One of the Christmas traditions in my family has been that of the surprise package. My dad, and later each of us kids, would specially wrap or prepare one present. We were not to touch the other gifts under the tree, but the special present could be picked up, shaken, weighed or whatever -- just so long as we didn't unwrap it. Guess which present we were the most interested in opening on Christmas morning?
My dad initiated a special excitement to our Christmas seasons. Although he was far from a devout Christian, I'd like to borrow from his theology. The classic interpretation of giving gifts at Christmas harkens back to the gifts of the three magi or wise men. Many Christians delay gift giving until the twelfth day of Christmas when some say the magi arrived. Others give one gift each of the twelve days of the season. Over the years most Christians have succumbed to the madness of Christmas gift giving that has lined merchants' pockets, but left us exhausted in our searches to find the right gifts in order to please our friends and loved ones.
I'd like to offer a different theology, one similar to my dad's surprise package. When Jesus came, the Jews of his time were expecting a Messiah, a military leader who would bring back the glory years of their community. Instead, God gave them a surprise package, a baby lying in a manger! I'd like to think of our Christmas gifts as representing the gift God gave to us. That means much more to me than some travelers' gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I remember one Christmas when my surprise came from my mother. It was one of those gifts that I hadn't asked for. It was books, one of those gifts I only sought after when all the others had lost their newness. However, I loved the two books, and they were the first of many that were part of a book club package. I can remember waiting every other month at the mailbox for the next book to arrive. I can't remember what was first on my Christmas list that year. But my unexpected gift became one that I remember to this day.
Jesus is like that, a surprise package, not the gift we were expecting. But He is the greatest gift of all. And it all started with a baby in a manger.
Almighty and gracious God, thank you for the matchless gift you have given me in Jesus Christ. As I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, help me to remember your gift each time I select a gift to give to someone else. Finally, lead me to be a blessing to others; so they can see your gift of your grace in me. In Jesus' name, AMEN.
Rev. Rich Patsios, Retired