As little children, we would dream of Christmas morn
And all the gifts and toys we knew we’d find
But we never realized a baby born one blessed night
Gave us the greatest gift of our lives…
It’s January, Christmas is over! The time for gift-giving is over! Or is it? Did you know that in days of old, and still now in Spain, it was January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord that was the traditional Christmas gift-giving day because this was the day that the baby Jesus received his gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh from the Magi or Wise Men.
Thus, the Feast of the Epiphany invites us to imagine ourselves journeying with the Wise Men as they make their way to Bethlehem, following the light of the Star, carrying their treasures. The Magi brought gold as tribute for Jesus the King of Kings, frankincense to honour Jesus as High Priest, and myrrh for Him who would suffer and die.
What would be in your own little treasure chest to present to the new-born King?As I asked myself this question, I wondered what I could put in – what could I possibly give to baby Jesus? When we give gifts to others, we often try to think of what they would like or appreciate, something that expresses the depth of our relationship with them or our desire for the relationship, a token of our love.
Perhaps I could give Him my possessions? I often think my wealth and personal effects are earned through my own hard work and effort. But what do I have that was not first given to me by God?
Perhaps I could give Him my time and service? Yet how often my service to others is merely human: conditional and with expectations. I complain when I do not receive gratitude or reward for the service I render, rather than serve with humility, knowing that I have received love so abundantly from God.
Perhaps I could give Him my prayer and praise? Although He “has no need of our praise, yet our thanksgiving is itself (His) gift” (Common Preface IV).
As I was pondering on this question and the limitations of what I could offer Jesus, I recalled an anecdote from the life of St. Jerome:
After many years spent in Jerusalem translating the Word of God, Jerome finished his grand project just days before Christmas. To celebrate his accomplishment, Jerome decided to spend Christmas Eve in nearby Bethlehem, in one of the many grottoes that dot the countryside. According to the ancient account, sometime around midnight Jesus appeared to him, saying “Jerome, what will you give me for my birthday?”
Immediately and enthusiastically, Jerome declared, “Lord, I give you my translation of your word.” But instead of congratulating him, Jesus simply replied, “No, Jerome, that is not what I want.”
Jerome was speechless. Then he began to complain and remonstrate with Jesus, asking why he had let him go on for forty years, far from home, labouring at something other than what God most wanted from him. But Jesus remained silent. Jerome started suggesting other ways of honouring Jesus’ birthday – fasting, becoming a hermit, giving his possessions to the poor. To each of these Jesus replied, “No. Jerome. That is not what I want most.”
Finally, Jerome protested, “Then you tell me, Lord. Tell me what would give you the most joy on your birthday, and you shall have it.
“Do you promise, Jerome?”
“Yes, Lord, anything at all.”
Jesus replied, “Give me your sins…”
“Give me your sins…!” How poor I am! Everything I have has been given to me by God and belongs to Him. The only thing that is truly mine to offer is my sins, for that is not of Him. How extremely small and humbled that makes me feel!
And yet it is precisely my sinfulness, my lack of generosity, my pride, the attachment to my own will, my desire for pleasure and comfort, that God desires for me to truly give in surrender to him, to let him take control, for that is why He came! Jesus came as a baby in the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God-with-us, to save you and me from our sins, so that we could return to union with our Father. So often we know this, and yet have we sincerely given our sins to Jesus, so that they are no longer something we hold on to?
As we continue our Christmas season with this celebration of Epiphany, let us firmly place our brokenness, our weakness, all our sins and limitations in His crib, and truly allow Jesus, our greatest gift, to save us.