Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas Pigs

The letter carrier handed me a large cardboard box – how exciting to receive an unexpected parcel in December! So many of us hardly ever mail packages any more because the mailing often costs as much as the gift inside.

I looked at the return address – yes, I knew who it was but we don’t exchange Christmas presents and rarely see each other due to distance. I cut open the taped seams to find a bunch of styrofoam peanuts and many small wrapped presents.
What on earth? 
I rummaged until I found an envelope to explain the lovely surprise. The very funny card was a reprise of a “pig” joke that started decades in the past. 

About 25 years ago, a beloved young couple stayed overnight at my house near Christmas time and they gave me a collection of unusual cookie cutters. Since I knew they’d be stopping by on their way back home, I made gingerbread cookies using the pig-shaped cutter, the one most amusing to me. I labelled the tin, “Christmas Pigs.” After checking to make sure that I wasn’t implying anything by such a choice, they began the pig game.

We have never lived nearby and our visits are random, but once in a while one of us has found something oinking and bought it for the other.  They have given me stainless steel pigs for salt and pepper, a gaudy mauve and gold china porker, a grinning Santa-pig cookie jar, and once, a soft, stuffed piglet and piggy storybook for my new grandbaby. The list continues, more faithfully on their side than on mine. I’ve had a 3D pig magnet sitting on my desk for years while it waits to travel across the country, but I’ve received many more pigs than I’ve given.

Why this big box this year? 
Inside the card was a note: “The twelve pigs of Christmas”. What?! My excitement rose along with my laughter. Sure enough, besides the card there were eleven other wrapped goodies, from miniature flat somethings in pale pink or rosy tissue paper, to larger rectangles and squares tightly covered in glossy red, and long rocket shapes exploding with silver and hot pink sparkles. White tissue paper covered one small box, topped with a shiny red bow. What a glorious pigapalooza! I grinned from ear to ear, astonished at the effort and expense offered on my behalf.

After the laughter came tears. I felt overwhelmed by such an expression of thoughtfulness and generosity, not even from a spouse or a close friend, but from a relative who is distant in both geography and connection.

The words “grace” and “agape* came to mind. There is a certain kind of generous love that has nothing to do with a gift exchange. It isn’t based on romance or obligation, and certainly not on selfish desires for appreciation or admiration. 
My sty-ful of presents from out of the blue felt like agape. Because I’d done nothing to deserve such kindness, it reminded me of the Christmas baby, God’s mindboggling gift of incarnation in Jesus. 
He would spend his life showing that we are valued by God beyond what makes any sense, not because we’re good, or because God wants praise or gratitude, but just because that’s the way God is. All we can do is rejoice and spread the love around. 

* agape:  Greek word for the selfless love of one person for another (especially love that is spiritual in nature)