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Christmas and the gift of encounter Print
Guest column
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Journey with Faith
Deacon Lawrence Oparaji

One fateful Christmas season some years ago, something very significant happened in a family.

A mother came back from Christmas shopping and was welcomed by her eight-year-old son Daniel and her much younger daughter Jane. The children were so excited and eager to see what their mum bought. She, however, asked them to allow her to freshen up and rest a little before unveiling the Christmas goodies.

The unveiling eventually came, and the children were handy and active. There were gifts for their daddy, for their mummy, for their aunties and uncles, for their grandpas and grandmas, for their family friends and for their cat and dog.

Eventually the shopping bag was empty! Looking at the empty shopping bag, Daniel became sad and moody. Discovering Daniel's sudden mood change, his mother became worried, and asked him what was wrong with him.

One gift was missing

While trying to disclose his displeasure, Daniel broke down crying, but his mother managed to hear him say that she bought gifts for everyone and forgot to buy something for Jesus Christ on his birthday!

What a beautiful heart little Daniel had. Not only does he possess a kind and thoughtful heart, he also raises an important point for reflection in our world today. Questions like: "What is the true joy of Christmas?" and, "What kind of gift could Jesus possibly want from us?"

How many of us would not feel broken hearted if on our birthday, everyone gathered, celebrated, exchanged gifts, and the least person remembered is you, on YOUR birthday! I bet it would be quite an unpleasurable experience to say the least.

But what is even more interesting about Christmas is that it is not only the birthday of our Savior, it is also the commemoration of an event that changed the world, an event that ushered in the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, the Incarnation of the Word of God who was with God in the beginning and who is God.

Hence, Christmas is not only about the birth of the second person of the Trinity, it is also about God's redemptive act through a humble and virginal birth.

Experience of the Grinch

Recently I visited my uncle in Dallas, and my little cousins insisted I watched the movie, The Grinch, with them.

A particular scene struck me: The scene where the Grinch came up with a plan to "steal Christmas!" He stole every present in Whoville, thinking he had stolen Christmas!

Contrary to his expectations, the whole village gets up the next morning, discovering their material gifts were all lost, gathered together, and started singing hymns with so much joy.

This move by the citizens of Whoville, changed Mr. Grinch and led him to an encounter with the true Spirit of Christmas -- much like the encounter we have with our Savior, Jesus Christ, and to experience that love and joy of knowing Christ that we are called to live out in our lives.

Mr. Grinch, in his efforts to steal Christmas and the gifts of the people of Whoville, was led to an encounter with this Spirit, and he, himself, received a life changing gift of the true spirit of Christmas, the true joy of Christmas -- a joy that surpasses presents and springs from the realization that the Savior of the world is born.

What gift does Christ want?

Now that we have explored the true meaning of Christmas, we want to ask, "What sort of gift could the Son of God possibly want that He does not already have?"

Christ earnestly yearns for gifts. What joy He must have felt when the three wisemen brought Him His first birthday gifts.

But of all the gifts given to Christ that day, I think the best gift was the encounters his birth brought about with the human family. The encounter His birth brought about in the shepherds who left the fields to come see the newborn Messiah and those He had with all those gathered in the manger on that solemn night.

I also like to think how His heart must have bled at the many shut doors and those failed encounters with those who were in the inn.

Encounters with Christ

Throughout Christ's life, encounters with people were so deep seated in his life and ministry. They were, and are, some of the best gifts which He treasures, because through these encounters He won, and continues to draw all more men and women to Himself.

It is through these encounters that He called the twelve and still calls us all through the universal call of holiness, according to our individual vocations. So, encounters are the best gift we can give Christ and indeed the only gifts he truly desires.

These encounters are never born from staying away from Christ. That will be more like our brothers and sisters in that inn who for one reason or the other could not open their doors to give Christ a suitable place to be born.

Encounters are born from humbling ourselves, drawing near to Christ in prayer, from prayerfully and diligently entering into and participating in the beautiful sacraments of our Church, from silence especially before our Lord in Adoration, and through sacrifices -- that act of disciplining and tempering our passions so that we can more easily and readily unite and offer them to Christ.

A great thing about the gifts Christ desires from us is the beautiful fruits they bear. All we have to do is to literally show up -- make the effort to spend time with him, receive him in the Eucharist, give Him a chance to enter into our hearts, open wide those doors of our hearts and He will in turn birth his love, joy, and peace in us.

No person ever who encountered Christ remained the same. If they were bad, they became good, if they were good, they became better, and if they were better, they became saints. That is the beautiful thing about being a Christian -- the moment you feel you have arrived is the moment you discover that there is a lot of room to grow.

So dear friends, as we all gather for Christmas and share delightful gifts with one another, please give Christ the gift of an encounter, the gift of yourselves, the chance of taking the front seat in your life and watch Him make a home in your heart and work in you, through you, and for you, for the glory of God and the salvation of humanity. Merry Christmas and a blessed new year!

Deacon Lawrence Oparaji is a transitional deacon of the Diocese of Madison serving at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie.