The Wrapping of God’s Gift
Feast of The Holy Family
December 28, 2014
Among my childhood memories of Christmas, (and most of us are blessed with treasured memories of “Christmases past,”) is that of a neighbor who always brought over gifts for my sister and me. Her gifts are among my most unforgettable Christmas memories because of the extraordinary way that this kind and loving soul wrapped her gifts for us!
One year there were empty oatmeal cartons transformed into beautiful Christmas locomotives. Another year, she somehow transformed shoe boxes into “Santa’s sleigh,” complete with reindeer. I couldn’t wait for her knock at the door on Christmas morning because when the door opened, we would see another magical surprise in her hands. But when we opened the gifts, we did not find magical contents inside the boxes.
You see, this lady didn’t have a whole lot of money, so inside these amazing packages would be an apple, or a candy bar, or a few pencils. As young children, we didn’t understand why these gifts were so ordinary. It was only years later that we came to see and appreciate that her REAL gift to us was THE PACKAGE! Until we came to appreciate the gift of her careful wrapping, I wonder how it made her feel to watch us tear apart her hours of work to get to what, in our immaturity, we thought was “the gift.”
My Mom, on the other hand, was the total and complete opposite of our neighbor next door. Our gifts from our parents, as much as their budget would allow, were exactly what we were desperate to have. Usually these desperate wishes were whatever toys were popular that year. In addition, we got what we needed…things like new snow boots or school clothes. And finally, there was always the special gift that Mom and Dad thought we would treasure and keep forever such as a watch or a ring.
Our parents’ gifts were wonderful and thoughtful expressions of their love, but my Mom was not at all into wrapping. In fact, NOT AT ALL! When we were growing up, our Christmas gifts would often be sitting under the tree in plain, white, tissue paper, or maybe in the gift box from the store with a simple bow and name tag. She was even known to “wrap” a gift in a brown paper grocery bag.
As I hear and reflect on today’s Gospel on this Feast of the Holy Family, I think about both experiences. Consider the unbelievable gift that God sent to Simeon and Anna, two people who sat in the Temple day after day, year after year, praying and waiting. They waited with the same excitement and anticipation in their hearts that children feel as Christmas morning draws near. They waited for the gift that God promised them…the Messiah. This was a gift they desperately wanted and that all of humankind needed. This was a Gift, Who deserves above all other gifts ever given, to be treasured, protected, and valued above all else.
And so, at the appointed time, the Gift of the Christ Child was presented by God to Simeon and Anna, who received Jesus on behalf of all humankind. And look at how this gift was wrapped! The gift of our salvation came wrapped in a man whose face was lined with worry, confusion, and maybe even fear. God presented this gift wrapped in the loving arms of a young woman who had to be totally exhausted from a hard journey across rugged terrain. She was probably exhausted from childbirth and completely mystified by all that had happened to her in such a short time and at such a young age. This young, tired, dusty, poor, and very ordinary couple was the way in which Almighty God purposefully and very intentionally chose to wrap the greatest gift ever given…the Savior of the World.
Today, as we continue to celebrate the birth of that greatest of all Gifts, the birth of Jesus Christ, we remember and celebrate as well the way in which this priceless gift was packaged. It came to us in an ordinary human family. Like my neighbor lady from so many Christmases past, God took great pains to wrap this precious gift in an extraordinary way, a way that God in God’s infinite wisdom judged to be the most beautiful. It was a way that God determined that we would appreciate BOTH the wrapping as well as the gift inside. And in a way, God has continued to present the Gift of Christ to us over the centuries, generation after generation, in this way.
Today, on this Feast of the Holy Family, we continue to celebrate God’s infinitely generous gift of the incarnation. We also celebrate as well the way God presented The Gift. God wrapped the gift in people like you and me, in Christian families. We hold the Gift of Salvation within us, and for this we need to remember, to rejoice, and to be glad. Because God has chosen to use Christian families in such a profound and important way, we need to protect the family, God’s package, as well as God’s Gift, the Christ Child.
God loves us, in spite of all our failings and weaknesses. God chose to use the most ordinary people like us for the wrapping of God’s gift. For that, we are very grateful and blessed. It gives us hope for ourselves and for the world.