Christmas is a time for memories… memories of special times, special people, and special gifts. One of my favorite memories…of the best Christmas gift I ever received. I was about 9 years old and my parents surprised my brother and I with an amazing gift for two young boys. We didn’t ask for it. It just showed up, not even under the tree or anywhere near the tree, but on the front porch of our home, so out of place for a Christmas present. It was a black and white RCA 12 inch television with UHF and VHF. Wow, that was amazing to us! Life was great in my 9 world that night. It was an unexpected gift found in an unexpected place.
Christmas gifts can be like that. No matter our age, we all have a Christmas list in our mind, whether it about gifts or expectations or hopes about what the holidays will hold, how our time with family or friends will be. The expectations around the holidays are often impossibly high. But I found then and still find today that it is the unexpected gifts of time, people, or presents, that often bring me back to the true meaning of Christmas.
Here’s why… when we celebrate the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He too was an unexpected gift found in an unexpected place. Most of us know the story well. Jesus was born around 2,000 years ago in the city of Bethlehem. His parents, Mary and Joseph, a young maiden and a carpenter, had travelled there from their home in Nazareth. When they arrived there was no vacancy at any of the local inns. The only place they could find to stay was a lowly stable, and this is where Jesus was born. They laid him in the only bed they could find—a manger. His bedding was the animal’s hay. His clothes were bands of cloth.
It is amazing that God’s own Son would be born in such a humble way, so unexpectedly, so tenderly, without a press release or marketing plan, and, you see, this is itself part of the gift. For, the way Jesus came to us is just as important as the fact that he came at all.
In Jesus, God joins us in our struggle for goodness and peace. God enters our world and our lives to transform them—to bring us hope, healing, forgiveness, and love. In the birth of Jesus, God collapses the great distance that once existed between us, so that we might be as close to God as a mother to her child—the human and divine, God and us, now wrapped in a tender embrace.
Jesus came to us in this unlikely and unexpected way to show us the depth of God’s love for us—to show us that God is so in love with us that God would go to any length for us, even to being born silently in a stable.
And Jesus still shows up in the unexpected places in our world and in our lives. Jesus was not only born in relative obscurity, in a small corner of our planet, he was born into a place of conflict, occupation, and oppression–that’s why they were in Bethlehem—so the occupying Roman empire would know how much to tax their subjects.
And Jesus shows up in our time whenever there is struggle, strife, and injustice. Wherever violence threatens and seeks to destroy the innocent and the good, there Jesus is born—born to bring hope in the midst of our despair, born to bring light in the midst of darkness. Jesus does not fear the darkness in us or our world because that’s where he chose to be born. Jesus was born to humble people, in a humble place—the light and warmth from the manger radiating out into the dark, cold night.
Now, Jesus is given many names in the Bible, “Lord, Savior, Prince of Peace, Messiah,” but the one we use most around Christmas is “Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” In Jesus, God entered into our reality and our lives. God knows what it is like to be human. God knows intimately what we go through. God knows what it is like to have hopes and dreams, fears and doubts, to belong and to be rejected, to succeed and fail.
I think sometimes the most unexpected place for us to think of God is in our own lives. We secretly think that God is too distant, too busy, too other. But right now, we can remember that He chooses to be with us, wherever we are. God is with us, now, tomorrow, always.Jesus is God’s love made visible. His amazing birth puts that love on full display. It is a beautiful and unexpected gift in a simple and unexpected place.
My prayer for you is… that your Christmas journey will be filled with many unexpected gifts, be they presents, relationships, or moments of grace. May they remind you of the original unexpected gift of Christmas—Jesus—and of God’s great love for you. Now that a gift that brings real hope!