Two days after Christmas, it’s easy to still be thinking about the gifts. As a kid returning to school we would always ask each other, “What did you get? What did you get?” But at this time of year we also often think back upon what’s happened in the year and reflect on what gifts the year has brought us. The first New Year’s Eve after our first daughter was born, I remember thinking that I was grateful we had made it through our first year as parents. Just a couple of years ago after having many important people in our lives die that year, I was not in a place to think about what gifts that year had brought— preferring instead to think that the next year had to be better. But now I can see that there were gifts that year too. It just took awhile to be able to see them.
What gifts have you received in this past year? Gifts that have come from sorrow or joy? Gifts that have come from wise people in your life or even strangers?
The wise men brought gifts to Jesus— gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gifts, as we are told, that were fit for a king— expensive gifts. There is a common joke that the wise women showed up later with more realistic gifts— diapers and food and blankets. But I think no matter who it was that showed up, the best gift of all, would’ve been their presence.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus did not get to see angels that first Christmas night. Sure, they’d been visited much earlier— 6 or 9 months earlier— but how scared they must’ve been, wondering all of the time what in the world God was doing having Jesus to be born in a stable. So to have visitors— first the shepherds who heard the angels sing and then the wise men some time later once again reminding them that God was blessing them, would’ve been a welcome visit.
We all need reminders like that. Friends who show up unexpectedly bearing gifts of soup or flowers or a cup of coffee. Family members that understand us. Even strangers who lend a hand and help us to know that there are blessings even in the places we wouldn’t expect them.
My friend Anna Trefz recently wrote a letter to her baby niece that was a helpful reminder to me of all the good in this world, even as we hear about the bad. She wrote,
“Sweet Emma, I want you to know all the good in the world. It is easy to think of all the sadness, unjust, mean, bleak and tragic things that exist in our world and to fear you experiencing them at some point. Because you will. We all do. But I also know that life is beautiful and it is filled with good. And good people will lift you up and get you through the lows. I am so thankful for all the good people in my life. I am thankful for being raised by wonderful parents who taught me to be open, because by being open to new people, experience, places, more good comes into your life. I hope i can teach and show you this Emma. Welcome to the world baby girl. It is full of good.”
God chooses to bless us in so many different ways. And the beautiful part of blessings, is that even when we are not able to see them fully, they bless us anyway. And when we do, by grace, have our eyes open wide enough to see them, our lives fill with light. It’s not that our fear or our pain goes away, after all the wise men had plenty of danger from Herod and from traveling in those days, but there are always gifts along the way— gifts of wisdom, gifts of hope, gifts of light— when we dare to see them and, as the wise men did so generously, when we are willing to share them with others.