The Gift that gives

Today in the three kings the wisdom and power of the world kneel before the foolishness of God, and unlike some, their response is not fear and anger but gratitude. In the act of responding, of seeking and finding, these gentiles are a foretaste of the feast, a tithe to God of all the peoples to come.

The response of worship, the capacity to bless and the impulse to give, are fundamental marks of what it is to be a human being. And it is these human responses that, for the rest of our lives and against much opposition, are being purified and recalibrated to their proper end—God—and to their proper motive, love that seeks first not its own good but that of the Other.

In Jesus we see how this all works, and from both sides. God takes every risk and holds nothing back; in Jesus we see what worship and self-gift look like when a real human being does it. For this is all Jesus’s business in the world, not only to show us what the Father is like, but to reveal the Father himself. At the last supper Philip says to Jesus, “Show us the Father and it is enough.” And Jesus says, “Have you been with me so long, Philip, and still you do not know me? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

And here is the note of dissonance to which we must pay attention. St Matthew tells us that, when King Herod heard the news of the wise men, he was afraid, and all Jerusalem with him. Jerusalem, the city set on a hill, failed of its capacity to bless and its destiny to worship the highest good. Jerusalem, the city of peace, showed instead the face of the city that killed the prophets and stoned those who were sent to her.

Alongside the three kings with our little camels of self-gift following behind us to the monastery, we’ve lain all we are at Jesus’s feet. And as much as we’ve been able to begin to give, Jesus accepts. Someday it will seem to be only a pittance, but at the time it was our all. As Jesus reveals himself to us, revealing the Father, he helps us see that there is more yet to give, and strengthens us to give it. By the light of his mercy, little by little, we are allowed to see just how much of ourselves we’ve held back. And our response to this turns out not to be fear and guilt, but deep joy and gratitude. To the degree that we are being purified, we see that complete self-gift is what we were made for.

For the rest of the time this creche is in the chapel, let us let this Infant search us. Let him call out of us all our gifts of love, let him see what crowns we might still have with us to set down before him.

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