One of the time-consuming parts of Christmas is wrapping presents. If you’re like me, it takes forever and still looks like a dog has done it. There is an American comic write, Dave Barry, who says one of the big differences between him and his wife is that she can wrap a jumbo jet with paper the size of a postage stamp whereas he needs the exact opposite: jumbo size paper for a stamp size present. That’s my experience, too: on the floor with the paper, scissors and pieces of sticky-tape everywhere.
Now the reason we wrap up our presents is so that they can be unwrapped. The whole point is the joy of the recipient. We don’t wrap them to conceal them forever. They are hidden so that they might be revealed. We might think about this fact when, during Advent, we consider the fundamental gift of Christmas: Christ come as one of us.
Pope John-Paul II never tired of reminding us one of the major centres of the Second Vatican Council: that not only did Christ reveal God to us, he also revealed humanity to us. He is truly God and truly human. In him, we see what we are called to become. He gives us himself and, as part of this, he also gives us back the gift of our humanity.
Today, we might consider our lives as a constant unwrapping of God’s gift of our life. Now, what is this gift? If we looked at the wrapping, what would we guess the gift our life is? God’s gift of life is a life of communion, life lived totally with God and with our neighbour, a life that flows from that of the Trinity. I think I have mentioned this before, but one of my favourite moral theologians wrote that what lasts from this life are relationships that look like the Trinity, and look like that because they participate in the life of the Trinity.
As soon as we realise this – that life is fundamentally communion, we see that our life is unwrapped, God’s gift to us is received, when our lives flourish in relationships, when the different parts of our life are discovered as a means to, and the food of, communion.
In today’s Gospel, we meet the figure of John the Baptist. He is the one who prepares the way of the Lord. He is the one who helps us to receive the gift that God wants to give us. He wants us to learn to unwrap the gift of our humanity. How does he do this?
The first thing he does is point out that basic mistake we all make. We try to hide God’s gift. We refuse to open it. And sometimes we not only do not open it, we wrap it some more, trying to stop the light from reaching it. This is what sin is. Thinking life is a solitary pursuit, that we are all alone. Thinking that some things are best hidden. Thinking that God cannot turn our mistakes into a means of communion.
And so we hear John the Baptist calling us to repentance. He repeats what we hear in our first reading: that God can level the mountains in our lives, those obstacles preventing us from true friendship with one another. He proclaims that God can fill in the valleys, those dark parts of our lives that we don’t want anyone to see, that we never want to travel again.
Our first reading also talks about God gathering his sheep to himself, bringing back the lost sheep. The lost sheep, those moments where our actions have been determined by anger or hate or misery: even these can be transformed into moments of God’s glory. God can redeem our past, give our past back to us through an act of forgiveness, that not only brings us back to him, but, in fact, like all acts of forgiveness, establishes the relationship on a deeper, more profound level.
So, in this Mass, we might reflect on our lives. How much of our life do we place on the altar at Mass? How much do we trust to God? Are we scared to unwrap parts of our life?
And finally, given our parish penitential service this coming Tuesday evening, we might consider the gift God gives us in the sacrament of reconciliation.