The Gift Inside the Miracle

January 3, 2016

At our home growing up, it was the custom on Christmas Eve that we had a meal with my mom’s side of the family that was steeped in tradition.  It began with Oplatki, and only one course was served at a time. From farina, to whipped potatoes with mushrooms, everything was unique and the meal ended with prunes, which was a Slovak tradition.  It was not my favorite. After the guests went home, we went into the basement to play with the trains and because mom and dad arranged early delivery of Christmas presents, that special person came early so we could alleviate the pressure of getting around the world in a short amount of time. After the presents were opened, we walked to midnight Mass.  It was a fantastic tradition.

One year in the midst of snow, the unthinkable thing happened in the life of a child.  The cab to take my Aunt Helen back home to Cicero was not coming.  As a young child in maybe second or fifth grade, I considered this a disaster.  Without the guests gone, nothing could move forward on my schedule. Gifts, which had consumed my dreams for weeks weren’t able to be delivered. Isn’t that what it’s all about? After killing time in the basement for a while, I would return up the stairs only to find my Aunt Helen, my own godmother, still sitting at the breakfast table.  I would slam the door, stomp my feet and go back to the trains.  It was getting bad when I had repeated this action probably three times, each with the same result. At one point, I even went outside to shovel snow, hoping that would get the cab to our house more quickly.  I was even willing to leverage some of my personal Christmas gifts and offer them to the cab driver if he could pick her up faster.  Desire and anticipation had blocked out logic.  When the cab arrived I was happy, but my parents were not.  The scolding that followed sent me back to the trains with tears in my eyes.  I had been rude and selfish, and as the youngest in the family, I was acting like a spoiled brat. Joy came, presents arrived and I was relieved, but I still had the sting of disappointing my parents and hurting my Aunt Helen’s feelings.

On the Feast of the Epiphany we hear a story very familiar, which is used in the backdrop of many cards and stationary.  Its images cover the pages of children’s books all over the world.  It is about a star leading; it is about the magi, kings and astrologers finding their way to the miracle of a Savior born in Bethlehem. They came bearing gifts. They came with gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They came seeking and wanting to find.  What they brought was insignificant compared to what Jesus would offer them. Their anticipation was great and their joy would find fulfillment as they met the Christ child.  It tells us in sacred Scripture that they returned by a different route. They went home a different way.  What changed them was the gift within the miracle.  It’s the gift of transformation.  Jesus transformed what the kings brought.

What do we bring to the Lord?  What do we offer Him?  Anything we bring can never compare to what He offers us when we gather in church. He transforms the gifts of bread and wine into His body and blood. When we offer ourselves as did the wise men, He transforms us.  When we bring our brokenness, He transforms it.  When we bring our sin, He transforms it. When we bring our disappointment in what we have become, He transforms it. When we bring our selfishness, He transforms it.  It is the gift inside the miracle.  All we have to do is bring ourselves to Him.  Even when we don’t get it right or perfect, it is transformed by the Giver of the gift.  That is the true gift inside the miracle.

Rev. John J. Ouper