Our greatest gift
By Jackie Morfesis and John G. Panagiotou
The spiritual reality of Christmas by Jackie Morfesis
In this season, we often focus upon gift giving. We all have gifts. The gifts given to us, talents when cultivated, not only enrich our own lives but also serve as a gift to others.
And yet, I struggled to write on the notion of gift in this season of Advent. Nothing I wrote worked — the importance of spiritual above material gifts, the gift of heart to others, the importance of not taking advantage of others, not having a materialist mindset, valuing others for the earthly gifts they can afford us without having genuine love and affection for them in return.
I struggled to write because anything I could possibly write on the topic of gift paled in comparison to the greatest gift given to us by our Heavenly Father — His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
This is the most profound gift of our lives, the birth of the Christ child on the holiest of holy nights. Surrounded by the creatures of God, providing Him warmth. Comforted by Joseph and Mary and the rejoicing of the choirs of angels.
The only gift I want to focus upon is right there in the deep dark of night with the bright star of Bethlehem shining above. It is the life-giving, most sacred gift for all of God’s children.
I remember someone asking me if I had plans one Christmas. They were concerned that, given I have no immediate relatives in Charleston, I would be alone for the holidays. Yet, I did not hesitate in my answer. I said I did not have plans to attend a Christmas party, but it did not matter. I had already been given the greatest gift possible.
Because we are so immersed in the ways of the secular, material world, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that there is a spiritual reality right here, right now. The Lord is not our celebration only on the holidays or holy days but on every single day. Every day is an opportunity to be blessed by His birth, His love, in the forgiveness, redemption and salvation He offers us.
We have all already been given the greatest gift possible. And to honor this gift, we can in turn give to others gifts that do not divide but multiply. The gifts of the spirit — love, compassion, mercy, comfort, peace. The gifts given to us all on that most holy night: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Recognizing “the Gift” from gifts by John G. Panagiotou
As we begin another Christmas season, we are called to remember the real meaning of the gift which our heavenly Father has given us in the person of His Son, Jesus. Jesus the God-Man who came into world in the flesh to reveal the mystery of the holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Christmas is the celebration of the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus. Within the Feast of the Nativity of Jesus, we have been presented with God dwelling among us, Emmanuel [“God is with us”] (Matthew 1:23). The great Romanian Orthodox theologian Dumitru Staniloae summed this up concisely when he stated it this way, “This is our teaching: the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ, Son of God made man. These are the two fundamental teachings of Christianity. Without them, life is nonsensical.”
Yet, we live in a society — and yes, even a church — where the nonsensical has become the ordinary. It is not a stretch to say that European and North American societies have long since become post-Christian, and the church is influenced by the culture rather than impacting it. As a result, Christmas and its proper understanding has become all about us instead of being about the Son of God.
Four years ago, NBC News ran a piece entitled “The Secularization of Christmas Doesn’t Make It Any Friendlier to Non-Christians” where it candidly pronounced, “The Christmas most people celebrate isn’t about Christianity though: It’s about capitalism attempting to reconcile the desire to sell everyone as much stuff as possible with religious diversity. It’s hardly about Jesus as much as it is Santa and reindeer and elves that can be ‘for everyone.’” This analysis from a secular perspective really sheds light onto the situation and the problems that exist.
If Christmas is boiled down to merely “the stuff” of gifts we shuttle off to one another while lip service is only paid to its true reality, then we miss the point of what Christmas really is. We then enter into idolatry. You do not have to be worshiping the Greek god Zeus or the rest of the pagan pantheon to be an idolator. Idolatry simply means putting anything or anyone in place of God. You can worship your wallet/pocketbook, big expensive house, fancy new car, your children and your grandchildren instead of giving that focus and glory of preeminence to Jesus Christ.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the decorations, gift exchanging and your family at Christmastime. The issue becomes when Jesus has not first place in your mind, heart and celebrations. We do not own anything. All of these are God’s gifts to us to steward for His greater glory. None of the other gifts we can have or give can equal the greatest gift the Father has given to us in the person of His Son, Jesus. If only people would pause and be mindful in life and prayer of what all this means and what its implications are.
Jackie Morfesis is a creative, advocate and author. She holds a BFA in fine arts and an MA in liberal studies and is a former Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar to Greece. She is a Greek Orthodox Christian with an ecumenical spirit.
John G. Panagiotou is a theologian, scholar, and professor. Dr. Panagiotou is the author of the best-selling book The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse.