I was thinking today about the people in Haiti. In the midst of their earthquake recovery woes and cholera outbreak/epidemic, the thought of presents for Christmas to them must seem like a mix between an obscene joke and an unattainable dream.
And yet while our tendency is to pity them, what if we looked at it from a different perspective? What if we looked at them as amongst the luckiest people in the world, at least in terms of the Christmas celebration that draws near?
Since focusing on gifts of things, things that will perish or end up in a landfill is an exercise in futility, they can instead focus on the one thing that has any lasting value: The gift of Jesus Christ and the salvation He has won us on the Cross. Put yourself in their position. You have nothing, and so you have nothing materially to give. So all your focus, therefore, is on the "reason for the season," the miracle that God became man.
He became a tiny embryo and grew from there to full gestation. Then He was delivered "at midnight, in Bethlehem, in the piercing cold." He had diapers that needed changing. He became a playful boy. He got boo-boos and was afraid of the dark and sought comfort from His parents. He grew to adolescence, was found in the Temple, presumably learned a trade, and practiced that trade until He turned 30, living all the while with His Blessed Mother. All in obscurity.
And then for three years, He set the world ablze. He ministered to the sick and the spiritually sick. He preached, He wept, He had no place to call His own. And then after enduring untold suffering, He died a horrible death upon a cross, the death of a common criminal.
Yet today, we say with St. Thomas, "My Lord and my God." In the face of this reality, who needs gifts wrapped in paper and gilt with shiney celophane bows? How can those compare with the treasure of a personal God Who loves you so much that even if you were the only sinner who had ever lived, He would still have died for you?
This year, many have nothing. Their immediate future hangs in the balance of what happens in Congress. They want so much to put something "meaningful" and joy-producing under the tree for those they love. And this is fine. There is nothing wrong with this. And yet, if they have salvation in Jesus, don't they have something meaningful and joy-producing? Oh sure, a life in Christ is not something you can wrap in a box. But to pass on the gift of faith, it makes both the giver and receiver inestimably rich. And who has need, therefore, really, of any other present?
In some ways, therefore, the Haitians and those like them are the richest people in the world. They are compelled to concentrate on that which is truly gift, truly important, truly worth receiving.
And while we should show solidarity with them by donating to charities such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Food for the Poor, let us join them in their poverty insofar as we make remembering "the reason for the season" not so much a slogan but a lived reality.