Summary: God’s Christmas present for us is Jesus. He doesn’t get broken like many presents, but come to those who are already broken in spirit.
God’s Christmas Present
Christmas Eve, 2005
I don’t know what your traditions are for unwrapping Christmas gifts around your house. Every family has a certain time, place, and procedure for gift giving. Toni and I come from very different traditions and it took us a while to get used to each other.
In her family, Christmas presents were always unwrapped on Christmas Eve. In my house we waited until Christmas morning. When I was growing up - and it still happens this way – it is sort of “everyone for him or herself.” Everybody opens gifts all at the same time. There is wrapping paper and ribbon everywhere. Mounds and piles of boxes and discarded bows litter the living room floor. It is really controlled chaos, but not always that controlled.
It was hard to get used to the way Toni’s family opens presents, and I guess that I really never have. In her family, gifts are opened one at a time, starting with the youngest and progressing to the oldest. When everyone has opened one, we go back to the beginning. This is getting harder and harder for me now that I am getting older. When her family gathers, we not only have our three kids, but Toni’s brother and sister and brother-in-law, along with three nieces. I’m almost older than everyone and it takes forever to get to my gifts. And then I have to wait an eternity for my turn to come around again. Christmas gift-giving with my family is a sprint. We hurry to get finished so we can get to dinner. In her house, Christmas is a marathon. We rush through dinner in order to get to the presents.
We’ve come to the night when it is about time to start unwrapping. We have braved the malls, fought the crowds, and negotiated the traffic: all the while spending ourselves silly. The office and neighborhood parties are over. The tree is trimmed. The eggnog is ready. The mistletoe and stockings are hung. There is excitement in the air. We can’t wait for the moment when we can start unwrapping.
My wife of course, wants jewelry. The kids are pretty much to the point of “just give us money dad, and we’ll go to the mall ourselves so that we don’t have to return whatever it is that you buy us.” I’m at the point in my life when Christmas gifts are extras because I pretty much have what I need.
There is more to this gift-giving thing than just giving and receiving gifts. It really doesn’t matter what the gift is. I made a conscious decision years ago not to be disappointed with any gift I’m given.
My great-aunt Osie and Uncle Ed are both gone now, but they were my favorites. They have both been dead for many years, but I remember Christmas time. We would always gather at my grandparent’s house. After dinner and presents, we would always play euchre. It would always be my dad and me verses Aunt Osie and Uncle Ed. We had a great time. I still miss them. I miss our Christmas card game.
One Christmas when I was a teenager, they gave me this cheesy little tool set for a present. I still remember being disappointed with it. It took me awhile, but I also remember coming to the understanding that the gift didn’t matter. What mattered is what the gift said. They gave me a present because they loved me.
That’s what presents are. More than jewelry, more than sweaters, more than toys, more than socks and underwear: gifts are symbols of the love others have for us. It is that love which is precious.
Christmas is the time when God gave his most precious gift to us in the form of a babe in a manger. The gift is a sign that God has come to us in a personal and powerful way. The gift has a name. According to the prophet Isaiah, the gift’s name is Immanuel, God with us. His name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
We have a little trouble, I think, believing that this gift is really for us. After all, the angel visited Mary. The heavenly choir sang to the shepherds. The star caught the eyes of the wise men. We’re a lot like Joseph, who at first, had a little trouble accepting that this was for him. His name wasn’t in the headlines, but it was for him as well.
And the gift is indeed for us. The manger is a personal invitation to all of us. It is an invitation for us to realize what is happening and what this gift means. The gift is God’s witness that God is willing to go to extreme and even desperate measures to bring us back.