No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.Oscar Romero
Early in December, I was coming home from an afternoon of running errands and as I pulled into my driveway, I saw two gift bags sitting on my front porch. At first I thought it might have been one of those “you’ve been boo’d” or “Secret Santa” kinds of things from an anonymous neighbor. But after I read the tag on one of the gifts, I saw it was from my friend Karen. Her note said I would be receiving several more gifts that day, each with a letter to unscramble. And so over the course the of the rest of the afternoon, the loveliest little gifts showed up on my front porch. And at the end of the day, the letters spelled B U N C O F U N.
I should probably pause here to add that this would usually have been about the time of year when I invite all my girlfriends over for our annual Christmas bunco party. We always have so much fun – like snorts and belly laughs kind of fun. And it’s something I have come to look forward to every year. But because of the pandemic, I didn’t feel like gathering my friends together in my home was a good idea. And even though I knew it was the right thing to do, I was still so bummed about it.
Anyway, earlier that afternoon, I learned that Karen had organized the whole thing. And when I texted her to tell her thank you, she said, “We love having our Bunco night and thought this was a great way to show you we missed you this year!”
I seriously thought my heart was going to burst with gratitude at the kindness and thoughtfulness of my friends. In fact, I cried on and off that whole day feeling the love. And I’m not talking about the cute Hallmark movie solitary tear down the cheek kind of thing. No this was an all-out ugly cry, complete with snot and mascara running down my face.
I feel like I should pause here again because based on my overly emotional reaction you might think I have been living as a recluse my whole life with no meaningful human interaction. I mean I guess I could argue that we have a been living through a pandemic most of the year and in person connection has been limited. But even still, that seems like a bit of stretch.
And furthermore, it’s not as if I don’t know what it means to feel loved. Because I was raised by loving parents. I am loved by my family. I am told I am loved. I am shown I am loved. I feel loved.
I know I am loved.
I think a big part of my original reaction to the kindness of my friends was the element of surprise and unexpected, unmerited nature of their gifts. It’s not my birthday or a special occasion. And they did not expect a gift in return. Nor were their gifts in reciprocation for any great gift on my part.
Well, I guess that is unless you count those previous years’ gatherings that I vacuumed the cat hair off my dining room chairs before they came over. But that’s probably another post for another day.
Still though, I don’t think that can account for the fact that I still get choked up talking about it (or writing about it). And I’ve spent a decent amount of time trying to understand why the wonderment and delight of that day has stayed with me like it has all month long.
Then one day last week I was reading my Advent devotional Watch for the Light. The piece for that day was ‘The God We Hardly Knew’ by William Willimon, and he begins his essay by talking about how unsettling it can be to receive an unexpected gift.
Every word of this chapter felt like it was expressly written for me, to me, especially this passage:
I would rather see myself as a giver. I want power – to stand on my own, take charge, set things right, perhaps to help those who have nothing. I don’t like picturing myself as dependent, need, empty-handed.”William Willimon
That last line was like a punch in the gut. And when I finally connected the dots a little, I realized that my reaction to the kindness from my friends exposed a vulnerability in my heart – and that is how much I need them.
Exposed. Needy. Vulnerable.
Yeah. Not exactly a comfort zone for this independent, self-sufficient, resourceful over-achiever. Especially when these feelings are totally counter-culture the try-hard, bootstrap, self-improvement world we live in.
I think it’s important to point out that being strong and wanting to give to others isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The problem is when I forget that I must first be a receiver of the gift from God.
At Christmas, we celebrate the unmerited gift of God’s Grace in the coming of His Son, Jesus. Grace can be such a stumbling block for us, though, because this utterly unimaginable, supernatural gift exposes our vulnerability. And that is we can’t earn Grace. We can’t hustle for it. We have nothing to offer God and instead, come to Him completely empty-handed, powerless and poor. Yet it is precisely this poverty of spirit that makes us receivers of the abundance of God. We simply have to believe to receive this gift.
Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.Luke 2:10
My friends gave a me beautiful gift this year. They reflected the love of God to me. They reminded me to what it means to be poor in spirit. They gave me the gift of a genuine Christmas.
I hope in some small way telling you my story gives you the same gift they gave me. And my prayer is that you will experience the joy, hope, and peace of the season from knowing how much you are loved by God.