Simple Gifts This Christmas

The Christmas season evokes a scene of an infant on a manger, with only the child’s parents, Mary and Joseph, and a few shepherds present. The coming of Christ into the world was so simple and unannounced that nobody living that time ever realized the significance of the momentous event. The Son of God was born in an obscure town of Bethlehem from a simple woman who gave her fiat to the angelic messenger, Angel Gabriel delivering God’s message of the coming of the One who would change the world. The birth of the infant Jesus, the Son of God, was foretold by the prophets centuries before and yet he came into the world in an unostentatious manner; born in a simple manger to simple parents with no splash and grandiosity befitting the King of Kings. God could have brought His beloved Son into this world in a grandiose manner and full of majesty, attended by a coterie of angels and with the world bowing before the Infant Jesus to pay respects. But no, God chose a small animal shack for his Son and His parents, a few shepherds and the three Wise Men to witness His coming into the world. By being born in a manger to poor parents from Nazareth, God tells us where He dwells – not in places of majesty and glamor but among the poor and the down-trodden, the sick and dying, the hungry and the oppressed.

The birth of Christ stands in stark contrast to the ways of the world where power, wealth and fame are given such overrated significance to a point that for one to be considered a success one should aspire and pursue relentlessly for them. Present ways are so infused with consumerism, selfishness and ostentation that we often regard them as the end all and be all of everything.

In one of his reflections on the simplicity of Christ’s birth, Pope Francis said “The tiny Child of Bethlehem speaks to us of a new way to live our lives: not by devouring and hoarding, but by sharing and giving. Standing before the manger, we understand that the food of life is not material riches, but love; not gluttony, but charity; not ostentation, but simplicity.” The pope also added that one cannot await Christ lying on a couch, sleeping. However, like the Shepherds, who left their flock to see Baby Jesus, one must “set out, to risk, to recount the beauty.

Sadly, Christmas has been transformed from the simplicity of the Nativity to unabashed consumerism of today. As the Holy Father rightfully observed “An insatiable greed marks all human history, even today, when paradoxically a few dine luxuriantly while all too many go without the daily bread needed to survive.” The irony of it all is that we celebrate his coming but we do not welcome Him into our hearts and lives.

But the pandemic put a screeching halt to all these. If at all, COVID-19 is a grim reminder for us to refocus on what is important. It is forcing us to embrace a minimalist existence; one that is simple and one that is so fundamental. When before we were too busy with so many things, big and small; always running to and fro in pursuit of success and happiness, now we have to content ourselves and learn to appreciate simple joys that we used to take for granted. The pandemic has rudely put a stop to the usual Christmas frenzy, forcing us to take stock of ourselves and focus on the real meaning of Christmas.

The Christmas season, according to Pope Francis in his Sunday audience, provides reason for hope. He urged the faithful to recall the true meaning of Christmas — the birth of Jesus — and lend a hand to the neediest. He said: “There’s no pandemic, there’s no crisis that can extinguish this light,” pointing to the Vatican’s Christmas tree.

Surely, we can still find the joy of Christ’s coming even in these difficult times if we welcome Him into our lives with simplicity, devoid of complications and moral as well as spiritual baggage that weigh us down. Echoing and paraphrasing a beautiful song – Simple Gifts – from the Shakers, a millennial Christian sect: Let’s give each other simple gifts, the gift to be free, the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, we will be in the valley of love and delight. Indeed,, when true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed, to turn, turn will be our delight, until by turning, turning we come round right.

This Christmas Day, let us turn to Bethlehem, follow the Star of David, to God’s simplest yet most powerful gift to us: a Holy Family that is a model and protector and a Messiah who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

To all my readers, may you have the simple and best gifts this Christmas!

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