If we prepare our hearts in these beautiful weeks of preparation, then surely the Divine Child will not fail to give us rich graces.”– St. Edith Stein
As we prepare to receive the gift of Christ this Christmas, we may find ourselves not really knowing how. We talk about receptivity constantly in the spiritual life, but how do we attain this? How may we welcome Christ in a deeper way this Christmas?
Perhaps you are feeling at a loss and wanting a practical “how-to.” “How to grow in this virtue of receptivity in ten minutes or less.” I know I often find myself in this place spiritually— “Yes, that’s all well and good, but how?”
The two busiest days of the shopping year from my experience working in retail were Black Friday (obviously) and the day after Christmas. On December 26th, the shop could be crazier than the lead up to the holiday season, with everyone clutching their returns and gift receipts, bustling in for a more-perfect gift. Informed by this experience, I would like to suggest a practical Christmas resolution we can all use to grow in the virtue of receptivity. A way that is surprisingly human!
Resolve to not return or exchange gifts
As an American in our American culture, I can feel the pushback already! “Why would I keep something I don’t want or don’t like?” But bear with me: how often do we desire, perhaps without realizing it, to “return or exchange” what is sent from the Lord? “Sorry Jesus, a pandemic in 2020 wasn’t on my wishlist. Did you include the gift receipt?”
Receive imperfect gifts with grace
If we cannot receive a gift from a human person who loves us that isn’t quite right, how can we receive the sometimes inexplicable and severe mercies that the Lord sprinkles throughout our lives? And if we cannot receive his gifts, can we really fully receive his presence?
The saints and teachings of the Church tell us that humility is the basis of all virtue. They also tell us that “grace builds upon nature.” So, if we struggle to receive Christ and his gifts, that’s okay! We can start with learning to receive from other humans. Truly receiving a gift can sometimes be a very humbling thing to our pride. It can call for a sort of self-denial, a denial of tastes or preferences. But it is a truly kind thing, to truly receive a gift.
Flaunt that ugly sweater!
You can practice this receptivity when you wear that sweater that you don’t really like but you see how much joy it brings your parent to have picked it out for you. You can see it when you pick up a book you’d never have chosen, but in doing so you’re broadening your world and inviting your brother or sister’s taste into your free time. Don’t just receive the gift and put it in the basement for the mice to nibble at like forgotten Christmas cookies. Really make an effort to use or engage the gift that you were given. It is a small way to die to yourself, and you might be surprised at the joy it brings you, too.
As we practice in small, practical ways to receive from others, we also realize this is a practice in receiving the other person—not just their gifts, but themselves. It’s the same way with the Lord. The more we practice receiving his gifts—the ones we rejoice in and the ones we have to choose to rejoice in—the more we receive his very self. And isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Jesus comes down and touches our humanity. Let us live this season in incarnated ways, making even receiving an ugly Christmas sweater an act of incarnated love.
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