Grandpa's Gift – Luke 2:8-14
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
One of my most vivid Christmas memories was the Christmas morning when I was eight years old. I awoke that morning as excited as a boy could ever hope to be. I ran down the hallway to the living room and found Santa had delivered quite a load of presents under the tree. It wasn’t really the number of presents that I was most excited about; rather, it was the anticipation that one of those boxes had the one thing I wanted above all–the only thing I asked Santa for that year – a Sega Genesis video game system with the Sonic the Hedgehog game.
My grandparents were joining us for the gift opening festivities. They loved watching me open presents; grateful that their grandson could receive gifts that neither of them could have imagined for themselves, given their upbringing in rural impoverished Eastern Kentucky and having one blue-collar income.
I started with the biggest presents because I knew the Sega Genesis had to be in one of those wrapped boxes. Of course, you know what is often in the larger boxes, right? Sweaters, jeans, and the gifts that are things an eight-year-old needs but isn’t particularly exited to open on Christmas morning. The kind of gift that gets an acknowledging glance, but then is casually tossed over the shoulder in order to find something more exciting.
A few minutes into the gift-opening extravaganza, I suddenly realized that I had opened all the boxes that could potentially contain my precious gift. I reluctantly opened the final gifts in the small boxes. They contained candy, action figures, card games, and baseball card packs; but no Sega Genesis.
I sat beside my tower of unwrapped presents, surrounded by a sea of torn wrapping paper, and did something I’ll never forget – I cried. No, that sounds a little to sympathetic and innocent. I mean, I threw a tantrum. I ran to my room and slammed the door. I laid on my bed and kept trying to figure out why Santa hadn’t brought me the one thing I wanted for Christmas. Had I been bad? Or worse yet, were the rumors about Santa true, after all?
Not two minutes later there was a knock on my door. The sound of my grandpa’s gentle voice passed through the door, saying, “I have something for you.” I opened the door and there was my grandfather, holding a beautifully-wrapped present – a BIG, beautifully-wrapped present.
I took it, tore it open, and read those glorious words: Sega Genesis.
My grandpa explained that he heard I wanted one special thing for Christmas, and that he and my grandma wanted to be the ones to get it for me. Since their arrival at our home the night before, the gift had been hidden in the trunk of their car. They were waiting until I had opened all the other gifts before giving me my special gift.
I give all my family members a ton of credit for even allowing me to receive that gift after how I acted. If I find either of my kids crying over not getting a particular toy all the while sitting beside a mountain of other toys, I’d probably through all the gifts into the trash! Heck, I’m surprised I didn’t end up in the trash!
I tell this story not just so you know I can be selfish and spoiled; but because it’s a story about how life’s blessings often come from the places and people we least expect – like a special gift delivered not from Santa’s sleigh but from the trunk of Grandpa’s rusty Dodge Aries.
And as we are gathered here on Christmas Eve, we remember that the Christmas story is, above all, a story about how life’s blessings often come from the places and people we least expect.
Perhaps you’ll find this illustration helpful in recognizing the unlikely and unexpected nature of the Christmas story:
Let’s break it down a bit.
Animals – smelly, filthy, untamed;
Foreigners – unwelcome, threatening, mysterious;
Straw – not the ideal bedding for a baby;
Shepherds – smelly, filthy, unwelcome…just like the animals they care for;
The “Nobodies” are Mary and Joseph. Mary–an unwed, pregnant, teenage girl still reeling from a bewildering encounter with an angel nine months earlier; and Joseph–a man engaged to a pregnant teenage girl.
Why would God choose to be born into a situation as messy, smelly, chaotic, imperfect, and scandalous as this?
Why? Because that’s exactly the kind of situation where grace happens. The same God of the Creation story, who bringing order into chaos and darkness in order to create life, is at it again in the Christmas story, bringing order into chaos and darkness in order to create life.
In telling the story of Jesus’ birth year after year we are reminded of God’s presence in the midst of our brokenness and imperfection; God’s presence in our stink and squalor.
Each of us here tonight is, to some degree, weighed down by fear, anxiety, apprehension, and doubt. Rather than be ashamed of these feelings; Christmas provides the opportunity to hold these out as imperfect places for God to be revealed to us. These feelings are not barriers barring God’s presence. Rather, they are simply more crazy characters to add to the nativity scene of our life, right next to the smelly donkey and shepherds. God shows up in our fear. God shows up in our anxiety. God shows up in our apprehension. God shows up in our doubt.
The birth of God in a stable in Bethlehem is unlikely and unexpected. This story turns our understanding of value, privilege, and victory on its head and replaces it with the truth that victory is innocence, power is in caring for others, and faith is uncertain hope-filled trust.
So on this Christmas Eve, a night of eager anticipation; prepare to unwrap the present you’ve been hoping for. But don’t be surprised to find the gift isn’t in a meticulously-wrapped box under a beautifully-decorated tree. Instead, God’s precious gift of life comes from the most unexpected places, whether the smelly stable of Bethlehem, in the midst of your dark emotions you’d prefer to ignore, or delivered personally from someone who loves you very much.