With all of this being said, I have to admit that I still do really like presents. I like finding the perfect gift for another person, giving gifts and unwrapping and receiving them. I like to savor the experience of revelation of what is under the tree. I enjoy seeing other people's gifts as much as unwrapping my own. Over the last several years I have tried to curb those insatiable desires to buy everyone I know multiple gifts and to reduce the amount of consumerism in my life. Two years ago I gave charitable donations in honor of all the people on my list and tried to have the charities match the lives of the recipients (i.e. I gave a donation to George Mark's Children's House in honor of our preschool director and to the Mount Diablo School District music program in honor of our church's Music Director).
Today, I was in the church office and attempting to put finishing touches on three or four different worship services for the upcoming days and weeks, and a whole assortment of things that pastors do during the week before Christmas. Gift giving and receiving was the farthest thing from my mind. In the midst of my routine, I picked up the day's mail and was surprised to find an envelope addressed to me from the Deputy Consul General of the Israeli Consulate. In the early fall, David, a local Jewish man who is interested in interfaith conversations, contacted me to request a meeting with some progressive Christians and some Jewish representatives from the Israeli Consulate. I was dumbfounded as to why he would contact me (later found out he had reached out to a number of local pastors and I was the only one who responded to his request!). As is my style, I suggested we meet face to face for coffee. He and I spoke for a while and then we found a way to eventually invite several pastors in the area to a meeting at a local synagogue. I did not leave that meeting with any particular sense of accomplishment nor did I think it was a meeting that was useless, but I generally feel inadequate to the task of sorting out deeply complex personal, political, theological knots between people who do not even begin to see eye to eye. However, since I was about to embark on a pilgrimage to the Middle East and be a guest in Jerusalem, Galilee, Bethlehem and Nazareth, it seemed important for me to participate.
I opened the program notes and found that this group of musicians is a part of a larger organization, The Middle East Program, founded in 2002 with a vision to "build meaningful, long-term relationships between leaders from all sectors of society." I have no way of knowing if this organization is the real deal or not, but I was deeply moved by the music and the spoken intent of the music and the organization behind it. I was filled with gratitude that someone I don't really know well and who sees the world differently than I do thought enough to send me a gift. I'm praying that some of the bigger gifts on my list that don't involve packages, material goods, wrapping and bows, might start to be revealed, the way this simple gift opened me.
In peace, joy, hope and love, I wait and I watch for the lasting gifts. Thanks, Gideon, for reminding me that they come from the most unlikely people and places.