What do you want for Christmas? Seriously. Over the past week, I have been in awe of what is on offer.
Starbucks is offering a coffee sampler with the heading “Create wonder. Share joy.”
At the department store I was transfixed by a product line called Philosophy which offers “Hope in a jar” moisturizer and a series of fragrances called “Amazing Grace,” “Giving Grace,” “Living Grace,” “Pure Grace,” “Inner Grace” and “Unconditional Love” to name a few.
Although this will date me, when I was young I knew Christmas was on the way for one reason.
It wasn’t the beginning of Advent, which begins four Sundays before Dec. 25. Nor was it the annual trip to the Santa Claus Parade. I knew Christmas was on the way when the Sears Christmas Wish Catalogue arrived on the doorstep.
I would pore over the pages, making my list and checking it more than twice. The Barbie Camper in particular opened the possibility of creating an idyllic controlled play world where everyone was happy and healthy.
Perhaps more to the point, no one on the Camper journey would be struggling with drugs or alcohol, or dying from cancer. The initial wonder and joy that were found in the pages of that catalogue, and the toys themselves, were fleeting and the hope they held quickly faded as they were relegated to corners, shelves and cupboards.
There is perhaps no greater push toward consumerism than the Christmas Season. And yet the items on offer rarely, if ever, provide what we truly need. In the 17th Century, Blaise Pascal wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum, in the heart of every person, and it can never be filled by any created thing.” Many of us know the reality of that vacuum, so we seek to fill it with fleeting things that quickly fade.
The true promise and gift that lies at the heart of Christmas is neither fleeting nor does it fade. It is the gift and celebration of the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us,” the God who enters the world in the most humbling way, shares our humanity and freely offers us wonder, hope, grace and unconditional love. It is the greatest gift that has the power to fill our heart and, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “It’s a Christmas gift you don’t have to buy. There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes.” (from Cry of a Tiny Babe).
Opening our hearts to receive that gift is an important endeavour. It may mean being more intentional about spending time with God, either in prayer, in reading and reflecting on scripture or in worship. As followers of Jesus, it may mean taking on a special Advent devotion or joining in family prayers around an Advent wreath or calendar. It may mean sharing the true story of Christmas with friends, family or co-workers who may not know it. (This latter reality came home to me a few years ago when someone confused Rudolph’s red nose with the “light” of Christmas and dismissed it as “too religious.”) It may mean reaching out to someone who is struggling or in need. No matter who we are, the true gift of Christmas is about embracing the love God offers and sharing it with those whom God brings into our lives.
Reverend Janet Read-Hockin is Incumbent priest at the Parish of St. Nicholas, Birch Cliff