Two Christmas Stories

A Gift For Jesus

Mary gave him her womb for nine months, then her love for thirty-three years.

Joseph gave him his name, Jesus bar Joseph.

The Magi brought him gifts — gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for one who was to die.

The shepherds brought him their awe and adoration; the angels their praise.

His disciples brought him their time, their questions, their fears, their rejection and ultimately their lives.

Simple folk from his own country brought him those who were ill in body, mind or spirit for him to heal.

Political and religious leaders, because of their own insecurity and fear, determined death would be their gift; a gift which enabled the gap between God and humanity to be bridged.

The woman at the well of Sychar not only gave Jesus water but also acknowledged him as the Messiah.

From their meeting at the tomb in the garden, Mary gave her obedient testimony to Jesus, resurrection.

The centuries and millennia since then tell of many who have presented their gifts to the Christ child. Now, as we again celebrate the incarnation of Christ, we are each challenged to bring our gifts to our him. Many choose Advent as the time to re-consecrate their lives in Christ’s service. Others reminisce about the milestones encountered during their journey with Jesus. Some present the gifts of love they have brought to the world for Jesus’ sake, gifts which will last far beyond their own lifetimes.

Some bring to Jesus their faith, their fears and their prayers as they offer him their all.

Some bring to Jesus their gifts of song and melody, of talents developed for his glory.

Some surrender their pride and passion, the right to judge and condemn, for in Him they have found love.

Some offer their lives to care for folk who are marginalized, sick, disturbed, lonely, tormented or destitute. Some bring new gifts for Jesus. One shares a labyrinth as a place of prayer and meditation; another grows a rainforest, a place of peace for reflection and silence, and for shade during the heat of the day.

Will you come with me this year as we bring our gifts to Jesus?

Will we catch the far-off sound of angelic voices singing Hosanna to the Prince of Peace?

As we approach the crib together, gazing in awe and wonder at the love which has transformed God into a human babe, Jesus smiles. Together we kneel, and we open our hands to reveal our hearts, our gifts for Jesus.

A Tree for Christmas

Have you ever watched a grafter at work?

A grafter takes a young seedling, perhaps eighteen months to two years old, grown from an original variety (such as a bush lemon) and prepares to alter it completely. Perhaps today it is peach seedlings we find in the grafter’s hands, while in pots close at hand are varieties of apricot, nectarine, almond, plum, and even different peach plants all waiting to be granted new life. Grafting demands the end to the natural growth of the seedling concerned, for the rootstock, as it is termed, becomes the means of giving life to other varieties. Producing a side graft necessitates removing all but a few inches of the stock by making a diagonal cut with a razor-sharp knife or plane. The new variety, or scion, is matched by thickness to the stock, and also cut diagonally then bound, cut edge to cut edge, to the stock, so that the life force of the stock sustains the scion. The graft is then bound with tape to exclude air while the graft “takes.” Within weeks it becomes clear whether the graft is successful. The leaves on the scion soon wither and die if it fails to draw its nourishment from the stock.

Grafting also has another dimension. It can provide the opportunity for apparently useless plants to become a blessing to other plants. For example, wild tobacco of itself has no use in agriculture, but when it becomes the stock on which are grafted tomato or aubergine or capsicum plants, it provides the medium not only for sustaining the life of the plants, but also for preventing root rot and fungal diseases during humid or wet weather.

Grafting is a term Jesus used, and his listeners must have been familiar with the process. He spoke of us as being grafted, like a bud graft, into the vine, himself. Chapter 15 of John’s Gospel commences with Jesus’ telling of the parable of the vine and the gardener. One sees the life force of the original stock sustaining the grafted branches, and how those branches which have failed to draw their life from the vine wither and need to be pruned out, so that the vine remains healthy. Though Israel was always pictured as God’s choice and luxuriant vine, Jesus now brings a new interpretation as he declares himself as the real, or true, vine. Those who profess to be Christ’s are the branches, subject to the drastic and ongoing pruning of God, the Master Vintager and Vintner. Those whose lives put forth branches bearing leaves and no fruit are removed from the vine. By their own choices, these branches ceased taking all their nourishment from the vine, believing they could sustain themselves. Fruitlessness always invites disaster and destruction. The branches which bear fruit are those which, having been grafted into the vine, share the full life and passion of Christ. For them fruit-bearing is uniting in all things with Jesus, in word and deed, in suffering and in joy, in self-sacrifice and humiliation, in seeming defeat and undiscovered victory, in death and resurrection.

The analogy of the grafter and the seedlings, the rootstock and the scion, becomes graphic, perhaps even dramatic, as we see the hand of God taking from the diversity of humanity many who would embrace the Gospel of Love, and grafting them into Christ. Seemingly useless lives now throb with Christ’s vitality which flows from the rootstock to all the branches who surrender their own ambitions and wills to become truly united with Jesus. They become the fruit, like the bread of the Eucharist, which is taken, blessed, fragmented and shared. They become the new Tree of Life, described in Ezekiel 47:12: “Fruit trees will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear; because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”