4th Advent [B] 1996

Fr. Charles Irvin

2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

In this season of giving gifts, we need to pay some attention to the giving of our very own selves. After all, the word “present” stands for making one’s own self “present” to another as a gift. One’s presence is in the gift given.

Mary gave her very own self to God, saying: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.”

It was a costly gift… it cost her dearly.

In the final days of her pregnancy she rode approximately 75 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem on a donkey. It’s hard to imagine a woman nine months pregnant getting up on a donkey at all, much less getting on and off repeatedly for a 75 mile journey on something far less comfortable than the seat in a Lincoln Continental. Then, upon arrival in Bethlehem in the middle of the night, she is only allowed a place for rest in a manger, a place to shelter animals. Thereupon she delivers her Child, cradling Him in an animal feeding trough. Her gift of her self to God was costly.

Then she is forced to endure the frightful pain of knowing that little baby boys throughout the entire region were being killed on the swords of soldiers ordered to slaughter by a raging king, all because of the birth of her own Child. Hearing the shrieks of pain from nearby mothers and enduring it all in silence must have been horribly painful for her. How much does it cost to serve God’s will?

Shortly thereafter her husband, Joseph, responding to yet another dream, packs her up along with her child, puts them on a donkey again, and takes them on a longer and more arduous trip into Egypt where they, as Jews, have to live among Arabs and Egyptians who did not look kindly on Jews. There they live as alien Jews who have to be accommodated by Egyptians. Giving God the gift of your self can prove costly.

Years later, after having returned back home to Nazareth following the death of the raging King Herod, Mary has to see her son suddenly depart one day to spend an unbelievable amount of time out in the desert, and when he returns home he presents himself to all the family and townsfolk as the Jewish Messiah. The people of Nazareth then and there attempt to kill him.

From there it’s three short years later to the scene where we find Mary at the foot of His Cross, suffering her own anguish and pain as her much misunderstood son dies an agonizing death on the cross after having given her away to be the mother of John, and our mother, too. Just how much was the gift of her self to God going to cost? It’s one thing to give your very own self away, it’s quite another to have your own son give you away to a stranger!

The giving of your self to another as a gift doubles your risks. You are never free again to take care of “number one”. As a matter of fact, you never know again just who “number one” really is. Wherever the one you give yourself to goes, you go; whatever happens to the one you love, happens to you.

This giving of your self opens up a lot of questions, questions which can never be fully answered. It’s not like giving money, or some trinket, or something that you’ve purchased from another to give away. Oh, no! It is tremendously costly and requires a whole lot of deliberate thought, prayer, courage and strength.

It also does the most good. For in giving your self away a miracle happens – you find your self. It is in seeing your self in the other that you discover your self. It is in being “present” to another that you are, in fact, a gift or a present to them.

Mary models what being a gift really means. She gives to us a Christmas story that is quite different than a lot of other Christmas stories, showing us that the best gift of all is the gift of your self to the ones you love.

I recently came across the story of a father, a once poor man who became quite wealthy, who gave his son a high-powered sports car as a Christmas present. The son, not ready for the responsibility, went out and then totalled the car in an awful accident. The father, feeling sorry for his son, took the insurance money and bought him another hot car. The son went out and totaled that one, too, horribly killing two people in the process. One ponders here over the adage: “Killing with kindness”.

Then there’s the story of a different kind of father. This one, poor and without money, had a coupon booklet printed up and gave it to his son. Each coupon had printed on it: “Good for two hours of my time. I love you, Dad.” Throughout the year the boy would tear out a coupon and give it to his dad who thereupon dropped everything else and gave his son his undivided love and attention.

IT CHANGED THEM BOTH.

Will your gifts this Christmas change you? Can you give the best gift of all – your self?

And will Jesus get a coupon book from you?

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”