Sharing the Spirit of the Christ
"Freely ye have received, freely give!" What have we received freely? Christ Jesus. God gave mankind His only begotten Son to share this the eternal Christ—its light, its promise, its healing power—with the world, with anyone who wanted it, freely and fully. And everyone who receives it has the opportunity and the privilege of giving it to others. This gift is precious and priceless, yet it costs nothing—nothing more than our willingness to share it. Throughout this Christmas season, why not freely share the spirit of the Christ with all the people on our "gift-giving list" and anyone else who crosses our path? Let's figure out how.
When we're thinking about gift ideas for different people, we might start by thinking about the individuals themselves: what are their likes and interests, even their needs? Next, we generate a list of possible gifts. At the same time, we keep our eyes open for an unexpected "find" whenever we're shopping. The challenge is to face down discouragement, which sometimes arises when we come up empty-handed after a focused, concerted effort to track down a gift that's meaningful. In fact, we should count our blessings every time we find something that could work for each person on our list. By the end of this often long and arduous process, we may well be out of cash if not running a credit card debt. And, in too many instances, we are left praying that the recipients really do like our gifts. All that effort for a rather nebulous result!
Now, let's go back to where we started: thinking about the individuals we love. This time, instead of giving them something that symbolizes our love, let's think of ways we can show our love. The difference is subtle, but crucial. Let's explore it by looking closely at how Jesus shared the Christ. When he taught his followers about God, he gave them statements of truth to live by. The Sermon on the Mount is a treasure trove of these truths. But Jesus did more than explain the rules. He actually lived by them every day, all day. He gave the gift of healing and regeneration, of transformation and renewal, everywhere he went. He saw the needs of the people who thronged him, from the huge crowd to the individual sinner, and he touched them all with the power of the Christ.
All of the situations in which Jesus healed are examples of his perfect gift-giving: he shared the Christ with each person in need, and that brought forth a complete transformation. How did he share the Christ? By devoting his thought to the situation presented to him – first, listening—not just to the story about sickness, disease, or impending death, but to the need behind the story. In every case, it was a need for love—that sweet sense that God is always with us, caring for us, sustaining us, and providing manna in the desert. Once Jesus had listened to hear the need, he prayed, usually in silence. He turned to his Father, God, and acknowledged man's unbreakable relationship with Him. God is never separate from His child, and this fact elicits comfort, peace, and joy—it transforms us from wistful whimpering to happy hallelujahs! Jesus healed because he never lost sight of God; he knew that the Christ—the spirit of Love—is always present. And this was his gift to us.
We can do the same thing—we can give the same gift. We can follow our deepest intuitions as we think of our family and friends: how can we show our support and love for each one? A few years ago, our family spent Christmas cherishing my children's grandfather, who was waging a losing battle with cancer. Instead of buying gifts, we let our hearts pour out our love for him in the form of poems and stories that featured special times we'd spent together. The poignant memory of sharing each poem and story with my children's grandfather that Christmas day will stay with us forever, and I am quite sure he is savoring them on his journey beyond.
Almost every year, my boys have created handmade gifts that came from the heart and touched the heart: a soaring seagull whittled out of pine; a spiral-spinning marble ornament; a clay likeness of Dad sitting in a whittled sea-kayak; a series of photos pertinent to the receiver, blown up and framed; painstakingly handwritten notes promising help with dinner, yard work, and washing the car. One of the most precious was a tender letter recounting life-lessons learned with the recipient. Another was the promise of time to be spent reading aloud to a great-grandmother whose sight was failing. In each case, the true gift was the time the giver spent listening, praying, and responding to the underlying need to feel the presence of the Christ.
A gift that expresses the Christ—that touches the heart and fills the soul—is a gift that never stops giving.