What is it that we celebrate each Christmas with our gifts?
First, we celebrate life, the self-renewing existence of this earth, the cold, crisp air, the stars and planets wheeling their dances of praise. And the human race, of course, all of it precious, each person priceless and unique, whether crying in agony or singing in joy. We celebrate love, the love of parents and children, of sisters, of brothers, of spouses, friends: all the infinite varieties of oneness built in spirit and in flesh.
We celebrate birth, the continuing cycle of generation upon generation, and the courage it takes to go on. We celebrate hope, the expectation that growth and joy follow pain, that life follows death... Yes, at Christmas we celebrate the open hand of God, the lavish hand of the One who began and nourishes all life, who continually pours down gifts that grow, change and renew themselves.
We celebrate all these things, I think, when we celebrate the birth of that Child, the One who was born long ago and grew in wisdom and stature until worthy to die a criminal's death and thus become the Prince of Peace. That Child we celebrate shows a way to God. The way involves a progressive opening, a letting go until the very gift of life itself is offered back in love of others. The way is this: to receive all gifts, love them, enjoy them and offer them back.
The secret of the way is that any gift, when offered back, will change and grow, and through sorrow and risk will bring new joy. Gifts held with open hands move constantly back and forth, being savored and expanded by everyone : an electric flow of power, hand to hand. At the end, the whole life is offered back; and that offering, too, is accepted. The child is the Prince of the Open Hand. The child's power is the power of offered life.
How closed are our hands, those of us who say we work for peace? Isn't there for each one of us some point of no return, some line we will not cross, some risk we will not take because we fear its consequences? Isn't it true, this Christmas as always, that those things which are most precious are just the things that should be offered back, a Christmas gift to the force of life?
What steps do we need to take, each one of us, to create peace on earth? Maybe we need to sell a house in the suburbs and move to an inner city. Maybe we need to speak honestly with a loved one about a relationship that prevents us from becoming what we are called to be. Maybe we need to put our bodies in the way of war machines, risk arrest and powerlessness. Maybe we need to learn from the poor. Maybe we need to let go of dogmas and ideologies, to learn from other faiths, from the other side.
Each of us knows what is hardest to offer. Each of us knows what we clutch. No matter how good a gift is, if clutched it can fossilize and become a millstone. May we be free of possessing. May we hold with open hands. May we each risk in love that which is most precious to us this year : for the sake of peace and justice.