by Father Mark Goldasich
The first question that I hear often at this time of year is: “What do you want for Christmas?” That’s followed immediately by: “Because, you know, you are the hardest person to buy for!”
I don’t mean to make life difficult for people, and I’m touched that folks want to buy me something. However, I really don’t know how to answer that first question. The fact is, if I really want or need something, I just go out and buy it. That means that my “Christmas wish list” is pretty much nonexistent. And what a blessing to be able to say that.
I’m sure that you’ve by now seen or at least heard of a delightful TV ad from Amazon Prime that features a Church of England priest and a Muslim imam. (If you haven’t seen it, just Google “Amazon Prime ad imam.”)
The ad, shot in England, shows a priest and an imam getting together for a cup of tea and a chat at the rectory. It’s clear that the two are old friends. “Old,” because they moan as they sit down and rub aching knees; “friends,” because they greet one another with an embrace, and their conversation is comfortable, marked by thoughtfulness and laughter. At the end of the visit, both stand, moan at their painful knees, give each other a sympathetic look and then hug once again.
As soon as the door closes, the priest gets an idea, pulls out his cellphone and orders something from Amazon. The imam, out on the sidewalk, pauses, smiles and does the same. The next day, each man receives an unexpected package. Both laugh as they open up their boxes: Each had ordered bright green knee pads for the other.
The commercial not only conveys a much-needed message about ecumenism and acceptance, but also illustrates what I find to be true the older I get: There’s less I want (and need), and it’s more fun to get gifts for others. The priest and the imam chuckle when they realize that each man was thinking of what would make life a little easier for the other.
That attitude goes against the commercial frenzy of these days, where we’re bombarded with messages of hurry-hurry-hurry and buy-buy-buy. There’s even an “upside-down” Christmas tree for sale out there. You can get a five-foot model at Kohls for $215 or upgrade to a taller, pre-lit one for $724.49. Part of the rationale for this tree is that it lets you see your ornaments better. Of course, the other reason mentioned is that you can get even more presents under it!
Each Advent, I reread a story by the Christian evangelist Luis Palau about a wealthy family that decided to have their newborn baptized. Dozens of guests were invited to the elaborate affair, which was being held at their mansion. Everybody arrived dressed to the nines. After depositing their wraps and coats in an upstairs bedroom, the guests were entertained in style.
Soon, it was time for the main event: the baptism. Everyone looked expectantly for the infant, but no one seemed to know where the child was. The nanny ran upstairs only to return a short time later with a bewildered and worried look. All then began a frantic search throughout the house. Finally, someone remembered having seen the infant asleep on one of the beds.
Rushing upstairs, they found the baby buried beneath the pile of coats and furs. The guest of honor had been forgotten, neglected and nearly smothered.
Palau concludes, “The baby whose birthday we celebrate at Christmas may also be hidden beneath the piles of stuff we load up during the season. We need to enter every Advent asking, ‘Where’s the baby?’” (Adapted from the story in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
Let’s not forget to keep Christ in Christmas. We do that best by imitating that loving God who came to live among us, to offer himself in service to us. The best Christmas is one where we are more concerned about how much we give rather than how much we receive.
This issue of The Leaven features stories of some wonderful organizations that make the lives of needy people happier and healthier — not just around Christmas, but all through the year. Sharing time, talents and treasures with Giving the Basics, Catholic Charities, the Live Greater Foundation or just at your parish can make this a truly Merry Christmas.
Let’s get our priorities straight once again in these days: Flip that Christmas tree right side up . . . and don’t misplace the Baby who is the reason for the season.