Dr. Paul M. Martin, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology
American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley California
Having come forward now from the greed and avarice displayed during the season of thanksgiving by the commercial world with Black Friday, feeding the profit margin of merchants, to Small Business Saturday, focusing on the needs of Mom and Pop enterprise and through Cyber Monday stuffing the pockets of the internet/online business, we now move to the commercialization of Christmas, the most sacred of days for the worldwide Christian Community.
I am reminded of the sacredness of Christmas in the words of the Gospel writer Luke when he says,
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
(Luke 2:7 KJV)
I remember from my Sunday School days, my Junior High Class Teacher, Rev. Seth Toney, a mentor and friend of mine saying that this particular text reminded him a big gift in plain wrapping.
In this season of Advent and Christmas I wonder how much attention you and I pay to wrapping paper. As we scurry to get gifts for those we love during this season we will spend a considerable amount of time in the wrapping of these gifts. We spend precious moments in selecting the right ribbons and bows, paper and other accessories that adorn every package. We even ponder a selection of ornaments that suggest the importance and value of the contents. Fine wrappings usually mean that there is a fine gift inside. Poorly wrapped gifts often suggest that the giver was thoughtless at the least and the gift inside shabby at the best.
I have come to understand over the years that beautiful wrappings on the outside don’t always indicate the value of the gift on the inside.
I remember reading some time ago a great little story that will amplify this concept.
The story centers on a mother who had two sons from whom she received gifts at Christmas. She had not seen them for some time. One son was very wealthy and the other was a beggar who made the streets his home and selling of bottles and cans his vocation. One gift was beautifully wrapped in the finest paper. The other gift was wrapped in what appeared to be newspaper. As she opened the elegantly wrapped gift from her wealthy son, she was surprised to receive a coffee cup. On the bottom was the price tag of $1.98. Upon opening the gift wrapped in newspaper from her beggar son, she found two dollar bills and a note that read, “you gave me your all, now I give you all I have!”
Though wrapped with newspaper, the mother cherished the two dollar bills and tucked them away with joy! One son had much but gave little. The other had only two dollars to his name but gave to a mother who had given him her all, all that he had in return. The moral of this story is “the wrappings couldn’t hide the love.”
My understanding of scripture teaches me that this must have been the way it was when Jesus was born. He came wrapped in swaddling clothes. The shepherds found the King of Kings and Lord of Lords lying in a manger in a barn. He was shabbily dressed living in the worst of conditions. But his swaddling clothing couldn’t hide the love inside. He was a bundle of love and joy to his parents and to the entire world.
Life has been good to us in spite of the circumstances that for many have been extremely grievous. There are many people who continue to be fooled by what’s on the outside, but God is never deceived. He is not impressed by what’s on the outside because he knows what’s beneath the wrappings. This has to be a word of encouragement to all in our society who are being overcome by circumstance. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power. Power that will liberate us from those chains that hold us captive to our circumstance. I still believe in the power of the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to empower us to overcome injustice in the society. Read again Matthew 16:13-20 to be reminded of why Jesus established the Church.
As we prepare to give gifts to our favorite institutions, special people and loved ones at the close of this year let us be sure that we are giving from hearts of love. When we give with hearts of love, it won’t matter what the wrapping, ribbons and bows might be, if any at all. What will matter is the thought expressed by our gifts. Therein lays the value of all the gifts we give.
As Christian, we thank God for giving us the baby Jesus. He was a big gift of hope, joy, love and salvation, all in one package. Though he was wrapped in swaddling clothes under the shabbiest of circumstances, he proved to be a big gift despite his humble and plain wrapping.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY FOR WHAT HE HAS, IS AND WILL DO!
MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY KWANZAA AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!