The Nativity scene in St. Peter's Square in 2016 CNS photo/Paul Haring

Three gifts sure to make Christmas bright

  • December 5, 2017
What’s the best Christmas gift you ever received?

My “best” are many. The long, soft, pink scarf my brother knitted for me. The colourful pyjamas my grandmother made annually for each grandchild. All sorts of ways people have shown care for me by bestowing a gift.

You may be planning to give gifts of time, food or service. You might give the gift of being cordial to a family member you don’t get along with or attending a difficult gathering. You might give yourself the gift of accepting your solitude or your work. 

One parent asked her kids to give her their cell phones for two days. Christmas gifts come in a multitude of kinds.

Gift-giving goes far beyond the bounds of Christianity, so far that some wonder how to partake in it without losing Christmas altogether. 

The world of holiday-season gifts is commercial, full of strange pressures, and can be as crushing as standing under Niagara Falls. And yet, something about gift and gifting seems, well, Christmas-like.

As my small gift for this season, I offer three gifts that belong to Christmas. As a bit of festive wrapping, they are alliterated.

One day I visited friends and met their first-born, swaddled and cosy and beautiful.  Attending to his needs, his glowing parents passed him from one to the other with immense care and awareness of best baby-safety practices. Utterly focused, they transferred him from arms to arms as if he were the most precious thing of all (he is), and the whole universe hangs on whether he is safely held (it does).  

Human becoming is the basis of all creation, embodied in this little person and his vulnerability. His parents’ arms are like the chalice that receives everything. 

In just this way, Jesus’ mother held and cared for Him as a newborn. In the same way, we receive the gift of God-with-us in a human person. You and I will be presented this gift in many ways, over the Christmas days. Will we miss it?  

We become more receptive, more able to carefully, tenderly carry God with us, through the gift of prayer. Holding and carrying God, as His mother did, is really what prayer is.  Prayer is the primary Christmas gift, for it helps us to receive all gifts. 

Our gift list and “git list” may make us wish we were wealthy, but one of the great Christmas gifts is poverty.  St. Paul tells us God emptied Himself, letting go of everything to come in human likeness — as a slave not a warrior, in humility not in grandeur. The secret of Christmas is that God wants to become human. He wants to be vulnerable and poor. 

We expend great energy and run to great heights to get out of being human, but God willingly and by choice takes it on. 

He does this for us, because He’s God, not in spite of it, as though becoming human went against divinity.  

On the contrary, divinity bends down to humanity. When humans forgot how to look up to God — St. Athanasius tells us — and were looking in the opposite direction, God came down to where they were looking. Poverty is God’s gift to us. What if our Christmas list included accepting from God our poverty, whatever it may be for each of us? 

Every year, I help host hospitality time between Christmas and New Year’s at St. Mary of Egypt Refuge, for people who find these days difficult or want to share them with others. Last year, with a group of diverse people, we had a gorgeous fall of soft, sparkling snow.   

We decided to produce our very own “Posada.” Well wrapped up, carrying lanterns and bells and songbooks, we walked through the forest visiting special places. We found a spot where an angel stood and heard Gabriel’s words to Mary and her magnificent “Yes.”  

We found Herod’s palace and saw three magi set off in the dark. And we crossed the river to a rustic birch-bark shelter. All of us, even the children, had to bend low to look inside and see the swaddling clothes and rough bed prepared for the Christ-child. 

To help us find these places, one of the children carried a gold star on a long pole. As the child trudged along the snowy path the star bobbled and bounced with her little footsteps, and the adults and other children followed this wobbly star. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have seen the wonders of that night. We’d have missed the gift of play.

Friends whose children have grown up tell me they miss having little ones because Christmas is above all for children. Maybe this is not a statement about Santa, but about God, who wants to play with us. 

“The high Word plays in every kind of form, mixing, as He wills, with His world here and there” — Sts. Gregory of Nyssa and Maximos Confessor. 

Let’s enjoy unwrapping our gifts this Christmas.

(Marrocco can be reached at



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