As a person in the Facebook era, I am showered by daily “status” updates and photographs of my friends’ children. There is such a great joy and anticipation when a child comes into the world or just your world. Family and friends are so happy to see those new little faces that they have been anticipating. It is hard to contain the excitement.
It must have been unimaginable for Mary and Joseph, preparing to give birth to the Son of God. There were however, no baby showers, decorating nurseries or registering for gifts, just a long donkey ride to Bethlehem to register for King Herod’s census. This mother and father were not greeted by numerous Tweets or Facebook messages within seconds of His birth. They were alone in that cave in Bethlehem, except for a few simple animals and the far away star to tell of His birth. We are only told of three gifts offered to the new baby. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts come initially with relative silence and little fanfare.
About five years ago, my husband and I decided to become foster parents. We both just kept being drawn to the idea, but had many concerns running through our heads. We hoped we would meet expectations to be accepted by our agency. We wondered how we would feel if a child or children placed with us would then have to be eventually returned to their birth family. We hoped for a younger child or children, how long would we wait to get our wish? We did our training, passed the background checks, completed the home inspection and then we waited to get approved.
In the process of being approved, I did feel a bit like Mary getting bounced around on the donkey during that long journey, taking one step at a time, never knowing when we would get counted in. It was about a year and a half after we started training that we got our first placement, a sibling group of two girls. With just 3 hours notice of the placement from our case worker, two became four. My husband and I, were in our house, with the two kids, with no clothes for them to wear, no idea of what they ate, what they were allergic to or what their life was like, however, we had totally fallen in love. Any of the worries we had during that process, were over shadowed by the awesome joy of parenthood. It was one of the greatest gifts that we had had up to that point as a married couple and no one we love knew, just my husband, and I and God.
There are so many gifts that the Lord brings us that come quietly and go without little notice. Last year, my oldest friend came from across the country for a visit. Lisa and I grew up together and we have been like sisters. There was not a stage in our lives that we did not trudge through together. Like girlfriends do, we chatted till late in the night by ourselves, reflecting on our three decades of friendship. We confessed our thoughts to each other as if we would not see each other again. We told each other how much we loved and cared for each other. Telling someone what you mean to them is such a simple act, but is one of the most precious gifts you can give.
At this time of the Christmas, we often reflect on the best or biggest Christmas gift we have given or received. We think about a special Christmas we had as a child and want to do that for our own children. What if we also took a moment during all of the excitement that is this season to thank God for our best or biggest non-gift? This is the kind of gift that has no packaging, no receipt, no one may even know about it and it may have come in relative silence.
Maybe this gift was your first confession at summer camp in when you felt the Grace of God? Perhaps it was the day you found out you where expecting and only you and God knew, if just for a few hours. There may have been someone who noticed you had a financial or physical need and stepped in to help as if they were an angle sent by God. God brings us gifts in silence, so that we can hear Him and know He is present. The Grace of God does not have wrapping or ribbons, but is covered in love.
While you are in traffic coming back from the mall, on your way to church or coming back from a holiday event, this would be a great time to share with your children some of these gifts. Tell them about the people who did kind things for you in silence. Share with them a special moment when you felt our Lord in your life. You may have felt that star shine down and you knew God was with you, just like He was on that first Christmas. Take the opportunity while children are on break from school to encourage them to emulate St. Nicholas and Saint Basil, who showed their generosity to others in secrecy. Challenge your children to give gifts in silence. They could draw a picture and put it on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor, ask Yiayia and Papou to spend time with them, rake leaves or shovel snow for someone in need or they can pray about it and just let God be their guide. Sometimes these moments just present themselves.
So why does God proceed quietly sometimes? Why did he bring the King of Man into the world in a manger? We learn later in the story of the Nativity, that Herod did not have honorable intentions for the baby Jesus. The Magi were warned of this in a dream. Christ was born under simple circumstances, because the gift of the Messiah, would be a threat to power of people like King Herod. You may have asked yourself, what ever happened to the children we fostered. They were returned home and our hearts were broken. We couldn’t understand it at the time, but before too long, our daughter was born. She is the love of our lives and our most precious gift. Lastly, why did I mention my friend Lisa? Six weeks after her visit, she unexpectedly passed away. Out of nowhere, she was gone. I believe that God prepared me for losing her, by giving us that time together and those three simple words, “I love you”. Her friendship is one of most priceless gifts in my life.
God’s silent gifts often prepare us for what is to come. These gifts are not presents, but the Grace of the Holy Spirit. His Grace brings us comfort, strength and guidance. God quietly brought his Son into the world to prepare us for His greatest gift, forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. What silent gift has He brought you and your family this year that is the most cherished? Did you acknowledge it? What silent gift can you offer in return that will bring His presence and grace to someone in preparation of Christmas, or in the coming year?
Vasie-Leigh Andriotis completed her M.Div at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 1997. She is the former Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Metropolis of Pittsburgh. Her current role is as mom, wife and volunteer.