Have you ever received a gift that you felt you couldn’t accept? A present so gratuitous that you ask yourself, “Is it selfish for me to receive this?” A gift so unexpectedly perfect that it resonates to the core of your person-hood? I received a gift like that once.
If you’re of my generation (and a nerd) you might remember Halo 2 as one the defining aspects of your middle school or high school experience. At least, it was for me. The story was epic, the game play was buttery, and the graphics (for the time) were awe-inspiring. It was one of the first games you could play via Xbox Live. Meaning you didn't have to be in the same house to play someone in multiplayer. Basically, it was revolutionary. Most sleepovers involved sixteen of us connecting our respective consoles and playing together until four in the morning. It was a glorious time, full of youthful exuberance, and nerdy fanfare. All that, however, is merely context. The profound lesson I learned from my days of Halo 2 had much more with receiving the game than playing it.
I was not a good student in high school, and my poor parents tried various tactics to encourage me to perform more admirably. I remember when the first major trailer for Halo 2 came out, and I was immediately convicted in my fourteen year old heart that I needed it. My mother, being the wise woman that she was (and still is…hi mom!) told me that she would buy me the game if I got my grades up during the fall semester. I enthusiastically accepted the challenge.
The fall semester came along and for the first few weeks I worked my butt off. Soon though, my procrastination kicked in, and my enthusiasm was kicked out. Halo 2, the game of my dreams, the game all my friends were going to get, the game that would define an entire period of my adolescent life, was slipping from my grasp. Of course, I didn't realize that fact until a week before grade cards came in the mail. With no time to pull out of my academic nose dive, I reached for the parachute: reasoning with mom. The parachute failed. I accepted my fate.
During that time in my life, I felt my relationship with my parents was essentially grade based. In my mind I had to earn their affection via my school performance. My failure to “earn” Halo 2 went deeper than losing the game. It was also another failure in securing their love. Another cut into a pretty deep wound. I think my mother knew this was the case.
I walked in to the house on November 9th, 2004. The annoying juxtaposition of the cold outside and the warmth inside slapped me in my face. My emotions matched the sensation. Cold with lingering remorse, and pin prickling warm with frustration. My mom was standing in the living room, and she called me over.
We stood for a second, facing each other. She just smiled at me. Then she said, “I love you” and, to my amazement, pulled out the deluxe edition of Halo 2 from behind her back and handed it to me. “ARE YOU SERIOUS!?” I asked. “Yep”, she smiled. “Why?” I stammered. “I love you”, she said. After a loving hug, and a lot of “thankyouthankthankyou”, I bounded off into video game bliss.
Looking back at that moment I’m reminded of Advent. I’m reminded of the first paragraph of the Catechism.
“God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength...To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life.” -CCC 1
The gift of our life, and God’s love are gifts undeserved and unable to be earned. This is a drastically under taught truth. I’ve encountered so many people, myself included, who think that they have to be perfect before God will lovingly accept them. When the reality is the reverse. We can’t be perfect until we let God lovingly accept us.
Maybe this mentality is a result of cultural Catholicism, in which discipleship is defined by behavior first and belief second. It could be a product of Americanized Christianity where, “God helps those who help themselves”.
Whatever the source, the problem flourishes, and it’s holding us back from the true freedom of the Gospel. With this unbalanced notion that you can earn God's love, no wonder our Churches are dying! If you teach a bible study, if you have the gifts of tongues, if you're holier than everyone else then God loves you. Thank God however, (literally personally thank Him) that this is not our reality. No, God's love is His initiative. It was His move to Love you infinitely before you were even born. He chose to love you before anyone was born.
When I asked my mom why she got me Halo, even though I hadn’t made the grade, all she said was, “I love you”. When we ask God why, “at every time and in every place He draws close to man”, he gives the same response. “I love you”. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. In fact YOU CAN’T! We can only accept it.
Advent is a time in which we allow God to make room in our hearts to receive more of Him. Let’s stop trying to merit the gift. Let’s be disciples because we are secure in the knowledge that He loves us, not because we feel the need to prove ourselves. Let’s freely receive what’s been freely given, and totally unearned.
Pillar 1 Supplement: Catechism of the Catholic Church-Paragraph 1
In these last days of Advent we invite you to start each day by praying with this paragraph. Let it be the foundation of your life and let its truth impact your day in your thoughts and dreams. Do you believe God has made the initiative in your life? This is a great time to ask Him.
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From all of us at Reverb Culture- May you receive the unmerited love of Christ this Christmas.
Paul is a missionary with Adore Ministries. He and his wife Megan live and work in Portsmouth, Ohio. He likes the internet, alcohol, music, art, MST3K, and philosophy (although he doesn’t claim to be good at it). Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @baumlife