“Is Christmas really over?” I asked under my breath.
Under the tree I saw the yuletide leftovers: there were a few pine needles, some glitter, and a few lonely name tags. Everyone was thinking it, “Really? No more presents?” The holiday anticipation had swelled to this moment, and then it was gone with a sigh.
We linger around the tree and wonder—maybe it’s not quite over—and especially ‘round Christmas time we’re allowed a little hope. After all, there could be one more. Maybe Dad saved the best toy for last, or Grandma will get her check book out again this year, and there’s always the chance of that super-secret gift in the garage too big to fit through the door!
I remember sifting through my wish list as a child to see if Santa forgot something. Like most kids my list was about twenty three items unrealistic. Each year I circled more than enough toys in the Sears catalog, and without fail I secretly hoped for all of them.
A lot of giving and receiving happens during the holidays, but there’s something we all feel—a melancholy underneath the joy. No Christmas gift can completely distract us from that dull ache.
When the red wrapping paper is ripped up and the green yarn’s all tangled at your feet—when the presents are all finally unveiled—then what? If you take the time and listen long enough, you’ll hear it. When the new watches, phones, rugs, clothes, cars, chairs, bears, shoes, hats, toys, games, jewelry, stuff and more stuff are finally opened—they won’t yell louder than your deepest longing.
We long for more, but what present will quiet the pain?
For the last few years my wife and I have taken up a new tradition. We hide a small plain box under the tree. I usually leave it unwrapped with the brown cardboard still exposed, because I don’t want it to be mistaken for a shiny gift from Toys-R-Us or the Disney store. It must be simple and meek like the manger.
After the whirlwind of wrapping paper, we place our earthly gifts aside; the frantic hands and feet become still, and we open the last box. Inside the humble package there is nether silver nor gold, instead there is written, something more costly—a few words much older than any of us. We read the prophecies, the Christ-child story from Luke, and Scriptures that proclaim the name of the greatest gift ever given.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
As we read through each one, the Word comes alive. At the end we say: thank you for all we’ve received this Christmas, but Jesus, you are—the Greatest Gift ever given.
When the morning is over, the tape, plastic, paper, and wire get discarded, but our readings return to the little brown box. We’ll store the small package with our most valuable decorations and wait until next Christmas. It won’t be long until we gather again to tell the Story that carries us through the year.