December 21, 2016
With the birth of Jesus, we celebrate so much. There is probably no other particular tradition more associated with Christmas than the giving and receiving of gifts.
Yes, we all love the tree, singing carols, spending time with family, and all the other rituals, but there is something special about the purchasing, wrapping, and setting of gifts under the tree that gives rise to a tremendous amount of anticipation and joy.
Gifts are such a part of this holiday that they were a part of the first Christmas. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh given by the Magi might seem like strange things to give a baby, but while studying this story from St. Matthew’s Gospel in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament I discovered what a couple of the Church Fathers had to say about these royal gifts.
St. Irenaeus said the gifts of the Magi signify the mystery of Christ incarnate. Gold, a symbol of his royalty represents the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense, used in the worship of God, points to his divinity. Myrrh, a burial ointment, signifies the humanity of Christ, especially in his passion and death.
St. Gregory the Great says the treasures signify the gifts we present to Christ in our daily lives. Gold is Christ’s wisdom, which shines in us; frankincense is the prayer and adoration we give Him; and myrrh is our daily self-sacrifices.
While reflecting on the meaning of these first Christmas gifts, I began to think about what gifts I bring to Jesus. In October I attended a Called and Gifted workshop presented by the Catherine of Siena Institute. The spiritual gifts workshop, which was created by Sherry Weddell, the author of Forming Intentional Disciples, really shines a light on the ways God has gifted me, and in giving me these gifts, has called me into action for Him and his kingdom.
Throughout the daylong workshop, it was stressed that these gifts are not just the natural talents we have. We can be talented at playing sports or an instrument, or any number of human tasks, but these are not necessarily the ways that God has gifted us.
The Called and Gifted program also emphasizes that spiritual gifts, or charisms, are not just for our own personal growth, but they are meant to build up others. In fact one of the tell-tale signs you have a particular gift is that other people regularly recognize it in you.
So, while we are still in the midst of the Christmas glow of gift-giving and receiving, and with the Feast of Epiphany around the corner, this is a good time for us all to take a bit of time and think about what gifts we bring to Jesus.
In this case I am not speaking of a physical gift, something for Jesus to unwrap. Rather I am thinking of gifts that Jesus has already given us that, maybe, we have yet to unwrap.
To be sure, Jesus has given all of us gifts and He is counting on us to use them to further the Kingdom, but to discover them takes more than an Amazon search of [Your Name] + gifts. Discerning our giftedness takes time and prayer. Certainly the Called and Gifted workshop is helpful, but meeting with your priest is also another place to start.
God loves each of us fiercely and individually. This means that each of us is called and gifted in the same way, fiercely and individually. It makes no sense for me to compare myself to someone like St. Teresa of Kolkata. I was called and gifted to serve youth and young adults in North Texas, not the poorest of the poor all over the world. I imagine that she would no more want my job than I would want hers.
Thus, I think one of the lessons we can learn from three Magi following a star to the Savior and offering Him deeply meaningful gifts is that Jesus is the light that guides our life. When we follow this light we find the gifts He has given us to share and it is this gift giving and sharing that make our lives deeply meaningful.
With the birth of Jesus we celebrate so much. There is probably no other particular tradition more associated with Christmas than the giving and receiving of gifts.