The Other Christmas Gifts
by Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President, St. Mary’s University
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” ~Philippians 8 ~
It is that time of year when we begin to plan, personally and institutionally, for the holidays. This is the time when families gather, but also when work places bring their people together to thank them for all they’ve done. It is a time of remembrance and celebration. It is also quite possibly the most commercialized time of the year, where supermarket shelves groan with toys and decorations. The newspapers are already thick with flyers announcing extraordinary sales and encouraging over-consumption; urging us to focus on material things at all costs. And many, alas, will respond. Who was it that said: “I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note saying ‘toys not included”?
It was Benjamin Franklin who commented wryly, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!” But the commercialization of Christmas need not win out. At St. Mary’s, even though students are completing crucial exams and essays, they are also preparing to travel in support of local charities. This year alone over 70 students are registered to lend a hand at the Annual Children’s Christmas Party at Our Lady Queen of Peace Ranch. That’s 10% of our student population assisting for a single event! Others participate in voluntary tutoring for disadvantaged learners, or help out at local charities, including at homes for the aged.
For many, the urge to give back is always especially strong at this sacred time of year, when the message and legacy of Jesus achieve particular emphasis. The life of Christ is best understood as a narrative about gifts: the gift of love, of joy, of salvation. It is also a purely unselfish gift—one that is delivered with no expectation of reciprocity—only promise. And this hope, of course, is represented in the miracle birth that so many celebrate at Christmas.
A beautiful image in the Saint John’s Bible opens the Gospel of Luke. In it we witness a symbol of the divine as transcendent light. And while that may be accurate to reflect Christ’s divinity, we must also equally draw inspiration from his humanity, one that is anchored in a humble birth, an unadorned life, a gritty pilgrimage. His journey embraced the poor, the sick, the elderly. He communed with the lost, the found, the sinners and the saints. One suspects he would have loved Pope Francis and his humble approach to the papacy. All this to say that while the divine inspires, the human reminds us that we too must do our part. The Christian calling is not one that asks us to be pious and removed, but alert and involved. And as Dickens once said: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
On behalf of all of us at St. Mary’s University,