Christmas gifts can occupy a lot of our time. Coming up with just the right gift. Wrapping it in just the right paper. (Unless you’re like me and forgot to get wrapping paper — so, whatever scraps are left from many Christmases ago on the rolls still stacked in the closet.) Finding a complementary bow. Writing on the little, tiny Christmas tag. Blowing on the writing to keep the ink from smearing. Placing the package in just the right space under the tree — not right out front, but conspicuous enough to draw interest. And all of that is just Phase One.
Phase Two begins when the gift recipient notices the package . . . and begins to wonder about what’s inside. The left side of their brains begin to calculate size and possibilities. Perhaps, when everyone is away, they heft the package to get a better idea of weight and volume. And then, they wonder about the contents.
At the designated time for opening, we smile with pleasure as Santa’s designated helper places the present in the recipient’s hands. A wash of anticipation reaches peak velocity. And then, the decision. Should the package be unwrapped neatly, without tearing the paper? Or should the wrapping be fully exploited, ripped to smithereens? Most choose a thorough trashing of the paper, a messy exercise of exuberance. And that’s Phase Three.
Then, the moment comes. The somewhat unknown, but much-desired, treasure is in hand. For some, it is the object of wishes and hints. For others, it is a surprise, bringing pleasure from the thought behind the giving. Phase Four begins. Living with the package and all of its meaning and often its utility.
Christmas giving. Christmas receiving.
Our ultimate Christmas package comes in those four phases, as well.
For centuries, God’s people were told of a gift that was coming. A Messiah. A Savior. They waited with expectations of wonder. They dreamed of the way that God’s gift would be packaged. The thought and the meaning of the gift were incredibly complex and almost incomprehensible. Phase One.
Then, as the gift came near and as the Christ-child lived and walked this earth, people had images of what He would become. Some expected a military leader, one who would free God’s people from the captivity of earthly rulers. Others, perhaps those who came to know him best, fought confusion but relished the hope of something wonderful. An existence closer to God and His love. Phase Two.
With the gift in hand, all of us were faced with the choice of how to unwrap the package. Some do it delicately, with an elegant regard for all of the splendor and beauty. The rest of us rip through the wrappings, creating a mess with our lives, but keeping that hope that the content of this gift from above will bring us joy and peace. Phase Three.
Repeat the chorus:
For many of us, we’re in that final time. Learning how to live with this gift, this Jesus. Discovering every day the value of the package. Understanding a little bit at a time about the waiting, the anticipation, the hope and the love expressed by God’s gift. For others, the package remains unopened. Still hoped for. Still anticipated.
Open the package.
Emmanuel. God with us.