Jesus was the first ever Christmas present. God’s gift to us, Himself in the flesh for the benefit of all humankind. It is something that is often overlooked during the holiday season.
In addition to giving us all His son, God also gives us gifts every day. Individual reminders of His love for us. Calling cards of His affection for us. And unless we’re looking out for them, they usually go unnoticed.
This Christmas, the story of my friend has taken residence in my head. It is a story of a man who, when I met him, was quite a bit away from God. As was I. We both were living with the struggles and challenges of being post-divorce dads, all the while trying to make the most of every moment. Concerts, cruises, road trips, and more booze than I care to admit: it was party first and prayer second, if at all.
I began my reconnect with God in summer of 2009. I found my church home, and gradually began to open my eyes and my heart to His message for me. As time passed, I heard God call me in a direction of ministry, a path on which I could walk to not only grow in Him, but also share His greatness with others.
My friend was, as I like to call it, seeking with uncertainty. He had questions, reservations, and a bad taste in his mouth from previous religious experiences gone bad. Although God had continued to bless him, over and over and over, my friend still kept God at arms length.
With his three children in the midst of adolescence, God gave my friend a fourth child. And with this baby came an opportunity to do things a little differently as a dad. His wife insisted on raising their daughter in the church. My friend was not opposed, but he was also, at first, not an active participant. With time, his heart softened, and he, too, began attending service regularly.
I imagine the conversation between my friend and God went something like this:
God: “I’m calling you, but you keep ignoring me. I’m here for you. I love you. I want you to place your faith in me.”
My Friend: “I’m not sure. I’ve tried this before. There’s so much I don’t understand. Besides, why do you want me? I don’t think I’m the person you think I am.”
God: “I know exactly who you are, and that’s why I love you. That’s why I want you. I’ve been by your side all along. You just haven’t been paying attention.”
My Friend: “But what do you want me to do? I don’t know what it is I am supposed to do.”
God: “All I want you to do is believe in me. To help you with that, I am going to give you a daughter.”
When we first met, my friend and I never spoke about faith. Now, our faith is part of what makes our bond so solid. He is my brother, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.
God is faithful. God is giving. God is loving. He gives and provides to us on a daily basis. The question is, are we listening? Are we tuned in to what He is saying? Do we realize the gifts he gives us every day, and how it is He wants us to receive and use those gifts?
I hope that as we wind down this Christmas season, and prepare to ramp up for a new year, we do so with the knowledge that every day we live in God is Christmas. He gives to us so we may give to others. Swiss theologian and Catholic priest Hans Urs von Balthasar perhaps said is best, “What you are is God’s gift to you, what you become is your gift to God.”