The Giver and the Epiphany
Jan 8, 2018
One of the more prevalent images of today’s celebration is that the Three Kings come bearing gifts for the Infant savior. Having just celebrated Christmas, who of us do not love to receive and give gifts. However, the hope is that more precious than any gift we may unwrap is the more enduring gift of the love and caring of the gift-giver.
Christmas and Epiphany remind us of that unique situation where the gift and gift-giver are one and the same…Jesus Christ. To be reminded means that we remember. And in our lives of faith, one of the most undervalued and underappreciated gifts we receive is memory…and not just family and friend like memories…but the remembering that Jesus asks us to do when during Mass we hear: Do this in memory of me.
Lois Lowry’s 1993 novel The Giver has instructed a very wide audience over the past two decades.
The story is set in the near future, in a seemingly utopian city, where there is no conflict, no inequality, and no stress. The people dress in matching outfits and ride bicycles so as not to pollute the environment. The “elders,” the leadership of the community, artificially arrange families and carefully assign vocations, all for the sake of the common good.
In order to eliminate any volatile emotions that might stir up resentment or compromise the perfect equilibrium of the society, each citizen is obligated to take a daily injection of a kind of sedative.
If someone’s speech veers even mildly in the direction of suggesting self-assertion and individuality they are firmly corrected.
Most chillingly, the elderly and unacceptable children are eliminated, though the people have been conditioned not to think of this as killing but only as a peaceful transition to “Elsewhere.” The calm “sameness” of the city is maintained, above all, through the erasing of memory: no one is permitted to remember the colorful but world of conflict that preceded the present utopia.
No one, that is, except the Giver, an elder who retains memories of the previous world for the sole purpose of consulting them in case an emergency arises and specialized knowledge is called for.
The Giver’s city eerily calls to mind the condition of our own culture: We find the fierce enforcement of politically correct speech, the manic attempt to control the environment, the prizing of equality as the supreme value, the rampant use of drugs, the denial of death, and the excessive exercise of both euthanasia and abortion. Will all of this produce a balanced and peaceful society? Well, it might bring about a kind of equilibrium, but at a terrible cost.
The plot of The Giver centers on a young man named Jonas who was chosen by the elders to become the sole recipient of the suppressed memory of the previous world.
Through a sort of telepathy, the Giver communicates to Jonas all of the richness, color, drama, and joy of how things were prior to now. The most engaging image he receives is of himself sledding down a snowy hill and coming upon a cottage from which he hears a song he had never heard before (in fact, both snow and music had been excluded from his world).
In time, the Giver fills out the picture, communicating to the young man the pain and conflict of the previous world as well. Though at first he is horrified by that experience, Jonas realizes that the colorful world, even with its suffering, would be preferable to the bloodless, soul-less dystopia in which he had been raised.
As the story moves to its climax, Jonas escapes from the city and ventures out into the forbidden wilderness. He wanders through the snow until he comes to a clearing where he spies the sled that he had previously seen in memory. Following the prompts of the recollection, he rides the sled down a snowy hill, comes to the quaint cottage, and listens to the song. It is the best-loved Christmas hymn, “Silent Night.”
It is important that Three Kings from differing nations come to adore their Infant King and Savior for they represent the fact that Christ has come to save all peoples. However, the Herods of our time whether in politics, education or the social media not only mock Christian beliefs but hope to obliterate any mention of it in the public sector as one would try to remove air from the atmosphere.
Do this in memory of me. Mass then is the most important remembering that we can do. It is the most important treasure entrusted to us since in an unprecedented way we receive as the ultimate gift…the ultimate gift-giver who is Jesus Christ. And not only to hold to our hearts as Mary does this day…but within our bodies as we consume His body and blood receiving the gift of the Holy Eucharist.
Filled with this gift, we are given the gifts of purpose, meaning, identity, mission…by this one memory, this one event of remembering each Sunday, each Mass…we are given direction to navigate through this world to the eternal world of true peace, equality, and joy in the world to come.
That Jonas hears the hymn Silent Night reminds us that God like us has a human mind within which is formed memories and a human heart that loves who these memories represent…which is all of us. That is because He is also God, Jesus has absorbed all our memories and has redeemed them…especially the absolute worst. In the mind of the Infant in the crib, He is thinking about us and all the lives we will live and choices we will make.
That as tempting as it is to create an antiseptic and emotional-less world to eliminate all pain and suffering…it is by way of Christ’s pain and suffering that we are introduced to a greater love and the promise that all those sins, all those hurts, all those tears and all those deaths in the one person of Jesus Christ, from His Crib and Cross will be healed and redeemed.
That suffering when experienced by way of our Faith in Jesus Christ, becomes the means to not suppress our capacity to love but magnify and enlarge it to an infinite degree, simultaneously reminding us of how incredibly loved and treasured we are by the Father who so loved the world as to give to us the gift of His Son.
To not attend Mass, we risk the worst form of amnesia. No longer remembering and receiving the gift of Jesus Christ as individuals and as a culture we will lose our bearings and become lost. That we continue to live in a sinful and increasingly anti-Christ like world is the greatest emergency and requires more than ever that specialized knowledge and remembering of who Christ is.
Mass is that most unique moment where in remembering the life of Christ especially His sacrifice at Calvary, that memory with all its power to heal and save is made alive and present…so remembering becomes receiving…and as Jonas received all those memories from the giver and finds true peace, true joy, his true humanity…Christ transfers to us all His power and glory…
So that having the mind of God and the heart of God and the sense of what matters most to Him, we remember who we are...and we remember that we are in solidarity with all people whether they are filled with joy or pain.
This is what is meant by the Body of Christ…for contained within that body is the mind and heart of Christ as well…and so thinking with this mind and feeling with this heart…we recognize our solidarity as the Three Kings represent with all people. And what unites us, draws us all together as an extended family is the Mother and Child who that wonderful celestial lights shines down upon…revealing to all of us…who our true and lasting peace and joy is...let us never forget that!
Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright. Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child. Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Silent night, holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia, Christ the Savior is born! Christ the Savior is born