Writing By Faith

Giving Gratitude


The Christmas season is upon us once again. Even in this second winter of Covid, it is a time for celebration, family, and feasting. Dancing lights twinkle merrily while carolers serenade our streets with songs of snowfall, Santa and Silent Nights. Christmas trees stand tall in living rooms across the land, evoking hope and wonder in every child for presents that will soon arrive.

Christmas means many things to many people, but surely gift giving is an essential custom for almost every family. Finding the right present for a loved one is both a challenge and a delight. Markets and catalogs do their part in offering the perfect gift, be it a toy, sweater, power tool or diamond necklace. As tiring as it all can be, the delight in the eyes of a child or lover as they rip open the wrapping paper to find a treasure inside makes it all worthwhile.

Every culture has its practice of gift giving. For Christians, giving presents at Christmas is inspired by the story of the Magi and their visit to Jesus. Drawn by a star announcing the birth of a king, they found Jesus, Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. Worshipping Jesus, they presented him with gifts before returning to their homes in the East. As the story unfolds throughout the gospels, the one who received these gifts becomes the Gift of life for the world.

As I listen to these ancient stories, I am reminded that everything in life is a gift. It would be nice to think we earned any of this or that we deserve it but, in the end, it is all a gift. The land upon which we walk, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, friends and neighbors, even the spark of life itself are all gifts given freely into our hands.

In her book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” Robin Wall Kimmerer observes how much everything changes when we recognize the world and all it contains as a gift rather than a commodity. Gifting calls forth gratitude, reciprocity, and an open hand toward one another instead of a relentless drive to acquire more while violently defending what we have.

A gift received plants a desire to share and to pass our joy along to others. Gifting creates an interconnectedness between humans and the earth. Gifts are treasured and cherished, carrying memories of the one who gave them. Gifts create a bond of love that affirms a worth far beyond something we purchase for ourselves.

Kimmerer writes, “The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a ‘bundle of rights,’ whereas in a gift economy property has a ‘bundle of responsibilities’ attached.”

If all of life is a gift, then we on the Key Peninsula are particularly blessed. The gifts are too many to name, but include forest, sea, sky, salmon, shellfish, blackberries, farms, educators, public servants, a library and a strong community. We bring ourselves and offer our gifts and labor, and with open hands, receive all the nourishment we need to thrive.

If we began to look upon life as a gift, responding with gratitude and seeking opportunities to share, then the carols of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All might have a chance of coming true. If we lay down our demand for rights and our weapons of protection and instead live out the responsibilities bundled into our many gifts, this time of division and confusion will be transformed into a season of sharing and caring.

I have found what I believe to be the greatest gift of all, the new life promised in the birth of Jesus. I pray you all receive gifts of love, laughter, peace, friendship and light in this Christmas time. However you celebrate, I hope you receive the very thing that will bring joy to your heart, and that you find an opportunity to share that joy with those around you.

On behalf of the Lakebay Church and the KP Ministers, I wish you a Merry Christmas.

Award-winning columnist Dan Whitmarsh is pastor at Lakebay Community Church.