Christmas is a great time to think about gifts. From television commercials to Black Friday sales, and from newspaper inserts to lists for Santa, it’s not hard to focus on gifts this time of year.
A dictionary definition of gift tells us that it is “a thing given to someone without payment.” Different than something that is sold, exchanged, or earned, a gift is freely given. We buy or make a gift for someone simply because we care about the person and want to make his or her life better. Giving a gift is an act of love.
Handing on the Faith
As we approach this holy season of Christmas and prepare to celebrate the greatest gift of all – the gift of Jesus – perhaps, we can take some prayerful time to reflect upon the significance of this gift and how we can better respond to this gift, which is offered to us each day.
Through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God has given himself to us in an entirely new and unique way. Our Christmas celebration is about the gift of God’s own life given to us. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
Jesus instructs us about this new life through his teachings. “I am the way and the truth and life” (John 14:6).
He gives us a glimpse into this new life through his healings. A woman is cured of her hemorrhage. Sight is restored to the blind. Lepers and demoniacs are cured.
He makes it possible for us to share in this new life through his act of self-sacrificing love on the cross. “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25).
Just as Jesus offered this gift to the woman at the well, he also offers it to each of us. “If you knew the gift of God … you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:25).
Jesus invites every person to receive this gift, but, as with any gift, his invitation can be accepted or rejected. Acceptance of his offer involves a response of faith and a conversion of heart, leading one to become his disciple.
Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, not only shows us who God is but also shows us the truth about who we are. Made in God’s image and likeness but affected by sin, we are offered Jesus’ gift of grace to be restored to the fullness of who we were created to be.
By saying “yes” to this offer of new life and making the decision to follow Jesus, one becomes a Christian disciple. The disciple of Christ is one who “accept[s] God’s saving grace, liberating truth, and sustaining love for our lives and for all of creation” (“Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us,” 45).
The acceptance of this gift changes the way we live. We learn to live according to God’s will, and we begin to love in a way that far exceeds our own human capabilities. We begin to “live in love, as Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2).
Our first acceptance of this life of grace occurs at our baptism. For those of us baptized as infants, the faith of our parents and godparents allowed us to receive this gift of new life, setting us on our journey as Christian disciples.
However, this is a not a gift that is just received once and is over and done with. It is a gift that needs to be continually accepted, every day of our lives. Being an intentional disciple means purposefully accepting and cooperating with the grace offered to us by God each day. This is a gift that restores us from sin, strengthens us in times of temptations, and helps us to love as God loves.
It leads us to desire the things of God and to extend God’s love to our neighbor, building his kingdom here on earth. Accepting God’s gift of grace leads us to ongoing conversion, through which we become more conformed to Jesus Christ. As a result, we begin to live more for God and less for ourselves.
As we grow in Christian discipleship, we see God’s ways more clearly and desire that his will truly be done. We learn more deeply how everything that the church offers – her prayer life, her celebration of the sacraments, her teachings – helps us receive and respond to the gift of new life offered by Jesus Christ.
We also begin to recognize that a disciple of Jesus not only shares in the joy of the new life he offers but also must be willing to unite with him in sacrifice. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
The response of Christian discipleship indicates the acceptance of the gift that God has given to us at the first Christmas and that he continues to offer to each one of us today. As we prepare our gifts for Christmas – the presents we purchase, the meals we prepare, the treats we bake – let us also prepare our hearts to accept the greatest gift that God wishes to give us, the gift of his very life.
Liz Hoefferle is director of religious education for the Diocese of Duluth.