How long did Christmas last for you? Did you stretch it out the full 12 days? Could you maintain the joy and wonder for almost two whole weeks? My guess is: probably not. It’s hard to make something so good last that long. Shiny and bright can start to lose its appeal after awhile. Indulgence begins to seem gluttonous. And eventually, sadly, things have to get back to normal. Or do they?
Well, here we are at Epiphany. Christmas is officially over. But for some people around the world, the gift-giving that we associate with Christmas Day doesn’t happen until today: Three Kings Day. Gifts are given on the same day that the church remembers the Three Kings arriving in Bethlehem and opening their treasure chests to bestow gifts upon Jesus.
Much can be made of the symbolic significance of the gifts. Much can be made about who these mysterious kings, wise men, or magi might have really been.
But as we start this new year, this season rife with resolutions with all manner of self-improvement plans, and with the self-flagellation that comes with inevitably still being a flawed human being, I wonder if we go about this all wrong?
I wonder if we should really take a cue from the kings, the wise men, the magi as we enter into the new year, into a new year of journeying with Christ. I wonder if the question we ask should really be: What gift can I give? What gift can I give this year? What is mine to give, and no one else’s?
I think of the lovely verse in Christina Rossetti’s poem, which is also one of my favorite hymns of the season: “In The Bleak Midwinter.”
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
I think this text offers an important clue for how we might approach our entry into the new year.
Because I wonder, I wonder? Do things really have to get back to normal? Do we really have to accept the status quo as our only option?
Could we…could we instead imagine a gift we might offer: a gift that could shift, even slightly, the rigidity, solidity, and immovability of “the way things are?”
Could the gift of Jesus, of God in our midst, inspire us to imagine lives animated by gift giving? Gift giving that makes a dent the in bleakness we so often feel about the status quo? Gift giving that transforms relationship and creates new possibilities for love and life?
Right after Christmas, I set foot, quite by accident, in the most magical of toy stores. I was overcome with a child-like joy as I explored the beautiful displays crammed full with the most wondrous objects.
I am usually a reluctant spender, and I tend not to purchase things “just because.” But something about this store made me open my wallet with glee. The clerk put my gifts in a lovely canvas bag emblazoned with a saying, a sort of store motto: something like–“a collection of intriguing objects to inspire the art of gift-giving.”
I’ve noticed that tote bag a few times since bringing it home, and each time, I’m struck again by the notion of “the art of gift giving.”
Gifts are so often an afterthought for me. Something I purchase obligatorily, because they’re expected for an event or gathering or occasion. Rarely does gift-giving strike up joy within me. Rarely does it feel like an art…not to mention a spiritual practice.
And while gift-giving need not be in the form of a physical object, it took a lovely store to remind me of the possibilities inherent in a gift. All the things that a gift can be and do. The ways that a gift can shift relationship, shift perspective, shift reality.
And so, as we begin the season of Epiphany, I invite you to consider what sort of gifts you might have to offer this year. What gift is your heart yearning to give, if only it could be set free?
If only it could be permitted to imagine that a gift could make a difference……that a gift could liberate us from “getting back to normal.”
Because of Jesus, things will never be normal again.
Yet what can I give him? I give him my heart.