Here is a real-life conversation between a pampering grandmother and a pampered grandchild:
Gigi: “Have you written your letter to Santa?”
Gigi: “Don’t you want Santa to know what you want as a gift for Christmas?
Bugaboo: “My parents tell me that Santa is watching me all the time. Santa knows what I want!”
Gigi: “I give up!”
It is true that gifts are an integral part of our Christmas celebrations. This is because at Christmas, humanity received the greatest gift we could ever desire: Jesus Christ—and through him, human redemption. The gifts we give and receive originate in God’s self-gift to us.
However, I believe there is a need for a paradigm shift in the conversation between children and adults about gifts. In my vision, this is how the conversation would go:
Gigi: Have you written your letter to Jesus?”
Gigi: “Well, his birthday is coming up? Don’t you want to know what he would like for his birthday?”
Bugaboo: “My parents tell me that everything I have is a gift. I would like to do something nice for Jesus.”
Gigi: “That’s my girl!”
I am inviting you this Advent to take time to not only ponder on what we might want for Christmas, or what we want to give our loved ones for Christmas, but also to ask what we might give Jesus on his birthday. How about we do something nice for him?
Fortunately, today’s second reading has some very practical suggestions for us. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians sounds very similar to last Sunday’s reading from the letter to the Thessalonians. Paul says, “This is my prayer:
- that your love may increase ever more and more;
- so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ;
- filled with the fruit of righteousness” (Phil 1:9-11).
The three points that I am going to propose will sound very similar to the three practical implications from my homily last Sunday.
“That your love may increase ever more and more” (Phil 1:9)
When Paul says, “your love,” he is referring to the mutual love among the Philippians. His prayer is that the mutual love of the Philippians will reflect the very nature of God. The “increase ever more and more” is very similar to Paul’s exhortation last week where he urged the Thessalonians, that love should “overflow” in the community. The image Paul uses is of growing abundance. Paul’s complete sentence is, “That your love me increase more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value.” In other words, that the fruit of love would be seen in knowledge and insight. It would be seen also in the Philippians approving and accepting only that which is excellent.
“So that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Phil 1:10)
“Pure” here can also mean “genuine,” or “transparent.” The literal translation of the original Greek means, “tested by sunlight.” In the Roman world, people would hold up wine against the sun or light to see if it was clear or “pure.” Blameless here means, “without giving offense.” Paul’s prayer is that the Philippians might be tested against the light of Christ and be found blameless; that they might not cause “blame” or stumbling.
“Filled with the fruit of righteousness.” (Phil 1:11)
“Filled” here means “completed,” or even better, “brought to maturity.” It could also mean “perfected.” Thus, Paul is saying that the Philippians are completed, brought to maturity, or perfected in righteousness. In Pauline parlance, ‘righteousness’ means “everything one does to be in right relationship with God.” Elsewhere in Pauline epistles righteousness means, love as the fulfillment of the law, the same love for which Paul has just prayed. Thus, Paul’s prayer for the Philippians is that they would become mature believers by doing everything to be in right relationship with God and one another; that they would let abundant love be the fulfillment of the law.
There is a paradox in all of this. Think about it! Jesus has heaven. There is nothing we can give Jesus to enrich his life. Rather, if our love does increase more and more, if we are tested against the light of Christ and found pure, and if we are righteous and are perfected in love, then our lives, our families, and our world become better. The best gift we can offer Christ is to transform our world in the vision that Jesus had for us.