What Shall We Offer to Christ?
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Following the fall of communism in Albania, there was a state-run orphanage where 100 boys and girls lived under squalid conditions. With the freedom of religion came the opportunity for the Church to be more involved in these state institutions, and to bring such children the joy and good news of Christmas. A priest and some of his parishioners happened to go to this orphanage and share the Christmas Story with all the children. He told them about the Virgin Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem finding no room in the inn. How the holy family found refuge in a cave, where the baby Jesus was born, and how they placed Him in a manger among the animals.
Throughout the story, many children and even the orphanage staff listened with amazement, probably for the first time ever to the Christmas story. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Following the story, the priest instructed the children on how to make a little Nativity scene, with pieces of cardboard as a crude manger. Following instructions, the children tore pieces of napkin and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. A doll-like baby was cut from other crude material, along with the figures of Joseph and Mary, the angels and shepherds.
The orphans busily assembled their Nativity scene as the priest walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until he noticed little six year old Dimitri. He had just finished his project, but as the priest looked at the little boy's manger, he was surprised to see not one, but two babies in the manger. He thought the boy misunderstood the story and asked why there were two babies in the manger instead of just the Christ child. The little boy, however, began to repeat the story very seriously. For having heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings accurately - until he came to the part where the Virgin Mary placed the baby Jesus in the manger.
Then Dimitri began to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, "And when Saint Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma or papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with Him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like the three great kings. Yet I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that I could offer as a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.
So, I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody could give me."
"And I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with Him for as long as I liked, and if I chose to stay with Him, He would live in me – forever!!!
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Christmas is often associated with gift-giving, and of course, the greatest gift during this holy season is the Gift that God offers to the world – the gift of God Himself! The Creator of the universe is not only the first and greatest Gift-Giver, but He also is the greatest Gift offered to all humanity!
An important question for all of us to reflect upon, however, during this holy feast is two part: First, will we accept the gift that God offers to us, to truly accept Him in the depths of our hearts and lives? Will we not only remember and celebrate Christ being born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, but will we make room in our busy and hectic lives, and allow Him to truly come and be born anew in us, to come and be born anew in the center of our lives?
Second, as we accept this priceless gift from God in our lives, what will we offer back to Him in return, as our own gift of gratitude? What appropriate gift can we present to Him in return for His extreme generosity? Little Dimitri offered his warmth and his love? But what gift will we give to Christ?
Think about this – how many hours have we spent thinking about what gifts we will buy for our family and friends. How many hours upon hours have we gone shopping, in the midst of the crazy and hectic atmosphere of the malls and shops?
Compare our commercial shopping with how much time have we spent thinking about what we will offer to the One whose birthday it actually is?!? I hope that we can give Him more than a few hours coming to Church to worship Him during these holy days? Maybe some of us have offered Him the discipline of our fasting during this Advent season, and we’ve given Him our good will and charity with gifts to the needy?
Yet, what gift is the greatest gift that God actually wants from us?
I remember the words of one of my dear old professors and spiritual fathers, Fr. Theodore Stylianopoulos, who once told us students, “It costs nothing to become a Christian. But once you become one, it then costs you everything, it costs you your entire life!”
That’s a costly gift, for sure! It is actually priceless – to give one’s entire life to Christ! Yet this is the only gift that God wants. He desires for us to trust Him and to give Him our very being – to cultivate a worldview where He is at the center, where His Spirit living in us is our guiding force in life, and where His Word influences every action in our lives.
Yes, this is surely a demanding gift, and some of us may not be ready to give such a complete offering to the Lord. We may want to give Him some less costly gift – a little bit of our time, every once in a while; a little bit of our effort whenever we think about it; something that isn’t really too demanding or too disruptive in our lives. Yet, think about such a gift? Is it appropriate to offer only part of our selves, whenever it’s convenient? Is that the proper response to the priceless Gift that God offers to us at Christmas?!?
Of course, Christ will accept whatever we give as a beginning. Yet, for us to truly experience the priceless treasure of our Christian Faith, we have to open up our hearts and lives completely. If we offer a limited or superficial offering to Christ, our hearts will only be opened in the slightest way, and we will only be able to receive a superficial amount of the blessings He wants to give us. If, on the other hand, we open up our hearts in a more extreme and radical manner, this opening will allow God’s grace and love to flow into our hearts, to transform our lives in the most meaningful and beautiful way!
Dimitri gave of himself to the Christ child. He offered his warmth, his love, his life. What will we offer?