‘Tis the season. I came across this piece in my files in a different version, which I originally contributed, a few years ago, to another venue. A few things have changed since I first wrote the blog entry. My sister has retired from her church job, and each of the important people in my life has grown a bit older. Fortunately they are all still here.
This year, Easter will be a time of new life in a very physical sense for my brother, who is recovering from open-heart surgery and for my brother-in-law who will be receiving a stem cell transplant Easter Monday in his battle against lymphoma. These two things, in particular, make us aware that life on earth is ours for a season and always a gift. It is an opportunity for redemption and new chances, for others of us, who are not dealing with physical illness, as we metaphorically roll away the stone of pride, mistakes and sin in our lives, in exchange for new lives in a less physical sense. Such things make us realize that life eternal can be ours, beyond a mere season, by virtue of our ability to receive. It can be a time of family and love and spiritual awakening…for those of us who choose to make it so.
As Easter looms near, I thought it fitting to edit my writing and post it here. Santa Bunny, here it is…this one’s for you.
Christmas… at Easter?
Yesterday, I went shopping for Easter cards to deliver at Easter dinner. It got me in the spirit of things, and brought back memories of wonderful Easter celebrations with my own family, in years past. My extended family – on my husband’s Armenian side – has incredibly large gatherings, with fabulous Armenian food and dozens of relatives and friends. My sister, Nora, is the minister of music and choir director for a church in Pennsylvania and has elaborate services that include brass quintets, bell choirs and lots of terrific music. We’ve traveled eastward to be with everyone on a number of occasions. Over the years, we’ve also spent Easter in Philadelphia, Boston, New Hampshire, Utah, Colorado and other places we’ve lived. It has always been very special. Last year, we hosted about 50 people at our home in Colorado, including many of Jordan’s friends from DU who needed a family away from home for dinner.
While I was shopping, I actually began thinking about a memory entirely unrelated to Easter… well, in my mind it was entirely unrelated to Easter, until yesterday. I thought about the story that I have always read to my children, WITHOUT FAIL, every Christmas since I can remember. It’s O. Henry’s, Gift of the Magi. Now, for those of you who may not be up to speed on this short story, I’ll give you the short Wikipedia synopsis:
“The Gift of the Magi is a short story written by O. Henry about a young married couple and how they deal with the challenge of buying secret Christmas gifts for each other with very little money. As a sentimental story with a moral lesson about gift giving, it has been a popular one for adaptation, especially for presentation during the Christmas season.
James [Jim] Dillingham Young and his wife Della are a young couple who are very much in love with each other, but can barely afford their one-room apartment due to their very bad economic situation. For Christmas, Della decides to buy Jim a fob that costs $21.00 for his prized pocket watch given to him by his father’s father. To raise the funds, she has her long, beautiful hair cut off and sold to make a wig. Meanwhile, Jim decides to sell his watch to buy Della a beautiful set of combs made out of tortoise shell and jewels for her lovely, knee-length brown hair. Although each is disappointed to find the gift they chose rendered useless, each is pleased with the gift they received, because it represents their love for one another. The story ends with the narrator comparing the pair’s mutually sacrificial gifts of love with those of the Biblical Magi.”
Traditionally, I have always read the story aloud to kick off our twelve days of Christmas celebration, inevitably rising to the end of the last portion of the book with a crescendo of seemingly uncontrollable sobs and tears. I suspect that’s because the two characters in the story probably remind me of Gary and me, who have struggled through some tough life situations but have managed to keep our faith and love very much alive despite our challenges. Gary puts towels out for my shower every morning. After 25 years together, I still put on lip gloss, and brush my hair right before Gary walks in the door from work or golf. I smile and smack Gary’s tush as he walks by, despite the fact that it occasionally makes our children insanely uncomfortable. We still flirt with each other, hold hands like we’re dating and would sacrifice anything personal for each other… which brings me around to the point of this blog (in case you were all wondering where all of this was headed).
Easter is about sacrifice; it is also about God’s love for us, the things He does for us each day to remind us that we are precious, and the price that Jesus paid for us on the cross. It’s about hope and redemption and joy. But, as Christians, it’s also just as much a message about receiving. It’s about receiving the message of Christ and about receiving the sacrifice that’s been given on our behalf. How important the “receiving” really can be! It is often just as important as the giving side of the equation. When we’re in a relationship with someone who is special to us, what is important to us is how what we give, to the other person, is received by them… and whether it is received with care and love and a sense of value and importance. In the Gift of the Magi, the gift exchange holds only momentary importance, but the preparation and receiving/internalizing is the really important part of the allegory. Think about how different the Biblical Magi story would be if, when the wise men presented their gifts, Mary or Joseph had told the wise men that they were too busy, or selfishly consumed with their own situation… if they had said, “hey – leave those gifts over there and we’ll take care of them later, when it’s convenient for us or when we feel like it.” We all want for our sacrifices and our gifts – and ourselves! – to be received with an attitude of gratitude and with an emphasis on value, worth and loving kindness. We all want to be validated for what we offer to another. It made me focus, in a new way, on how I am receiving Christ’s sacrifices in my own life (how God wanted me to receive them) … and frankly, it made me also focus on ALL of my relationships, and how I need to receive the gifts and the messages from others all around me. I need to receive them with more appreciation and care and focus…just as I want others to receive mine. We have all heard that it is more blessed to give than to receive… but that doesn’t really imply that receiving isn’t important, does it? Maybe Christmas is more about giving, and Easter is more about receiving. I choose to believe that, maybe, each is a little bit of both.