Readings (Year A):
Isaiah 7:10 – 14
Psalms 24:1 – 2, 3 – 4, 5 – 6.
Romans 1:1 – 7
Matthew 1:18 – 24
Reflection: The gift of God and our gifts to one another
The countdown to Christmas has entered its final week. Since the beginning of the season of waiting, giving gifts, and receiving gratitude, you may have seen Salvation Army bellringers at local stores. Many people have given to their favorite charities, and others are preparing to do so, spreading Christmas cheer. Already, the Christmas trees at our homes are decorated as the anticipation of receiving gifts from our loved ones grows. Our experience of giving and receiving reflects the spirit of the season.
In the first reading, God asks Ahaz to make a grandiose request because God is disposed to benefit us far beyond what we can imagine. Ahaz declines to ask, perhaps because of his human inability to know his own needs. The Psalmist ascribes to God unbounded knowledge and discernment of human need to the extent that God offers humanity the greatest gift, namely, God-self, present among us, Emmanuel. It is an extraordinary birth of divine presence, restoring the human family to our original unity with God. The Gospel of John identifies this gift of divine presence among us as God choosing to dwell with humanity. By relating to us, and taking on our human nature, God displays compassion and vulnerability. And this extraordinary gift of divine indwelling among us is for the purpose of service.
In the second reading, Paul uses the same disposition to service, by which we identify God’s habitation among us, to identify his calling to proclaim the gospel. Just as God gives Godself to us through the presence of Jesus Christ, likewise Paul, in a show of gratitude, gives himself in service to Jesus Christ, proclaiming the good news of God’s presence among us for the sake of transformation of the human condition towards a life with God.
Paul names the presence of God among us through Jesus Christ as the beginning of grace, that experience of God’s gratuitous gift of divine favor, unconditionally bestowed because the initiative to favor humankind comes essentially from God. Ahaz, Paul, and Joseph all received divine grace, regardless of their human limitations, and cooperate with God, allowing the gift granted them to bring transformation in their lives, and in the world. God’s gift of grace reassured Ahaz and the whole of Judah during a time of troubling military invasion. Receiving God’s grace, the king embodies God’s reassuring presence to the Judeans. Likewise, Joseph opens himself to the presence of God’s grace and cooperates with God for the salvation of the world. And Paul identifies his experience of God’s gift of divine favor through Jesus Christ as an invitation to service, sharing this gift of God’s presence in his ministry to the gentiles.
Next Sunday, we celebrate and renew our faith in the gift of God’s presence and share in the spirit of the season by giving and receiving gifts with one another. But I invite you to think beyond the traditional routine of opening gifts under the Christmas tree and discern the gift that your loved ones and the world need from you today. Trust is ebbing dangerously in our homes and society, affecting our respect and dignity for one another. Rebuilding a culture of trust can help repair fragile and damaged relationships.
For our world, remember that every region has experienced climate disasters. The time has come to give our world the gift of reducing our carbon footprints. During this season of giving and receiving gifts, give the gift that is powerful and transformational to one another and to the world.