Gift and Givenness: The Example of Mary


When I lived in South America as a missionary kid, December 8th was the official start of the Christmas season. The town square in front of the cathedral was the center of activity, filled with  rows of small vendors’ booths. In Medellín, the central square was vividly lit with strings of large colored light bulbs. As a young teenager, I was more interested in what was for sale, than what the festivity was for.

December 8th is a day when Roman Catholics honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary’s example is a shining counterpoint to today’s detailed Christmas wish lists with quite specific expectations. Mary was willing to open to a gift she did not choose.

When the archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would have a child like no other child, she accepted the divine gift and all the unusual circumstances surrounding His birth. Mary did not complain that this “wasn’t the right time,” or that the neighbors would raise their eyebrows.

We can more deeply appreciate God’s gift when we accept the givenness of life. “Givenness” refers to God and all of his creation being a gift to us; the reality of creation is its givenness. It might be easy to say that our response would be gratitude. And rightly so. But, let’s think about what that givenness includes. Paul reminds us in Acts 17:26 that God chooses the time and place where we live. 

He also designs our bodies, with their mental and physical characteristics. One person has the fine motor skills needed for performing eye surgery; another one has a talent for comedy. Someone else has MS, or hydrocephaly, or extreme shyness.

Our human capacities and limitations are sources of both great joy and great sorrow. Medical and technological researchers try to remedy our disabilities and remove physical restrictions. But not all of our limitations can be fixed; some of them are permanent.

This brings me back to Mary. She received Gabriel’s news with amazement. Her joy at Jesus’ birth was followed one week later by Simon’s prophecy in the temple that her heart would be pierced with sorrow. Joy mixed with sorrow; pleasure followed by pain: these are aspects of our human experience. And sometimes those things that seem to be unbearably pain filled—those gifts we did not choose—can also become the cause of great thankfulness.

I think of the families that I know who have a child with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Yes, the limitations of the disability cause hardship and suffering. But these children have shaped and wooed their parents and siblings into becoming a loving, accepting, and nurturing family.

This Christmas season, take a minute to think about one unwelcome limitation in your own life. See it in a new light as an aspect of the givenness of creation, and look for a way to receive it as good, as a gift.


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