Jesus’ gift to us at Christmas and always

| Father Michael Van Sloun | December 19, 2019 | 0 Comments

iStock/MariuszSzczygiel

Gifts are a big part of Christmas. We shop for gifts, give gifts and look forward to receiving gifts. The practice of gift giving at Christmastime finds its origins in the Magi who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus (Mt 2:11); and in St. Nicholas, who gave his wealth to the poor, food to the hungry, encouragement to prisoners and three separate gifts of gold to a father to pay the dowry for his three daughters. The single greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus himself, the gift of the Father to the human race.

Jesus is also a giver of gifts, but he did not give his gifts at Christmastime. Jesus gave his most important gifts on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. The gift was not wrapped in a package, but was on a table, bread and wine, his Body and Blood, the Eucharist. The gift was not put under the tree but was nailed to a tree, the cross, where he gave his life for us.

Jesus gave his parting gift at the Last Supper. He told his disciples that night, “I will not leave you orphans” (Jn 14:18), and before he ascended to heaven he reassured them, “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). Jesus would never forget or abandon us. His presence is constant, everywhere and reliable. Jesus comes to us and remains with us in the Eucharist.

Jesus wanted no confusion about his farewell gift. In fact, he wanted to reemphasize the supreme value of his gift so he gave it twice more, not at Christmastime but at Eastertime.

The first occasion was on the day of his Resurrection when two disciples were on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-35). Suddenly Jesus appeared. The ensuing encounter had two parts. First, Jesus cited Scripture and explained it to them. Then, Jesus sat with them at the table, took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to them. The encounter followed the same format as the Mass: the Liturgy of the Word, the proclamation of Scripture followed by an explanation in the homily, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, when bread is blessed, broken and shared. Jesus gives us the gift of his word, the Gospel, and the gift of his Body and Blood, the Eucharist.

The second occasion has striking parallels. A number of days after the Resurrection the disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:1-14). Suddenly Jesus appeared. There was a charcoal fire with bread and fish on it. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. Jesus used bread and fish before when he fed a crowd of 5,000 in the same locality (Jn 6:1-13). The miraculous feeding prefigured the gift that Jesus would give at the Last Supper, and the feeding at the charcoal fire renewed the gift he instituted on Holy Thursday. It may be customary to give gifts at Christmastime, but Jesus gave these gifts at Eastertime.

The early Christian community understood the value of the gift that Jesus had given to them, and following his instruction, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19), they gathered each week and devoted themselves “to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The gift that Jesus gave at the Last Supper, and gave again at Emmaus and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, is given again every time the community gathers for the breaking of the bread. Jesus has a gift for us this Christmas at Mass: the Eucharist. The Eucharist is Jesus’ farewell gift to us, and he gives it over and over again all year long.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. This column is part of an ongoing series on the Eucharist. Read more of his writing at CatholicHotdish.com.

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Category: Faith Fundamentals