As you read this column, you are probably in the throes of Christmas shopping. No doubt you’ve made your list and checked it twice – all in an effort to find appropriate gifts for spouses, children, friends, and colleagues. After all, gift-giving, especially at Christmas, is more than a superficial social obligation. Our gifts should express bonds of love, friendship, knowledge, and respect for others.
But what should we give the Lord Jesus for Christmas? After all, it’s His birthday. Besides, there’s precedent for giving gifts to the newborn King. Scripture (Matthew 2:1-12) tells us of the Magi who came from afar bringing symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh: gold, a symbol of royalty; incense, a symbol of hope in the Messiah; and myrrh, a symbol of the sufferings Jesus would endure for us.
It would be impossible for us to surpass such magnificent gifts which signify so aptly Jesus’ identity as the Incarnate Son of God and His mission as Messiah to give us hope by His sacrifice of love. No gift catalogue, electronic or paper, will help us find a gift for the Lord Jesus and there’s nothing He wants or needs at the mall. The Lord is not asking you and me to fight the traffic, brave the crowds, or divulge our credit card number online. Nor would He want us to give him something extravagant – costly – but not extravagant.
The costly gift which I believe Jesus most wants to receive at Christmas does not seem like a gift to you or to me. It’s nothing we’d want to receive – but then we are not messiahs. It’s my belief that the Lord Jesus wants us to give Him the sins with which we most struggle. For some, it might be failing to worship God at Sunday Mass and daily prayer. For others, it might be a sinful habit or even an addiction or a long-standing grudge against a family member or colleague. Perhaps it’s some destructive form of self-indulgence that also wreaks havoc on ourselves and on those around us, or else, a habit of dishonesty. You and I won’t see advertisements for these “gifts” but they are want the Lord really wants of us. After all, God’s only begotten Son was born in time and history to save us from our sins.
How should we identify which sins to entrust to the Lord as Christmas approaches? The specific way we zero in on our “gift” or “gifts” to the Lord Jesus is by a sincere examination of conscience followed by a good, complete, and worthy confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. The theologian Adrienne von Spyer observes that Jesus lived His earthly life in complete openness to His Father in heaven. Confession of our sins signals that we are progressing in opening our hearts to God and thus becoming like Jesus. The “perfect penitent”, she says, lives as Jesus did: “in absolute openness, hiding nothing, always ready to be moved by the Holy Spirit, drawing assurance not from Himself, but from the Father and His Spirit.” Such openness of heart, such a lack of fear, such trust in Jesus’ power to save – that is the gift the Lord is truly asking of us.
Many parishes have penance services and expanded schedules for the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent. I would heartily encourage you to avail yourself of this sacrament in these days leading up to Christmas. Ask the Holy Spirit for the courage to make a good and complete confession and truly to be sorry for your sins. Then listen for the priest to say: “Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace. And I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Then listen again and rejoice as the heavenly host echo those words at Christmas: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” And be at peace, knowing you’ve given the Lord the best gift of all – the gift of a trusting, hopeful heart.
I wish each of you, dear readers, a blessed and merry Christmas, my first as Archbishop of Baltimore. May God bless you and keep you in His love.