“So [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” – Luke 2:16-19
“Oh, but you didn’t have to!” How many times has a gift I gave been greeted by those words! And my standard reply is not really very standard: “If I had to it wouldn’t have been a gift.” I know I miss the point. They mean to express unexpected joy and gratitude. (I’m hiding my dumb luck at having stumbled on just the right gift.) In another sense, I don’t miss the point. Gifts are given freely or not at all.
We’ve been reading all Advent long about two parallel songs of women whose sentiment toward God is similar. Hannah, childless until she conceives Samuel, the last and greatest of the judges of the Old Testament, bursts forth in song at the gift of what didn’t have to be. Mary, chosen by God to be the Mother of God, when it could have been most anyone else, bursts into song. The fact of the gift (rather than nothing) and the fittingness of the gift (when it could have been otherwise) give rise to unexpected joy and gratitude.
And perhaps it goes deeper still. There is wonder; wonder at a gift freely given, and therefore truly a gift, and exactly fitting, for it was precisely what we most needed. I wonder when I think that God actually takes the cosmic risk of giving people the freedom to reject their own Source so that any relationship between them and the Source could be freely given and received. If I were more capable, a song would be fitting. And there is more. I wonder that God would hide divinity in a human face so we would understand. I wonder that God would hide in our faces as we face one another.
It just didn’t have to be that way—and yet it is.
(As a prayer, imagine yourself in a place that inspires wonder and ponder the gift God didn’t have to give.)
-Fr. Paul Moore
As a Christmas bonus to y’all, we have a playlist of Christmas music for you here.