My profile here on CatholicMatch says: “I enjoy giving gifts as much, if not more, than receiving them.”
But when I was asked to expand on that statement, I really had to stop and think. It’s been a while since I wrote that and in the last few years I’ve been more Scrooge than Santa in a lot of ways.
Now don’t get me wrong: I like getting gifts. I’m an American; I like stuff. But really, the stuff that means the most, the gifts you remember are those that have some other meaning, some connection to a person, a place, a time.
In the end, the gift, no matter how spectacular, doesn’t mean as much to you as the person who gave it, or the person you gave it to. And for me there’s a special joy in giving the right gift to the right person.
Finding such a gift isn’t easy. How many more Christmas ties can you give Dad or Grandpa? How many times has the fruitcake been re-gifted? What sort of gift is really meaningful to someone close to you?
I have no answer.
Several years ago my brother-in-law gave me a book. It turned out to be one of my favorite gifts in recent memory. On the surface it was just a book about something that interests me, wooden boats. But upon reading it, I discovered a fantastic story that reflected my core values in every way. It was about work and craft and people, about those things that have meaning.
I don’t know how deliberate that was, but it turned out to be a winner. I’ve read it and reread many times.
A long-distance medley
Not too long ago, I had a fledgling long-distance relationship with a woman on CatholicMatch. Over a couple months we talked often on the phone and progressed to exchanging little notes and cards by snail mail. Before our first face-to-face I wanted to do something nice for her.
We shared a love of music. We had complimentary but not identical tastes. So what’s a guy to do?
OK, it’s cheesy I know. Believe it or not, even though I’ve worked in entertainment and audio since my teens, I’d never actually done it before. If that wasn’t cheesy enough, I came up with idea to make the CD look like a CatholicMatch emotigram. I chose songs I thought she would like, but might not have heard before. I also chose a couple that were affectionate but not too serious.
Well, in the end, the relationship didn’t work out. But I got a really adorable thank-you card after the CD arrived!
So as we journey through Advent, what does all this gift talk mean for us?
We know as Catholics that Christmas isn’t here yet, despite what the stores want us to think. We know this is our time for prayer, preparation and penitence.
But let’s be honest: for most of us, it’s also the time we do our Christmas shopping. (If you finished yours in July, don’t speak to me). As we attempt to find all the right gifts, how can our shopping fit into Advent?
I have three ideas about it.
First, what about the people we buy gifts for out of a sense of obligation, the people we don’t know very well, aren’t close to, maybe they even bug the heck out of us? Can this be a time we try to think of them differently? Can we use the occasion of finding them a gift as an opportunity to see them as Jesus does? Can we ask ourselves if they haven’t in some way been a gift in our lives?
Second, what of the people we are close to, those people who are important to us in some way, the ones we’ve always wanted to find the perfect gift for? Are we really aware of what they’ve given us? Have we taken them for granted? Have we been truly grateful for the gift they’ve made of themselves – and how can we express that gratitude in a sincere, surprising way?
Finally, the ultimate gift. In the four weeks we have to prepare, let us take time out to contemplate the most spectacular gift ever, the Lord God, Creator of all the universe, who numbers the stars in the sky, the sands on the beach, and the hairs on our heads, the God who holds us in existence with His very will. He humbled himself to be conceived in the womb of a young woman, to be born into this world in the most ordinary of circumstances. God – who is, was and ever shall be – was a boy and then a man. He walked in the dirt, worked for His supper and cared for His parents. Then He told us the truth and was murdered for it. Oh, and along the way, He’s given each of us life so we might have a chance to know Him.
Is there any greater gift for us to reflect on this Advent?
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Tell us the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received or given.