In yesterday's first reading Hannah gave her only, longed-for child to God, to be brought up in the temple. In his short homily the Mass celebrant drew attention to this unbelievable act of faith and gratitude, in which Hannah effectively returned a much-desired gift to the giver. He reminded us that, in effect, all gifts always contain something of the giver: in a way, the memories and sentimental value with which we invest them mean they will forever "belong" to the person who gave them to us.
As he spoke my mind roamed over various items - clothes, books, meaningful objects, pictures - for which this is very true. If I could only keep one hat it would be the one my father gave me, while fond memories of a Mexican sister give a certain old jumper a far greater value than its real "worth". I treasure a conch shell from New Zealand as much because of its donor as for its iridescent beauty, while a jaunty knitted snowman gleefully speaks to me of its knitter. True gifts of each giver!
The homily also reminded me of a poem by St Robert Southwell, very appropriate as we prepare to celebrate God's greatest gift...
Gift better than Himself God doth not know,
Gift better than God no man can see;
This gift doth here the giver given bestow
Gift to this gift let each receiver be;
God is my gift, Himself He freely gave me,
God's gift am I, and none but God shall have me.
Gift to this gift let each receiver be... and of course, the loveliest, most glorious thing is, the giving never ends! Whatever we may give to God is returned to us, as a full measure, pressed down and overflowing (Luke 6: 38); whatever return we may make in gratitude is given back by a God who can never be outdone in generosity. A giving which always calls forth more, gives back more, in an unending, ripple-effect cycle of generous gifting: given back, too, in a way which always speaks of the giver, adding beauty and value to something already precious. A true gift of the giver!
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, that greatest of all God's gifts, let us pray that his presence in our lives will increase our desire to be gift to this gift, so that, indeed, none but God shall have us...