Often when we think of a great gift, we think of things. A pair of shoes. A bicycle. A car. A cell phone. But the best gifts are not things; they are people.
I think of Mary. She was not wealthy or powerful. She was just an average Judean woman from Nazareth, living a normal life. But during one conversation, her entire life changed. First, an angel appeared to her. That’s strange. Then, the angel told her she would give birth to a son who would sit on the throne of David. That’s crazy. Finally, the angel told her that she would get pregnant miraculously by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s impossible.
Imagine how Mary was feeling just then. Confused about whether this angel was real or she was just going crazy. Worried about how Joseph, her fiancé, would react. Scared about what others would think. But above all, lonely. Who else could possibly understand what she was going through? Who else had this kind of experience? No one. She was totally alone.
And right at that moment, God gave her a gift. And it wasn’t a thing. It was a person: Elizabeth. “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Elizabeth was someone who “got it,” that is, someone who could understand Mary and what she was going through. These two women could support and encourage each other though the strange events that were yet to come. In their two tummies was the hope of the world, John to announce it and Jesus to accomplish it.
Elizabeth wasn’t the only person who Mary was gifted. When Jesus was born, quietly in a manger, shepherds arrived. They didn’t know Mary and Mary didn’t know them. But they were by Mary’s side. Later, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Simeon came to Mary because he recognized who this child was. At the end of Jesus’ life, as he hung on the cross about to die, He gave Mary another gift: a new son. Pointing to John, Jesus said to Mary, “Behold your son.” At just the times in Mary’s life when she would have been confused, worried, scared, and lonely, God connected her with just the right people who “got it,” who could understand Mary and the situation she was in.
Have you ever felt like Mary? Confused, worried, scared, lonely? I have. The best gifts at those times aren’t things. A pair of shoes does not take away the confusion. A bicycle doesn’t stop the worry. A car doesn’t make you less scared. In fact, in Phnom Penh traffic it might make you more scared! A phone doesn’t take away the loneliness, no matter how many likes you get or how many people text you.
The best gifts aren’t things, rather they are people who get it. But “get” what? Not just Mary and her situation. Each of these people who came into Mary’s life “got” something else, too. They knew that the true best gift was a person, the one who was in the womb of Mary, the baby Jesus. Elizabeth got that; she once said to Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The shepherds got it, too; the angel had told them, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Simeon got it. After looking at the baby Jesus, he said, “my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” John certainly got it, too. In the Gospel that bears his name, he called Jesus “the light that shines in the darkness.”
They all got it. Do you? That baby that Mary carried would one day hang on a cross, confused, worried, scared, and lonely, for you. Nobody gets it better than Jesus himself, and that’s why he is the best gift. This Christmas, God doesn’t want you to have just another thing that will one day break or get sold second-hand. He wants to give you a person: His Son, Jesus. He was confused so that you could be sure of your salvation. He was worried so you would never have to worry about his love again. He was scared so that you need not fear his judgment. He was lonely so that you would know that you are never alone. Jesus is Immanuel, God with you. He gets it. He gets you. Today, on Christmas, the baby Jesus is not the thing you want; he is the person you need.
Even across an ocean, your brothers and sisters in Christ in Southeast Asia are united with you in celebrating the birth of Christ. THANK YOU for sending us to join them in proclaiming the baby Jesus to all. Our family wishes you a MERRY CHRISTMAS.