In the late afternoon, I sit on the sofa holding a mug of peppermint tea, feeling the happy weight of a new cookbook in my lap. For all our turning to technology, I still savor the turn of a page, the texture of paper in my fingers. I glance up from the glossy photographs, the tips I need for making ahead, noticing that the light has faded, leaving the sky a soft orange that melts into pinks and purples. The sun never dies. Our perception of a change in the light means only that every moment our position in relation to the Source of it changes.
I feel a little melancholy, having hurtled through the month to arrive here, looking now on the fading glow of another Christmas. Somehow the tree looks naked and battered now emptied of it’s pretty packages, shedding it’s dry needles in piles on the carpet. For the last hour, I have noted the clay candy cane Adam made with his fingers laying forlornly on the floor below, right next to a gift tag that fell beside it just as aimlessly. I want to pick them up, but I also can’t quite find the motivation. And even now I know, as the pages fall against my thumb and I settle into a sigh, that better seeing must be borne of better looking, that now is not a time for staring blankly into the sky but for deciding how to use the gifts we’ve received. I wonder what the disciples felt—was it yet a far deeper melancholy? a grief?—having finally unwrapped the Gift, having finally understood Who He Is, as they stood watching the light fade behind His Ascension, as they witnessed the beginning of our now? The skylight absorbs me, stunning, and I know I need an angel too, to nudge the reminder deep: He comes again the same way. And the changes in the Light only mean that every moment shifts your position in relation to Him.
The anticipation, the waiting, should move me away from the window and right into living, breathing Him, walking with Him, yielding to His possessive use. I can’t just sit melancholy, watching the light fade.
All month, my children have eagerly desired this giving of gifts. I have received written notes in labeled pink envelopes, carefully perched beside my bathroom mirror. The chatter of wishes and possibilities has been my Christmas music. In our home, as in so many others, it is the year of The Rainbow Loom. Pages of intricate rubber band jewelry designs have been pinned, just in case, with hope. Early in the season, when I took the kids to the store to buy gifts for Operation Christmas Child, Adam browsed deliberately for himself, perhaps as a compensation for his own struggle over how to communicate his wishes. As we walked through the store, he placed four inexpensive items in the cart, making eye contact with me as he did so, vocalizing and emphasizing simply, “Adam’s.” Since I knew these were gifts he would use, maybe even things we could do with him, I agreed and hid the bag in the closet at home awaiting Christmas. Adam cooperatively forgot about them.
Over these last weeks, I have oft remembered the Word from our Father that we should ask for His gifts. The admonishment has echoed: If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11)! And we are not just to ask, but to eagerly desire the greater gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31), and these not things we hold in our hands but equipping from God with a purpose: to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in it’s various forms (1 Peter 4:10). And this perhaps is the greatest gift of now, in living toward the last Advent, that He allows those who have been given and for-given so much to become stewards of His grace. Around God’s Tree, He covered that bare, level, blood-dripped ground with gifts of grace, and He uses our serving hands to unwrap and use them, to pass them on as He changes this place.
And yet, we sometimes stand gawking at the gift placed in another’s hands, longing for that thing they’re using.
Riley opened her Rainbow Loom first, and also the pretty clear plastic case from her aunt and uncle, the one they sent personalized with her name and hot pink hearts and curly-q’s. She immediately set about organizing her colored bands, laying the direction sheet on her lap, intent on learning the loom. Zoe watched. She glanced from Riley’s lap to the tree and the packages still unopened. We take turns, so Zoe hadn’t yet unwrapped all of her gifts. She wondered, “Is there a loom under there for me? A case?” I knew she had to be thinking that the request for a loom was one she’d made first. I sat in the chair beside, watching Zoe’s fidgeting hands, Riley’s intent face. In five minutes, Zoe had that loom in her own lap. ”Look Riley, let me show you what to do.” The things Zoe had opened, the first of her treasures, she had set aside on the dining room table. And I tilted my head, quietly changing my expression, warning my younger daughter. She can do it. Let her do it. It’s her gift. And so the Spirit sows this right into my watching: God uniquely gives His gifts at just the right time, and sometimes we ungratefully set our own God-given gifts aside, reaching for the gifts He’s given another. We will just show them what to do with His equipping, as though our own has not been so significant. And He tilts His head, and He quietly changes His expression, and He warns: I gave her this to do. It’s her gift. Let her do it.
At times I’m so guilty of just this lack of thanksgiving, just this arrogance, just this lack of sight. This, and the burying, the clear staring at the sky unmoving; the standing dumb right where He left instead of watching for His coming and letting it move me to the multiplication of His giving, the stewardship of His grace in its various forms.
The changes I see in the Light only mean a change in my position in relation to its Source. I can stand looking and melancholy, not moving, not breathing Him in or being His hands; or I can walk with Him as time comes and He comes, giving away what He heaps up in my lap. His is an always giving, a perpetual gifting, a wealth of Glory and grace and love that never runs out. His battered Tree never sits empty.
In the afternoon, I sit smelling my peppermint tea, feeling the weight of that cookbook in my lap, and I know that better seeing begins with better looking. Just beside my after Christmas tree, my son leans down near the carpet, balancing a plastic monkey on a mechanism, aiming it at a plastic tree.
When the monkey lands, hooking a tree limb with its arm, Adam turns to my dad. ”Papa, I did it!” Those words, that sight—they are a precious gift.
In the kitchen, the girls bend over their looms, collaborating, admiring each other’s work, partnering in the use of gifts received, gifts given. I hear them congratulating each other, offering each other help righting their mistakes. This too is a precious gift.
And I know, I know it deep, that now is not a time for staring at the sky but for using the gifts we’ve been given. Our gifts are multiplied by use. And by our reckless, wild, generous use of His gifts, we become stewards of His grace. We must each have eyes to see what He has given uniquely. We must inhale and exhale thanks. We must trust Him with the multiplying.
He comes again in the same way. And in the meantime, He has entrusted His wealth to us. We have unwrapped it with our hands. We have held it in our arms. And we have to choose, just now, what we will do with it until He comes. For truly, He longs to return and say to each child,
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness (Matthew 25: 23)!”
So, light the candles and Live the waiting upon His coming, toward His coming, closer and closer. Now is not the time for standing still, staring at the sky.
Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
…Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).