Robbie and I sat about in the middle of the sanctuary holding hands as the Minister opened his sermon with a prayer. Christmas Eve candlelight services is one of Robbie's most favorite things, and we'd gone with friends to their church. It was a wonderful service filled with the Christmas Spirit, communing with friends, and Robbie's delight, circling the sanctuary singing the comforting and familiar Christmas hymns.
The thyme for service was the gifts, gift giving and the Greatest Gift Of All, the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ. As the Minister explained, the most valuable gift ever given, and it was given free. His sermon compared the perceived value of the gifts we share with each other, the money they cost us to purchase and what they might mean to the giver, and the recipient. He had a few appropriate jokes and personal experiences about gifts that missed the mark, and stories of gifts that were just right.
But woven in the tapestry of his sermon was this line, "The only animal in the world that can give a gift is man," which caught me off guard and I must say disappointed me. Not only did he include that thought, but he went to some length to explain how it is true. I was greatly disappointed in that opinion, and the fact he felt the need to insert it in his Christmas message, for as far as I could tell, it added nothing to the central fact of the story that Jesus Christ IS the greatest gift ever given.
I wondered as he spoke had he never felt the warmth of a cat curled on his lap on a chilly evening? Had he not once been greeted at the door upon his arrival home by a dog's eager face, wagging tail and bouncing dance? Had he never seen the pictures of service men and women greeted by absolutely ecstatic dogs nearly smothering them as the arrived home after a long deployment? I wonder if he'd never sat with children, looking out a window on a cold snowy day watching birds at the feeder display their beauty, and making the children giggle at their silly antics.
He surely never stood by a horse, soaking up its giving spirit, with his face buried deep in its mane as tears streamed down his cheeks. I can believe he's never been to a Therapeutic Riding Center and watched as a young girl, dealing with the weight of Spina Bifada, discovered she could indeed sit tall and smile wide. Or watched as a battered woman regained confidence while riding a horse, who knew the precious cargo it carried and made sure to keep her safe.
I agree the most valuable gift ever given was Jesus Christ … but I also know God gave all beings the ability and desire to give gifts. And I thank God for that … For the best gifts of all, in any season, are the gifts of love, healing and comfort … And I believe animals have a most special talent for giving that.