The greatest gift

KenWheeler
12/25/2012

The greatest gift

"Nativity" by He Qi

The day after Thanksgiving is, we are told by merchants, the busiest day of the year. It is also the most profitable. Long before Thanksgiving our ears were filled with advertisements about "Black Friday," and the tremendous bargains that would be awaiting eager shoppers.

Lost amid the over-saturation of ads and gimmicks was the sacred respite of Thanksgiving itself as advertisers were already looking to Christmas. Lost for both of these special and sacred times was their very meaning. The sadness -- and each year it seems to get worse -- is the blatant commercialization of days and times that are not meant to be commercial at all.

A couple of days after Thanksgiving I received a call from our parish nurse. She had spoken to someone from the community whose son had been killed in Texas. I called the father and as you might imagine he was pretty distraught. He knew no details or circumstances surrounding his son's death. The grief and pain were further complicated by the fact that the body of this young man was still in the morgue until funds could be secured to ship the body back to Milwaukee.

But as the father spoke through all of his pain, his anger and questions, this is what he said, "Pastor, I remembered the church. I knew that I needed to be surrounded by people who meant something to me and I meant something to them."

I later spoke to people at the funeral home in our community and the administrator who was a very kind woman said to me, "Pastor, we are working feverishly to get this young man's body back to the city so that his father can have some peace." And then she said that she and the owner of the funeral home had contributed the first $500 dollars to get things rolling.

As this woman and I talked I imagined that she was a mother perhaps even a grandmother because her act of generosity was not simply a business decision. Something else had kicked in. The gift given to this grieving father was far greater than money. With all of the talk of "Black Friday," and "Cyber Monday," in spite of this terrible tragedy, love spoke and not only moved people to give, but a family and a community came forth to offer their support, prayers and care to a father who felt that he was all alone.

These words say it best. They were penned by Christine Rossetti in a poem titled, "Love came down at Christmas."

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love incarnate, love divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

May we always remember that the greatest gift comes wrapped in human form.

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Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. He served 18 years as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.

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