Friday, January 08 2021
Thank You God for Your Greatest Gift
I used to have a regular Sunday routine after church. Covid-19 has changed that routine drastically and my cardiologists has said “No visitations.” So now after Zoom services, it's time for the newspapers. Some sections can be discarded easily: automobiles (not interested), employment (don’t need it), business (don’t understand it), classifieds (don’t want it), store circulars (no coupons for what I buy—all that stuff about hair coloring and mascara). But the comics usually offer something, and when they don't I go to my files and last Sunday I discovered a Christmas piece that I had saved from 13 years ago. The strip is Mallard Filmore.
Mallard: “Wow! Look at this date! I think this is our traditional ‘Sunday before Christmas comic strip’”
Censor: “I hope it’s not going to be one of those ‘religious’ ones.”
Mallard: “Last time I checked Christmas was a ‘religious’ holiday.”
Censor: “But what if the cartoon makes some people uncomfortable?”
Mallard: “What’s that you always say about pornography: ‘they don’t have to read it’?”
Censor: “What if they’re just reading along and it sneaks up on them?”
Mallard (pen in hand): “WARNING! The following may offend the habitually offended: Thank you, God, for your greatest gift, and for a land in which we can worship him freely.”
Censor: “Can I open my eyes?”
Mallard: “Hey, why start now?”
Several significant elements present themselves in this exchange, the foremost of which is that the greatest gift we can receive is Jesus Christ. In the midst of the Christmas season, when our eyes are often focused elsewhere—existing in the midst of a pandemic, cleaning up the mess, surviving the pandemic, paying the bills acquired over the last fifty days, wondering about the vaccine—we are reminded by a CARTOONIST that the best present of all is Jesus. What an inspired connection this duck, this Mallard Fillmore, makes with today’s gospel from John: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, is NOT merely an adjunct to the presents of Christmas morning, is NOT merely an appendage to often economic madness; rather, Jesus Christ is instead ultimate reality, ultimate fact, from the beginning and at the root of the universe, the one who says to each of us “Be not afraid.”
When the politically correct censor asks whether he can open his eyes, and Mallard responds, “Hey, why start now?” we are the ones who are targeted. As I sit with Susan, perhaps alone this year, sequestered, quaratined, my thoughts will turn often to the greatest gift that renders all other joys real. I open my eyes and behold, see and believe, because NOW is always the right time. The love of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, bursts through the threat of the global pandemic and reminds me that I am a story whose chapters are being shaped and written by a God who chose to become like me, like you, so that we might become like him, by a God who says to each of us “Open your eyes and behold in my Son the greatest gift that the world has ever received.” The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus is significant part of our stories because how we respond to him shapes all else that we do and the world would like to keep that a secret; the birth of Jesus is a watershed in human history though the world would like us to see it as a “cleverly devised myth”; the birth of Jesus, God incarnate, transcends our understanding of time though the world would like us to be confined by clock and calendar.
A Christmas reminds me: “Jesus Christ was born to save…Christ was born to save.” Therein lay the entire purpose for Christmas: “God’s greatest gift” is the source of your redemption and mine. As Saint Paul wrote in the passage read from Galatians this morning: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”
Someone remarked once to a friend as they drove by a church that displayed a crèche outside the entrance, “O Lord! They bring religion into everything. Look—they’re even dragging it into Christmas now!” The Gospel of John reminds us that even such ignorant and cynical darkness will not quench the light of Christ; Saint Paul reminds us that we have been set free in Christ and made heirs of his kingdom; and exploding forth out of the darkness of the politically correct post-modern world, a comic strip duck reminds us that Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift.
“Thank you, God, for your greatest gift.”