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The gift and challenge of gratitude

The gift and challenge of gratitude

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is rooted in the gifts the Wise Men left the infant Jesus twelve days after his birth, as recorded in Matthew's Gospel, and which we commemorate as the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6). The original gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were given out of gratitude; and indeed, the season of Epiphany is set aside for us to express gratitude over the many ways God's presence comes to us.

Gratitude is a choice made by the head, but requires participation of the heart. For the participants in the original Christmas/Epiphany story, the gratitude did not come easily.

Mary freely accepted her role as becoming the mother of Jesus, but I often wonder how it went when she explained her conversation with the angel to her parents, or to her rabbi, or to Joseph. Or how it was for Joseph, who could have easily bailed out of the whole situation, given that Mary was not yet his wife and Jesus was not his son? And when the child was born, who was hailed as an infant king, King Herod - who would not brook any competition, ordered that all first born children be slaughtered. This compelled Joseph, Mary and the baby to escape to Egypt, which was well remembered as the land of their ancestors' miserable slavery.

How can gratitude emerge from all that? But it did. And it does. God's gift of hope and blessing is still offered – even in the worst of circumstances. Especially in the worst of circumstances. And there are a host of worst, or horrible, circumstances coming at us in the world on a daily basis. It is our task as Christians to seek out that hope and blessing – for ourselves, and for others, in the midst of it all.

And to dare to live in gratitude.


I frequent the term "Pay it Forward" a lot nowadays, and it's become a bit of a buzz term for the younger generation. In my estimation, that's where gratitude can really go the farthest. Sometimes the best way to express gratitude is by committing an act of kindness to another person, not necessarily the same person to whom you feel the gratitude towards.

That's how many positive ideas spread, or in today's lingo, "go viral." Look at the Ice Bucket Challenge this past year. It started with one person, somewhere, who had the idea to do something kind for the people fighting ALS. People saw it and felt a sense of gratitude towards that person for what he or she had done, but rather than just recognize or repay that person, they responded by "paying it forward" with a donation or an act themselves. And that spread to 3 more people. And then 9. And then 27.

I think that's what I take from this blog entry by Bishop Beckwith. Sometimes the best way to repay a sense of gratitude isn't to the person you feel initially ingratiated towards, but rather by doing good to another. That's how love spreads.

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