Monday, December 24, 2012

#KeepingAdvent: "Presents and Presence"

Image courtesy of Idea go / freedigitalphotos

We all know what today is. It’s Christmas Eve, the day before we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ as God Incarnate, and tonight is when Santa Claus comes. In some households, the festivities begin today with Christmas pageants, dinners, the opening of a single gift or other traditions as many families split the holiday among more than one location. For others it is the last mad dash of preparation spent shopping, wrapping, cooking, traveling, or some hectic combination thereof.

Today is also my birthday. Yes, in the midst of all the other hubbub of Christmas Eve, I had the nerve to come wailing into the world some x-number of decades ago. In fact, I grew up with the story of that inconvenience told again and again each year -- as the youngest of four, it threw a real kink into the rest of the family’s plans – and combined it with other experiences growing up to come to the conclusion that I was not wanted.

Yet, despite all of that (or more likely, with God’s unfathomable help), I have always believed that He and I have something special going on, as if being born the day before Christmas put me just a little bit closer to Him. Now, that’s not to say someone having a birthday any other day of the year can’t be just as close to God. I never thought about it that way. It’s just that from before I can remember I pulled from the experience of my birthday a sense of connection to God or specialness that I now believe is the very definition of grace. It can be yours too.

Each of us has the potential to pull something out of our experiences or circumstances and point to it as evidence of God’s grace uniquely and unconditionally given to each of us. It may be a special talent or simply the miracle that we are here. As I reflect on my life I see a pretty direct correlation, regardless whether the actual circumstances were positive or negative, between how dark or bright certain periods were and my degree of closeness to God. The brightest times have been when I “walked with God,” looking for His love in other people and gratefully noticing more of His blessings, even if the circumstances were quite challenging. The darkest times have been when I tried to go it alone, working harder and faster to fix whatever needed fixing until I finally burned myself out, surrendered and turned back to Him. His presence is constant; mine is what waxes and wanes.

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622
Image taken from

This year I received an early birthday present, in the form of Bishop Gregg’s December 2nd sermon, when he said, “Every day, always and no matter what, you and I, my brothers and sisters, are the beloved sons and daughters of God where God is love. And everything comes from that truth.” He made it clear: it matters less whether the right people love us or if certain people love us in the right way. God does.

Isn’t that what each of us really wants for Christmas, and isn’t that why God sent Jesus in the first place?

Merry Christmas,
Elizabeth Witherspoon

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