What the Dwarf teaches us about Christmas

A previous post highlighted a story told about John the Dwarf of the Christian tradition. It was about his willingness to water a dry bit of wood for three years until it bore fruit. Continuing to share some sayings of the desert from Merton's book here is another John the Dwarf story:

ONCE some of the elders came to Scete, and Abbot John the Dwarf was with them. And when they were dining, one of the priests, a very great old man, got up to give each one a little cup of water to drink, and no one would take it from him except John the Dwarf. The others were surprised, and afterwards they asked him: How is it that you, the least of all, have presumed to accept the services of this great old man? He replied: Well, when I get up to give people a drink of water, I am happy if they all take it; and for that reason on this occasion I took the drink, that he might be rewarded, and not feel sad because nobody accepted the cup from him. And at this all admired his discretion.

In this season of gift giving, we can forget that gift giving can be a form of power. In the words of Bishop Will Willimon:

"We prefer to think of ourselves as givers -- powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we -- with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities -- had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it."

So may we all be givers like the very great old man in the story. And may we also be like John the Dwarf who was humble enough to receive so that others can experience the joy (and power) of giving a gift.