About to cross the street, the woman standing next to me held a cup of Starbucks. I pondered the small pleasure of buying a cup of coffee—and wondered where that pleasure is rooted in the human soul. Not the pleasure of drinking the coffee, the pleasure of buying it.
A few days before, I had felt the urge to buy something. Not anything in particular. I just got the urge to go out and buy something.
What is the pleasure we get from exchanging money for something? Is it the satisfaction of giving and receiving? After all, the joy of giving and receiving is the ultimate human connection.
There is a kind of renewal in purchasing. We give money to the clerk and she gives us something new in return. It becomes ours, it becomes part of us, and we are enlarged, refreshed, and feel more whole through the brief exchange.
Gifts of the Magi
The three Wise Men brought their gifts to honor a King and a God. What kind of exchange did they expect in return? Worshiping a god-king was not unknown in the Middle East, going back as far as 2300 BC, 500 years before Abraham, when some kings were considered divine. We can see now that these beliefs were precursors to the Divine King of Kings, Jesus.
The saints assure us that the wise men did recognize Jesus as God, which is why they offered him frankincense, used in divine worship; gold, which only a king could own; and myrrh, for the burial of Him who would save our souls. St. Peter Chrysologus (c. 400-c. 450) writes, “Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain, now enclosed in a tiny body.”
These three pagan kings were drawn by Jesus, although they didn’t fully understand it, to learn from Him how to give and receive. The gifts, costly as they were, represented something more precious: their devotion to Him as God and their deep desire to participate in His divine life. Wordlessly, they soaked in His divine presence and, I imagine, burned with a desire to tell the folks back home of the unheard-of love of this Jesus.
How to scratch the itch of buying, in a holy way
As I crossed the street, I wondered if I could replace my urge to buy with giving more little gifts that come from the root of human connection, a spark of Jesus’ love— a divine connection that buying only mimics.
Buying gifts is great. But the Magi show me that I’d been neglecting things like leaving an appreciative note in a neighbor’s mailbox or sending an encouraging email. What about baking a batch of cookies or making a homemade card? Or just offering a kind word from the heart to a recently widowed friend.
Little things that don’t cost much can go deeper than a store-bought gift to renew ourselves and others. Everyday acts of kind recognition replenish the diving spark in life that the devil, working through the world and the flesh, is always working to take away.
I’ve seen this in my own life this Christmas. I’ve been selfish in not calling the people I love. I haven’t given of myself the way Jesus would have me do—the way He has done for me and the way he did for the Magi, who exchanged love for love at the manger.
We need constant renewal
The ultimate renewal comes from the One whom the Magi traveled so far to honor. Jesus Christ gives us his very self—body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist. He gives us his Holy Spirit and we feel more complete. We need to go and give likewise, in ways that don’t always involve buying something.
Don’t forget yourself!
A friend’s bathroom mirror sports a note that reads “Good morning, gorgeous!” It doesn’t cost a dime to remind ourselves of how “gorgeous” we are in God’s eyes.
The hearts of the Magi were animated by Jesus’ heart drawing them into an exchange of love for love. That is why they came to offer precious gifts. Today we can choose to be like Jesus, giving what really matters— a gift that renews, builds-up, and replenishes a human connection that we sometimes allow the world and our own worldliness to take away.
I’ve made a commitment to call two loved ones today. What simple thing will you do to pass on Jesus’ gift of love before the day is over?
Let’s pray for each other that Jesus’ love flow abundantly into us and out of us, and that receiving and giving God’s love becomes our greatest joy in the New Year.
P.S. Sharing a book I just bought — for its very encouraging and honest personal meditations. Can’t wait for it to arrive, and thought you might want to know about it, too. I encourage you to look at a sample page and you’ll see what I mean!
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