By Eileen Biehl
In grade school, I was not chosen to carry the Baby Jesus up the center aisle of church on Christmas Eve at Midnight Mass and place him in the manager. I did not get to wear the costume with the long sky-blue veil on my head and look like Holy Mary. It was a bitter lesson in humility for me-scarred for years, but it also kept me home that night. My grandmother was visiting for the holiday and my mother asked me to stay with her and keep track of my younger siblings, so my parents could go to Mass. Can you imagine the sighs and groans that I offered as a response?
That Christmas Eve, over 50 years ago for me, was cold and snowy. My mom had produced a largely unsatisfactory dinner of pork roast and applesauce because that is what my grandmother wanted. All the kids, five of us at the time, were a bit twitchy over what the next morning might hold. Presents were anticipated and some of the younger kids still knew it was all due to Santa. By the time my parents and my brother (chosen to be an altar boy for the Mass) left, things were quiet. I was grumpily in my bed. My mom popped in and left a present for me.
‘The gift of the Magi’ by O’Henry.
Even at 11 years old, I was changed by the book and what giving from the heart could be. You might remember the story. A woman sells her hair to buy the man she loves a chain for his watch, and the man sells his watch to buy the woman combs for her beautiful hair. The intent of each was pure and selfless. Sacrificial love. I was stunned by the story and I never have forgotten that night. I was aware of something bigger. Something bigger about Christmas and gifts and giving was offered; a gift to me then and now.
We know that Christmas and all the holidays are not about the gifts. But, I suggest that we might want to hold on to the intent of sacrificial love and what we can give to each other. Can I give you what I think that you need at the expense of what I hold dear? If you want my time and attention and I’d rather be watching Netflix or working out, what do I do? Can I swallow my pride, give you some time? Or listen to you at the expense of being right, not choosing my priorities over all else? Do I give of myself expecting something from you in return? If I do, I am likely to be disappointing both of us. When I give someone a gift, does it come from a place of wanting you to be happy? Or am I trying to make myself look better? The intent of how I give is likely more important than what I give.
Maybe one of the challenges of Advent and Christmas is to be intentional in our sacrifices and actions. To move in the world with love and a sense of wanting what is best for others. To give of myself in ways that answer the continual call of what is best for all. And, maybe, toss a good book to somebody along the way.
About the Author
Eileen Biehl is an Associate of the Congregation of St. Joseph and also works as the editor of the magazine, ImagineONE. She loves her family, good coffee, and Pilates. She’d like to love writing for fun, but she’s not quite there yet.