This spring I will complete my 12th year as an entertainer at Stone Mountain Park. It has been a wonderful experience in countless ways.
About 10 years ago I was privileged to work with master story teller, Tom Marquart, as he told the story of the birth of Jesus . And not long after that my friend Scott Rousseau wrote a version of the Christmas story that we began to use every year at the park. It was called “The Gift.”
“The Gift” has been through several revisions over the years, and it has become a staple at Stone Mountain Park during the Christmas season. If you ride the train around the mountain after 6:00 PM at night you will hear Grandpa Lacey (or one of his relatives) telling the story of the birth of Christ; it is a homespun conflation of the celebrated tale, mixed with country humor and charm.
The point is obvious, of course. The gift is Jesus; the gift is the offer of eternal life. And, as Grandpa Lacey says, “There just ain’t no price tag you can put on that one.”
As I sit in my den this morning, surrounded by beautiful Christmas tree lights and decorations, I am reminded that my life is (and has been) one massive conglomeration (for lack of a better term) of gifts.
It is simply astounding!
The places I’ve lived, the people I’ve known, the opportunities I’ve had, the sunrises and sunsets I’ve witnessed, the literally countless enjoyments I’ve savored for 61 years . . . the GIFTS of my life have been amazing.
We talk of gift giving and receiving especially at this time of year, and we have created the term re-gifting (for those not-so-special presents we pass on to others); we gift-wrap and we speak of a person’s giftedness (when looking for talent). Clearly, a gift is something the recipient does not earn; it is not payment for services rendered.
Thus, the beauty of the term. It has not been sullied over the years – at least not yet. Non-profit organizations continue to engage patrons by asking them to make a “gift” (as opposed to a donation), and fundraisers are careful to employ the word “gift” when helping persons to draw up a will that includes their organization.
We love gifts!
Grandpa Lacey asks the crowd on the train, “What’s your very favorite thing about the holidays?” And he knows that at some point (often right away) someone will say, “gifts” or “presents.”
And at that juncture the Par-cans dim, and he shares with them his gift, the gift of a story.
And quite a story it is! Whether or not you believe it to be true in every detail (I know some of my readers do not) there is an engaging charm about it, and the traditions surrounding it are enrapturing. As the character played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams says, “the memories will be so thick” you will have to “brush them away from your face.”
The “gift” is life.
It is shared by believers and unbelievers alike. For believers it is a gift that extends from here to beyond the grave; for unbelievers it is a gift only during his/her life on this earth. Nevertheless, it is a gift: unearned and undeserved. And it is LIFE.
As I have shared “The Gift” at Stone Mountain Park for these many years I have paid attention to the fact that I never tire of telling the story (there have been seasons when we’ve told it as many as 350 times). I think I know why it doesn’t tire me – at least in part. Because when I tell the story something happens between me and the audience.
I’m not talking about hocus pocus; rather, there is a profound sense we share in those moments – the sense that we are discussing the most elemental ingredients of the universe. We are discussing life.
And we are discussing an aspect of life that makes no sense apart from the existence of ultimate love and altruism: we are discussing the giving of gifts, i.e. giving to others without measuring their deservedness, and without regard to compensation.
We celebrate giving in this season. And I get to tell trainloads of people about it!