The last couple of years, I’ve started to dread the so-called “happy holiday season.” And I’m not grouchy because I’m a stereotypical “grinch.” I’ve always loved mysterious, already-but-not-yet Advent, and Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the year. I love our spiced-ginger cookies and family traditions. I love our visits with friends, and decorating the church with bright red poinsettias.
But, I’ve been struggling with my Advents of late. The gift-giving rubrics cube of: 1) procuring appropriately priced, thoughtful, and useful gifts; 2) distributing said gifts among family members of widely varying tastes, ages, and predilections; 3) and maintaining an approximately equal amount of spent dollars across all recipients, is weighing me down. How can I ponder the Incarnation during the Advent Season while I’m standing in the big box store with “Baby It’s Cold Outside” blaring?
As an act of resistance to “Santa Claus’s Coming to Town” on October 31st, my husband and I sought to limit our gift-giving this year. We talked over our own “limits” on gifts for each other, and soberly discussed how we could “pair down” the expectations of our gift recipients. Yet, as I look under our wire-and-plastic tree (a truly vintage piece, c. 1965!), the wrapped boxes and bows are piled embarrassingly deep and wide. How can we have so much when so many in the world have so little? What are we giving? Why do we give? I ponder these questions while eating those spiced-ginger cookies.
Looking up from my cookies and out my kitchen window on my cold Indiana landscape this O Antiphons morning, I can see sparrows flocking through the yard, hovering in the bare trees. We feed them, so that’s why they’re there—but I always marvel at the tiny sparrows who buzz and hum with delight at the simplest gifts of tree-cover and a few seeds of millet in a little plastic feeder. The sparrows approach each day with joy, eating rich fare with delight, and fly peacefully into our spruce tree, full of hope that there will still be food tomorrow. Our small kindness in scattering seed has spread to a flock-ful of God’s creatures—and we know that God cares for even the lowliest sparrow (Matthew 10:29).
How we approach Christmas is, largely, a choice. We can choose to see the glittery bits of metal and desirable plastic objects; we can choose to impress our friends, family, and co-workers with the dollar signs we spend on our loved ones. We can choose to believe that “All We Want for Christmas” is X, Y, or Z. But I’d like to choose something else for my last days of Advent. All I want is the joy of the sparrows. I’d like to choose peace—I’d like to choose kindness—I’d like to choose hope. It is my choice to bring those gifts to my Christmas tree.
So, when I turn from my sparrow-filled spruce, buzzing with love, to my giant green pipe-cleaner nightmare, I can choose to see plastic, metal, and dollar signs. Or, I can choose to see what one of our Christmas cards, sent by some dear friends, reminded me:
“See what love the Father has given us…. (1 John 3: 1)
With every Christmas gift and tree
we remember God’s gift to us:
His only Son, our Savior.”