We read three particularly moving books about giving last week - all of them about sacrificial, tender and very beautiful expressions of sharing love at Christmas time. I have been thinking a lot about gifts these last few days. Well, actually if I am honest, for the last few months.
I love gifts. I love giving them, planning them, receiving them, making lists, dreaming about them, anticipating them and finding one I know will make someone beam. It's a big part of who I am. It's how I express my love for people dear to me.
Christmas this year has been really precious to me in that it's the first time ever that I have watched my kids sneak around and plan their own gift-giving secrets, all without any of my help (and with all their own earned and saved pennies.) Their generosity and sheer, genuine joy in giving has touched me so much.
It has been really fun to see them whisper and be clandestine with their Grandma, who if you happen to know her, you know, she is a world-renowned santa in her own right. Their oh-so-obvious hiding and giggling is a joy to us as parents. A huge gift in itself.
But my husband and I find ourselves in the (humbling and) odd position of coming to this Christmas day empty handed as the grown-ups. We will not be giving any gifts to our family this year. We console ourselves with the knowledge that we actually brought the very favourite gifts - grandchildren to their grandparents - and that counts for a lot. And we feel incredibly spoiled to be on the receiving end of so much generosity to our little family.
But my empty hands have created a process for me. A contemplation. The lack of wrapping tangibles has made the invisible more substantial.
What I am so struck by as I think about the Christmas story is the hopes and dreams and longings and priorities knelt at a hay-filled feeding trough that the people in the story never anticipated. It was the antithesis of what they thought would unfold. On the surface it was disappointment, bad timing, hurt, abandonment, delay and pain. This was not the Roman empire being overthrown. This was morning sickness and gossip and anguish.
They all offered up a right to comfort, to being understood, of being known and safe and cared for. A secure future, a rooted present and an honourable past. They offered themselves daily in many ways and with secret choices we may never even know.
Over and over and over again - the gift they gave us, the gift they gave their father, the gift the gave to all of humankind that can now pour over their story and see humanity in stunning nobility, weakness in present deity - was them.
Mary forever to be known as a teenage mother, Joseph as a cuckolded husband, Elizabeth as way too old, Zechariah as unbelieving, Jesus as humbled and God as broken-hearted.
I keep thinking what is my most valuable part of my identity? What is so dear it's frightening to offer?
These people in the most important drama in history, yes, are known to us by their choices and reputations, but what did they have to offer to be able to say "yes" to a king's request? To lay down their preferences and rights?
I know what my offering would be. I also know what I wish it could be, or would want it to be, or would rather it was.
Christmas wasn't meant to be a list to check off and watching for sales. It was meant to be full of gifts, yes, even ones that bring cheers and delight. But this year I am thinking of the hard gifts. The ones we miss in the human underbelly of the nativity.