Last year about this time, I wrote a blog post about non-monetary gifts that had really meant something to me over the years. It is still true that the great gifts we remember are the ones we least expect. One year, my aunt actually had herself wrapped in a huge box that was “delivered” to my mom—it was a huge surprise because my aunt lived in another country at that time, and my mother was not expecting to see her at all. It was such a thrill that we still talk about it to this day at family gatherings. Some of my family members are known to plot for weeks to make sure that their perfect gift is still a secret at Christmas time. They are successful most of the time.
In thinking about this Christmas this year, it struck me that our greatest gift of all—Jesus Christ—was both unexpected and undeserved. The shepherds in the fields were terrified when the angels showed up, not sitting up expectantly waiting for news of the newborn babe. The innkeeper did not have his best room reserved; instead, he reluctantly allowed the little family to use the stable for the birth of a king. The people of Israel who had been expecting the Messiah for hundreds of years did not have the event broadcast across the nation by a choir of angels for all to know. This obscure birth would only be known to a precious few, but oh, what a birth it was. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
In my life I have been the recipient of many unexpected gifts, and probably quite a few that were undeserved. But whether we like to admit it or not, we often give gifts to those who have given one to us or who are deserving of our generosity. At birthdays and Christmas, I have been known to ponder whether a gift that I am receiving was actually commensurate with the gifts that I had given to that person. More important, did they remember the gifts on my list that I “really” wanted? You know the drill—we all put wish lists together with the hope that we will get some of the gifts, but there is normally one thing that is “non negotiable”—the gift we REALLY want. Our gift-giving occasions are often secretly measured by how many of the really important gifts we got. Some of us will actually attempt to manipulate the gift givers into giving us a “wink or nod” that they actually remembered to get the right thing. Others are tempted to check packages under the tree to be sure the boxes are the right size and weight.
In light of that reality, I am so glad that I have NOT gotten what I deserved from my heavenly Father. Instead of incurring the full brunt of His wrath for the wages of my sin—death itself—God sent His Son into this world as the perfect gift. A Savior in a manger, as vulnerable as He could humanly be, who grew up to be the sin bearer for me. The most unexpected gift for a most undeserving people.
This year as I open presents and enjoy the Christmas holiday with my family, I am praying for one more gift—that my eyes would be opened more fully to the plight of those who need the unexpected gift of God’s love through my feeble hands, eyes and ears. So often I am self-focused and even unaware of those who are just as undeserving as me but not fortunate enough to have had someone tell them about the greatest gift of all. Maybe I can be a gift to someone when they least expect it by simply listening to the still small voice of my heavenly Father as He reminds me once again what He has done for me. He keeps giving gifts again and again and again.