Today, Lauren and I had an argument. It was peaceful enough I suppose. I have since called her to apologize and I realized when I called her that we have had this argument before. It is a yearly argument. The argument about what we should give all our relatives for Christmas.
I do not enjoy giving gifts. It stresses me out. I feel like a failure more often than not. After all, it is hard to find a material gift that speaks clearly the sincerity of my feelings. Moreover, if we’re honest, then we know that our sincerity doesn’t always extend as far as our obligations do this time of year!
I can’t help but remember Black Friday, 2008. A person in Secaucus, New Jersey tragically died – he was trampled to death trying to get into a Walmart. I wonder why he was so energetically trying to get into Walmart in the middle of the night with hundreds of other shoppers. Was it sincerity or was it stress? Are gifts a way that we show others our sincerity – a way that we give our heart away? Or, do we hide the way we truly feel behind the bow and gift wrap? The words we should say, the words that should be made flesh in our lives – words like “I love you” or “I miss you everyday” or “I’m so sorry for what I said” – we keep these words to ourselves and offer a trinket, a sweater, a tie, a pair of socks. Is this really what Christmas is about? I wonder what the fellow from Secaucus would say.
There is a famous opera by American composer Gian Carlo Menotti – Amahl and the Night Visitors. To me, this little opera is all about gift giving. It embellishes a familiar story. Three wise men, bearing their gifts for the Christ child, stop for the night at the home of some poor peasants – Amahl and his mother. During the night, the mother, in her desperation tries to steal the gold from the king Melchior. One of the kings, catching her in the act, takes her by the arm and is about to exact punishment and judgement when Amahl, the son, intercedes on her behalf. Melchior, moved by son’s devotion, sings the following aria:
Oh woman, you may keep the gold.
The child we seek doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone he will build his kingdom.
His pierced hand will hold no scepter. His haloed head will wear no crown.
His might will not be built on your toil.
The child we seek doesn’t need our gold. The child we seek doesn’t need our stress. The child we seek demands no obligation. The child we seek desires our love. The child we seek offers his love. The child we seek also seeks us.
My point is this. It may well be the thought that counts. But God forbid we only think it!
Swifter than lightning, he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life, and receive our death,
and the keys to his city belong to the poor.
(G. C. Menotti)