There’s a scene in the show “The Big Bang Theory” where Sheldon is preparing for a gift exchange with Penny. Sheldon gets many gifts of varying values so he can give Penny the appropriate one in response to whatever she gets him.
Sheldon ends up receiving a kind and thoughtful gift from Penny. So much so that he gives her every gift he prepared. It was quite an uneven gift exchange.
As we prepare for Christmas, we think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was given a somewhat confusing and overwhelming gift: a baby she was not prepared for. We’re invited to ask ourselves this question: What “gift” has dropped into your life this year that you never planned on receiving?
Maybe an unexpected health situation, a new child in the family, a job change, a difficult mental health experience or a new relationship. All these life experiences can both inspire and frustrate us. When we choose to journey deeper into them, we learn they’re all a gift that can teach us something. And how we respond to the gifts matter. We can resist or avoid. Or we can receive and trust.
How we receive Christ this year matters. Will we welcome him into a new area in our life together? Or will we avert our eyes, hoping he doesn’t come near?
An uneven gift exchange can feel awkward when we don’t have a gift of equal size to give back. If you struggle to receive gifts and grace in this life from others, we can learn from Mary.
Richard Rohr says it this way: “If Mary was trustfully carrying Jesus during this time, it is because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. If we ourselves try to manage God in any way, or even to manage ourselves, we will never bring forth the Christ but only our small selves. The Eternal Christ, you might say, is precisely that part of you that you have received as a gift.”
We miss the point of Christmas when we have trouble receiving the gift of Jesus himself. We try to dismiss the gift because we can’t comprehend someone would want to gift us with so much. Someone wants to give me the child of the creator of the world who’s going to show me how to live and love in a new and beautiful way? Nope, doesn’t sound like an easy gift to me.
Our spiritual work is to increasingly let go of our need to control and sink into the beautiful truth that love always wins. And that usually means an uneven gift exchange. Either we’re giving love that may not be returned – or we’re receiving love that simply needs to be received.
Jenny Smith is pastor of the Marysville United Methodist Church. Her column runs monthly.