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The only eternal thing you can give is love

Aunty Clare Burns

The gift of love: “Children’s smiles convey a message of love and acceptance – they are not weighed down by the world’s prejudices, which aunties, uncles, and even parents may carry.”

“O COME let us adore him.” This is what we sing at Christmas and in our hearts throughout the year as we adore the one who: “came not to be served but to serve”. (Mark 10:45)

As an aunty of nine nephews and nieces spending time with them in the Christmas season helped me receive the joy of the Christ Child.

At an Advent retreat I was invited to contemplate being in the stable and listen to what gift God wanted to give me.

The word “joy” came up time and again when imagining myself alongside Mary and Joseph adoring the new-born Child.

When entering this spiritual exercise there is the potential to focus on what Mary and Joseph did not have – a palace or even their own home, midwife, hot running water, painkillers.

This reality is superseded when focusing on the joy the Child brings.

The story of the nativity is rightly told through Mary’s perspective in Luke and Joseph’s perspective in Matthew’s gospel. The story of the adoring shepherds and wise men travelling from the east is generally a side aspect of the nativity story.

Unlike the wise men I travelled south, not east, from Brisbane to Melbourne. Other adoring aunties and uncles, came from North Queensland, Perth, Alice Springs, Katherine and around Victoria. The gathering was especially blessed with three new babies born into the clan in 2016 – each holding a special, some would say miraculous, story – one adoption, one who had a traumatic birth, and another called Grace.

There are few greater joys than holding a small, cuddly baby, so pure, so innocent, and so trusting – at that moment their life is in your arms. This trust is a gift.

It was also possible to see God’s gifts in the growing giftedness of the other six nephews and nieces. Gifts of the intellect were apparent when listening to seven-year-old Dominic’s grasp of the periodic table – it put me to shame.

I was also touched at the gift of service four-year-old Madeline demonstrated welcoming me to her house and offering a cup of cold water, explaining it needs to be in a plastic cup because she can’t use glass yet – her brother, three years older, also served water carefully in a glass.

The adoring shepherds would have observed the sacrifice Mary and Joseph were making caring for this Child.

As an aunty I am well aware I did not go through the pains of childbirth, nor do I get up for night feeds. Yet as aunties and uncles we still have the capacity to be active adorers.

In one instance my brother, Uncle Paddy, had four-year-old Raffael dressed, fed, a swim in the pool, jump on the trampoline, and completed a few jigsaw puzzles all before 9am.

Not having the day-to-day responsibilities of child-rearing, it is a little easier for besotted aunts to make light of mishaps such as a two-year-old accidently letting out the contents of their bladder onto auntie’s lap.

One unexpected joy was discovering two-month-old Grace’s lung capacity. This little girl was lettting us know she was in danger.

If not for her scream she would have fallen.

There was other collegiate happy screaming too when nephews and nieces learned their West Australian cousin Jazzy was joining them; similarly, there were screams for Nan and Pa as well as chippies.

Like the wise men, aunties and uncles bring presents. However, most of the time amusement of these gifts lasts five minutes and then they’re on to the next thing. The only eternal thing you can give is love. Christ gives love freely so too do children.  Seeing little people’s faces, on a swing in a state of bliss as the say they tell you they’re “touching the sky”, is priceless. Children’s smiles convey a message of love and acceptance – they are not weighed down by the world’s prejudices, which aunties, uncles, and even parents may carry.

We are accepted just as we are, regardless of money or historical family grievances. In this way a child’s loving smile is like the smile of Jesus in the manger spreading joy to the shepherds, wise men, and me.

Clare Burns is a Brisbane Catholic businesswoman. 

Written by: Guest Contributor

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