do not think about is the sacrifice Almighty God made in doing so.  In theological terms it is called “kenosis,” God literally poured God’s very self out for our sake and abandoned total transcendence. In the Christ-child God became one with us at a tremendous cost to himself. In Jesus the divine became human and we have the opportunity become one with God in Jesus Christ as we trust and believe in him, and to be at peace with God, one another, and ourselves.

It is easy to take some Christmas gifts for granted when we do not understand the sacrifice the giver made to make our joy possible.  It was a great bike, and we have a great God, and the love which made them both possible sprang purely out of a loving sacrifice.

The Reverend Dr. Michael Doty, Rector The Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross