Over the next forty-eight hours, one question will be asked more often than all others combined — “whadjagit for Christmas?” I use the contraction instead of “what did you get?” for a very simple, personal reason. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had a classmate – Wiley Mooningham (no lie) — who was a transplant from a southern state, and I remember his bright-eyed enthusiasm interrogating us all on “whadjagit” (strong emphasis on the git) from Santa. It was only years later that I realized that Wiley came from a dirt-poor family and that he was living vicariously through the presents his friends received. When the question “whadjagit” was turned back on Wiley, he would report that he got a pair of work pants, work gloves and a hammer. Interestingly, he never seemed disappointed. Never did he report toys or games or sports equipment — just practical stuff. Wiley’s Christmas did bring any joyful carol to mind, but “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need…” It was ever a mystery to the rest of us kids how Wiley could get so excited over so little.
An even greater mystery to me as a child were girls — more specifically girls who got all excited about getting clothes for Christmas. I don’t ever remember the clothes I got for Christmas. I loved the books and toys and gadgets and games and puzzles — the fun stuff. I had a “games and books” grandma and a “socks and underwear” grandma and I always preferred the former to the latter at Christmas and birthdays. As I got older I came to appreciate wearable gifts (but I’d still rather get a book — hint, hint) and realized that often it is better to receive something I need, instead of only getting what I want. And on wonderfully rare occasions, I receive both at the same time.
And this is the miracle of Christmas — looking forward each year to something we want and being blessed with what we need. We embrace the warmth and kindness and relationships and goodwill, and we receive God’s Son in the bargain. Stripping off all the layers we’ve heaped on the holiday, we come to the celebration of God entering human experience and changing the world for all time. Reflecting on the first two chapters of Luke’s gospel, the question “whadjagit?” comes crashing in. Think about the answers Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds might give to the question?
Joseph got the responsibility for someone else’s kid — and what a kid! In a primitive, superstitious, and unforgiving culture where bloodline and kinship are concerned, Joseph’s acceptance of Mary’s situation is nothing short of miraculous — angelic visitation or no. Joseph will have to live with the questions and suspicions of his family and neighbors in Nazareth. He is responsible for the wellbeing and health of the one true Son of God. He is not a wealthy man, not a powerful man, not an influential man, nor an educated man. It is likely that he lived on the cusp of cultural poverty in the first century. Jesus had more in common with Wiley Mooningham than with any of the rest of us more middle class in my home town.
And what about Mary? It’s likely that she got a reputation she never sought. The vast majority of women in the first century Middle East delivered their first child when they were mere children themselves. The average age of first conception was 12, soon after the onset of puberty. According to a couple of sources I checked, most women delivered between 7-10 children, and the infant mortality rate was about 4-in-10. Many women died in childbirth. Bloodline and family name were valued more highly than gold (which was very hard to come by…). Did Mary even fully comprehend what was happening to her? Blessed among women, yes; but burdened as well. God placed the infant into the care of a poor couple in a high risk world. What did Mary get when she was so blessed? Each illness or fever, injury or infection, must have been torture. And how do you discipline the Son of God?
The shepherds received the fright of a lifetime. Again, those so poor that they live in the fields where they keep their sheep, would have very little clue what was happening to them. The shepherds also received a great story — one that they immediately spread around. The visitation of not a mere handful of angels — a multitude was a shorthand term for “too many to count” (ignoring the fact that most shepherds probably couldn’t count very high…) — but a proclamation that moved them to seek out the family, leaving their sheep to fend for themselves. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds — all were changed forever. No matter what path their lives were on, everything shifted with the birth of the Christ.
And it all continues to change. The Christ is born anew into hearts and minds each and every day. How we answer the question “whadjagit?” at Christmas says a lot about what Christmas — and our faith in general. I would answer the question, for myself, this way. I have been given hope. I have been given a new opportunity to make my life mean something. I have been given a responsibility to make life better for those around me. I have been given a gift of love with strings attached — I am expected to give this gift away to others. I have been given that which I truly want, but also what I need. And I have been given the chance to give others the love, joy, kindness, mercy and compassion they need, as well.