Holy Nights Contemplation: Christmas as a Festival of Offering

Adoration of the Shepherds by Georges de la Tour (1644)

Reading: John 21: 15-25

The Festival of Christmas calls us to celebrate the birth of the Child, the new human being. But what is that makes us truly human?

When we speak of the mistakes that we or others make, we sometimes say: Well, I’m only human. As in, don’t expect so much. I’ve got a lot to deal with in life, and I just couldn’t manage more than this. And it is true.

We can imagine all the situations in which we or another person in our lives just did not measure up to the expectations, hopes or desires of others or ourself. It is terribly painful to be aware of this. We miss a lot of opportunities to be our best self, to be something more than our ingrained habits or limitations allow us to be.

The experience of feeling “I’m only human” has something to do with the challenges of what it means to live incarnated in the world as a being of body, soul and spirit, all at the same time. We have aspects within our body and soul especially that give in to “gravity” more often than not. Things that pull us into ourselves, or down into the cares of life, losing ourselves in the desires of the soul and body, rather than finding ourselves through them (which is also possible!) We are prevented from taking risks by fear; we are hesitant to step out of our comfort zone and it is even hard to think of others sometimes. One could go on. But we all know the daily struggles that hold sway in the inner dialogue that is happening all the time.

Probably each of us can say something about what being “truly human” means—the hopeful side, the ideal, the potential that lives in our spirit: the shining example of true humanity that each of us also longs to make real. Our hearts are desperate to be able to stretch into this truer way of being. We say of a person who we deeply admire—that person is a real Mensch. This is the picture of the human being who is present to the needs of others, who makes time for what is important, who strives to be more human for the world around them.

What makes it possible for us to become that kind of human being more of the time? It is in the practice of offering. Offering, by necessity, is a free act. No one can make us offer of ourselves. Only each of us can say: I will offer of myself—my gifts, my talents, my money, my thoughts, my heart, my devotion. At Christmas, the greatest act of offering is made to show us the way: the divine world offers, and the Son of God is born on earth to become one with us. We receive the offering of the divine, and we are inspired to make of our own lives an offering.

We exercise our highest potential as human beings when, regardless of what we have, who we are, how poor we feel—we offer something of ourselves into the world. There is nothing more human, and there is nothing more valuable than this gift. This is our practice of learning to love, and this is how we follow Him, the being of Love incarnate. This is the deed by which we can join in the healing of the whole world.

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