One of my favorite TV shows is The Big Bang Theory. Roommates Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper are brilliant physicists, who understand everything about how the world works, but don’t understand the first thing about social interaction.
One Christmas their neighbor in the apartment across the hall, Penny, lets on that she has bought Sheldon a Christmas present and it bothers him completely because unless he orders his world perfectly he can’t cope. According to him, if someone buys you a present, you have to buy a present back. But not any old present; no, it has to be a comparably priced present. Not too much because that would be gross. Not too little because that would show lack of caring.
Although it’s a very funny scene, I've lived in that awkwardness of here comes Christmas again with the old familiar anxiety of '”did I get the appropriate gift!?” So Sheldon Cooper has a solution, he goes to a department store with friends and purchases a whole range of gift baskets from modest priced ones to very expensive ones. His plan is to receive Penny’s present first, open it and evaluate it, and then pretend he has to step into his room (feigning gastric discomfort). When her returns, he’ll have with him the appropriately priced gift basket and later return all the unused gift baskets to the mall.
But it doesn't work out because Penny wasn't thinking of social etiquette when she got his present. She may not know anything about physics, but she knows people and pays attention to them and notices what they love. She enjoys gifting that to them. And she knew that Sheldon Cooper loves Star Trek and is an obsessed fan of Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock. So one day, when Leonard Nimoy enters the restaurant in which she works, she asks him to autograph a napkin for her friend, Sheldon Cooper.
He is so blown away by the gift, it’s nothing like he expected, it’s something that he really loves. And when he realizes that Leonard Nimoy used the napkin to wipe his mouth and possibly left DNA on it, he is overwhelmed with the joyful idea of growing his own Mr. Spock. Sheldon rushes back into his room and returns with the entire collection of gift baskets he has on reserve there and dumps them at Penny’s feet saying “It’s not enough!” and struggles through a hug.
The reason I love that episode so much is because when you get it right, when you get the right present for the right person, and that uninhibited expression of joy erupts, it’s so wonderful to witness. And how we love to do that for each other. And what wouldn’t we give to the ones we love to see them brighten up with that much joy?
I’m thinking of the families in Newtown Connecticut this evening. The ones who are observing their first Christmas Eve without the children who were slain in the recent shooting. And I am thinking that there isn’t anything that we wouldn’t give, there isn’t a thing we would withhold if it would bring back just one of those children. That is part of the deep frustration of the tragedy we are experiencing, knowing, that there isn’t any thing we can give to accomplish that. We are left with the only thing we have – our love. Tonight it is my custom to celebrate the light of love, the kind of love that the man Jesus of Nazareth focused his teaching on. I call it the Christ Consciousness and I believe that it dwells in all of us. Tonight I light a candles as a symbol of reigniting that love in my heart and mind.
When I was a little boy, I took great comfort in the practice of lighting candles as I was taught, as a symbol of my prayer for another person—as a symbol of my love for them. It was as particularly meaningful practice when the person I was lighting the candle for was suffering, or ill, or far away, and no physical gift could matter as much as the love that my candle symbolized. I am remembering tonight that I believe in love, and I believe that it makes a difference across time and space. I believe in love, and I believe in the love that is in you. I believe it is the most valuable gift we have to give, and possibly the only one that can save the world. In a song by John Denver, titled “The Gift You Are” some of the lyrics are: Imagine a month of Sundays, each one a cloudy day, Imagine the moment the sun came shining through. Imagine that ray of sunshine is you. Remember your darkest hour with dawn still far away. Remember the way you longed for morning’s light and think of yourself as a candle in the night.
Every Christmas Eve I light a candle as part of a tradition. Over the years I have lit it for different reasons: in memory of someone, as a wish for humanity, as a celebration of the birth of a child whose story has affected the world in profound ways, as a welcoming of the returning light, as a commitment to something.
Tonight, I’m lighting my candle for the families in Newtown.
I see this time of year as an opportunity to celebrate the birth of a child whose life’s teaching has come to be synonymous with love, or at least that’s how it is for me. I see this time of year as an opportunity also to welcome back the light of that love. To me the season seems to be whispering a message saying: no matter how dark it is, no matter that the sun should stand still, no matter that all the world should seem to be against me, no matter that I may be in the middle of some dreadful winter…somewhere in me is born a little but magnificent light, a light that is sufficient to shine not only on my path, but also enough to light the way for others. Somewhere in me the sun is shifting and turning back from its path to return and bright my days. Somewhere in me the memory of spring is already beginning to rustle.