One of my favourite stories is O. Henry's "The gift of the Magi." It is about a young couple who were poor. She had long beautiful, brown hair and used to look longingly at some tortoise-shell combs in the shop window. He had an old pocket watch that belonged to his grandfather. He used to look at a gold watch chain that would have gone well with the watch, in the shop window. But they were poor newly weds and window shopping was all they could afford.
That Christmas she cut and sold her beautiful hair to a wig maker so that she could buy her husband the gold watch chain. He, meanwhile, sold his prized watch to buy her the beautiful tortoise-shell combs. Each gave up what they most prized to buy something the other wanted.
God gave his son Jesus to us. The Son of the Most High, whom angels adore comes into our midst as a helpless, powerless baby. He truly becomes part of us. Each of us is aware of some deficiency, brokeness, helplessness or need in our lives. We may not be materially poor like the holy family at Bethlehem or the shepherds who came to worship the Savior of the world. But in some sense we know that we need God and his grace to live in the joy and peace and love that the Spirit brings into our lives. We would like to be a part of one another's lives.
What are we willing to sacrifice this Christmas in our family so that we may reach out to our spouse, children, parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors and those who serve us and help us?
Does someone need reassurance, appreciation, encouragement, love, kindness, patience or forgiveness in word or action? Will it cost us something to give it and show it to that someone? Instead of focusing on my needs and my stealing the limelight, can I step aside and focus on the others as Mary and Joseph did? Can I see Christ in each of the others in the family and reverence him again in them?
Make this Christmas a time of celebrating our love as a family and sharing that love with some who are lonely, suffering or in need. Have them over for your Christmas meal. Visit them and cheer them up if they are house bound. It is in giving that we receive.
It is in loving that we are loved. It is in comforting that we are comforted. Instead of getting drunk, indigestion, or satiated with too many presents and noise, let us be life-giving to one another. Let this be a celebration of Jesus' birth. Give the Prince of Peace entry into your family relationships. Give Jesus your hands to be his hands and your voice to be his voice.
So let us pause for a while and ask ourselves where the emphasis lies in our celebration of Christmas. Is it in sending greeting cards, decorating our homes, shopping for gifts, making Christmas cake and sweets and buying new clothes to wear at midnight Mass?
Or is it in singing Christmas carols and playing Christmas music to create the right festive atmosphere? Making a routine, annual Christmas confession and receiving Holy Communion at midnight Mass as rituals?
Or is it in reconciling and forgiving those who hurt us? Helping out at home, the Parish and neighborhood in small acts of service that are unnoticed but reach out in love? Forgetting about ourselves to be life-giving to others?
It could be all three. In the light of the first Christmas, where would you put the emphasis?