Question: Why is prayer necessary? God knows what we need. He also sees and knows…
Why do we give gifts? Because, like Jesus, all are children of God
Christmas is the time to feel good. God wants us to feel good. He loves us. His son has become a human being, just as we are, and came that we might have true life.
To celebrate Christmas, we have developed traditions, among them the giving of gifts. Indeed, gifts are so much a part of the day that choosing them, buying them, wrapping them and presenting them are just an indispensable part of the season.
We give gifts to people we know. We give special gifts to those we love. Often, we try to make the gift special. Somebody in the family loves novels, so we look for a bestseller in fiction. Someone else works outdoors, so we shop for a pair of warm gloves.
Then, after acquiring the gift, we wrap it in bright, colorful paper, tied not with string, but with gleaming ribbon. Why? It is special. Why? The recipient is special to us.
Christmas gifts, and gift-giving, are deeply rooted in religion and in the Christian remembrance of the birth of Jesus, as it is told in the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Matthew’s Gospel is the only source that we have of our knowledge of the strangers who came from some distant, unnamed place to present gifts to the newborn Lord. All we know is that they came from “the East.” That could mean many places.
Nobody has ever truly defined who these visitors were. Seemingly, they were wealthy, because they brought very expensive gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some call them kings. When astronomy, the science of watching the movement of the planets and stars, was big, they were experts, so they were called “Wise Men.”
We know precisely, however, that they come to Bethlehem looking for the Son of God, and nothing, not even the scheming King Herod, could cause them to turn back. They knew their need for God, and they showed their belief that they had found God in presenting their gifts.
We give gifts to other human beings because each of us is a child of God, redeemed by the Son of God. Each person, therefore, is special. We give a gift to another, at least according to the roots of the custom, because we see God in the person.
The gift should be an acknowledgment that God so loved this person that Jesus was born and died for the person, and as Jesus loved, we love.
If genuine, any Christmas gift is given with love and in love — primarily love for God.
When I was a boy, one of the good Dominican nuns who taught me told this story, an old European legend. It has a very important message, and I have never forgotten it.
Once upon a time, in a great city, at Christmas, people presented gifts before the Nativity scene in the cathedral. The rich and mighty vied with each other to offer the most expensive gift.
A poor orphan boy dreamed of offering a gift, but he had nothing. One day, he found an old gold button that had fallen onto the street. He took it, scrubbed it, and laboriously polished it. Tiny, bent, broken and discarded, it finally gleamed — because of his unquestioning love for the Lord.
Christmas came. Admired by the whole congregation, the rich and “important” paraded to the crib and placed their gaudy gifts before it.
This cathedral’s tower had great bells. At times, without cause, they suddenly would ring. People said that the bells rang when God was pleased.
Ashamed of his paltry gift, the boy knelt in the shadows until Mass ended. Then, with no one watching, he laid his little button before the image of the Christ Child. Wonderfully, unexpectedly, the bells pealed more beautifully than anyone could remember.
God simply asks for our love — nothing more, nothing less.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.