Early last summer, a friend gave me a gift for no reason other than she thought I would like it. She was right; I did like it. However, it was not my birthday, nor was it a holiday. She just gave it to me. It was a picture, and my first thought was, "OK, I have to find a place in my apartment to hang it and the tools necessary to accomplish this task." My mind went to the practical rather than to appreciation. I did enjoy the gift, but my emotions did not show that on the outside.
A few months later, another friend of mine was in my apartment and saw the picture hanging on my wall. Upon seeing it, he said, "Oh, so you liked it?". He went on to say that the friend who gave me the gift had been afraid that I did not like the gift because of my lack of response when she gave it to me. This surprised me because I was fairly certain I had said, "Thank you."
Why do I start my Christmas blog post off this way? I do so to underscore the point that when it comes to receiving gifts (especially gifts for no reason), my social awkwardness takes over.
When I was a little kid, I was always excited to receive gifts on my birthday and Christmas, but as I grew up, the excitement of opening a box and seeing what is inside eroded away. Now, I just feeling strange as I tear the wrapping paper. I do not feel comfortable or excited to be receiving a gift. These feelings are intensified when the present is given at a time other than when it is the social norm to give one. This does not mean I do not like receiving the presents or I am ungrateful. It just feels weird.
But again, this is supposed to be about Christmas...
For the last few years, I have struggled with the meaning of Christmas. As a Christian, I know that Christmas is celebrated because of the birth of Jesus Christ. The slogan "Jesus is the reason for the season" is often seen this time of year on bumper stickers, social media, billboards, etc. When people explain the meaning of Christmas, they usually give the same standard explanation:
Yes, I understand the fact that we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth on December 25, but I feel like there should be a deeper meaning behind all of this. That is my struggle. What does Christ's birth mean?
When I try to explore the reason God became man, my mind instantly goes here:
This seems a bit strange and gruesome for a joyous occasion, does it not? Yes, Jesus became man to die for our sins, but the Cross does not fit with the Christmas story or the celebration of it. The Cross is undoubtedly connected to Christmas, but I am convinced the heart of Christmas is not the Cross.
So what is?
I am not claiming infallibility here, but this year, I have been finding myself thinking about a present as the true meaning of Christmas. The present in question is Jesus.
While some of you may gag at hearing "Jesus is the best Christmas present!" again, allow me to explain.
I struggle to know God's love. I understand it theologically, and I believe God loves me. However, most of the time I do not feel God's love. There have been brief moments here and there throughout my life where I have felt his love, but those moments are never permanent. I have been trying to work on this for well over a year, and my progress has been slow. I truly do want to know and feel God's love better, but I am clueless as to how to accomplish that.
In my prayer life recently, I have felt a call to view Christ's birth as a present. So this year, no matter how I see Jesus, I am choosing to imagine Him with a big red bow wrapped around Him. If I see Jesus on the Cross, He has a red bow. If I see Jesus in the manger, He has a red bow. If I see Jesus in the Eucharist, He has a red bow.
Is this helping? A little bit. As I said before, I find receiving gifts a little bit awkward, so when I picture Jesus as a present, it feels awkward. However, I am starting to feel loved a tiny bit more. Just as my friend's gift reminded me that she cherishes our friendship, the idea of the Father giving His Son to me helps me understand God's love a little bit better. It is still awkward, though.
This gift is especially awkward because I do not deserve it at all. I still have to accept the present, and it feel weird. Christmas this year is awkward, yet beautiful.
Is Jesus wrapped in a big red bow the true meaning of Christmas? I do not know; I am not a theologian. What I do know is this spiritual exercise has been helping me this year.