Receive the Gift Like Beasts and Children

by | Dec 21, 2015 | 1 Poor in Spirit

tumblr_mydbflGIkx1rqxd5ko1_1280Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Little did the three wise men know that when they delivered gifts to that stable in the Palestinian night, their action would annually stimulate the greatest economy in history two millennia later. They only meant to honor a newborn king with gold and fine ointments. Today’s merchants depend desperately on our mimicking them.
Except that we lace this ritual observance with an addictive substance (money), the symbolism of mimicking the travelling seers’ gift-giving conveys a loving message. It says to the recipient of the gift: I honor you as I honor Christ. I give this token to the Christ in you.
Can we give in that spirit? Can we receive as if hearing from an angel that we are the beloved whom God honors and anoints? Perhaps with God’s help…with a lot of God’s help and acknowledgement that God gives far beyond our merits. We would need to receive as only a child can, which takes us back to the child to whom the magi gave their gifts.
Jesus started out as a child receiving freely and spontaneously. As a man he taught that we must receive that way to claim our inheritance, life in God’s loving and peaceful reign (Mark 10:13-16). How else could we receive such a gift? We certainly could not earn or buy it.
Of course, not only the gold, frankincense, and myrrh but the child himself comes as a gift. Our theological understanding of this cosmic generosity goes something like this: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
That is a wonderful understanding indeed. We must put it into words because we have highly developed cerebral cortices like no other creatures, minds on the hunt to make sense of things, minds drawn to mystery but restless without explanations. The mind supplies great power for insights like that verse but also for error and distortion. The most tragic distortions concern how we think of ourselves. Too much pride and too much shame interfere with receiving like children.
Thank God the child came to the beasts too, donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, the whole smelly menagerie. Unawares the innkeeper sent Mary and Joseph to the intended attendants. For in this cosmic grace, Christ who could have held a place above all came among the lowest of the low (Philippians 2:5-11), even the ones who cannot imagine a higher self or a better lot in life, the ones who receive grass, shade, and a scratch behind the ear as all they could ever want.
We too are beasts precisely because at Christmas, we receive more than we could ever imagine or dare request. We are most human when we receive the gift like beasts and children.
This post was inspired by the work of wise and brilliant director of choral activities, Martha Shaw, and the talented Reinhardt University Chamber Choir (accompanied my angel, Wanda on the piano when the piece calls for it). At a recent holiday concert, they moved me deeply as they sang, “O Magnum Mysterium,” a Latin hymn of praise that Christ came among the animals. I hope my post stimulated your brain. But if you want to feel the full wonder of Christmas night, click here to check out this YouTube of the piece from the chorus at Kings College.


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