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Behind the Wrapping, part 1 - Oh, He Knows ...

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I know a few people who really and truly love wrapping paper.  As in they really and truly must find the right style each year, the right colors and texture to convey their love.  However, most everyone agrees that while a nicely wrapped present makes for some wonderful decoration under a Christmas tree, what really matters is what's behind the wrapping.  At least, every child in America knows this is true.

The same sort of thing can be said about this time of year that we know as Christmas.  There is so much to love and appreciate about what happens during these special few weeks.  It is great to sing Christmas carols with others.  It's wonderful to see Children's faces light up when they see Santa.  And who doesn't love getting some extra cookies or cards from friends during this time of year!

Still, the best part of Christmas is something that lies behind all of this cultural wrapping, beautiful as it is.  The true joy is to be found by delving a bit deeper into the great and glad news of Jesus Christ's coming into the world.  So, over the next few weeks, I invite you to revive that child-like spirit within yourself.  Each week my hope is to lift up one godly and Christ-like aspect of our cultural traditions around Christmas.  For instance, today I'll begin with that jolly old man himself, Santa Claus, but I think you'll soon remember that his own origin only begins to touch upon the beautiful truth of Christmas ...

Oh, He Knows!

My favorite Christmas movie is still A Christmas Story, the adaptation of a book by Jean Shephard that perfectly captures the agony and ecstasy of a young boy who has his heart set squarely upon one and only one gift for Christmas:  a Red Ryder, carbine-action, two-hundred shot range BB gun.  To young Ralphie this is the creme de la creme of Christmas gifts, the only thing that will bring him complete satisfaction and joy.  Every ounce of his energy and determination is willing his dream to come true.

As we move closer to Christmas day, we can't help but feel for poor Ralphie.  Every adult in town has squashed his hopes by telling him that he'll only shoot his eye out.  Even giving good ol' Saint Nick a try seems pointless.  Santa too dashes his hopes late one evening at the local mall.  When Ralphie's father finally meets up with him again as the store is closing and Ralphie is retreating to his home where he is quite certain he'll never see his beloved Red Ryder BB gun, his father asks him if he told Santa what he wanted for Christmas.  Dejected, Ralphie lies and tells his dad, "No."  But, with a sort of restrained gladness, his father can't help but remind his son:  "Don't worry, he knows.  He always knows."

We know exactly what Ralphie's father is getting at, and not just because we're in on the joke as adults.  We also know that this is one of the "truths" about Santa Claus.  He sees everything.  He is well aware of what is bouncing around the minds of children as they lay in bed at night.  He is tuned into what their hearts have been desiring.  And, of course, he knows whether these kids have "been good or bad, so be good for goodness sake."  

In recent years, Santa has apparently gotten overworked or is just merely trying to outsource some of his labor because he has turned to his elves to do the work of "behavior-assessment" in many homes.  Still, though, we get the idea.  Santa - as the embodiment of our cultural/consumer holiday - knows us and knows about us.  Santa knows what we've been desiring and whether or not we deserve such a gift.

Anyone who has been a parent, knows there's some real joy hidden in this "knowing."  In fact, the older I get, the more I realize that the true joy of Christmas isn't just for the children.  It's for the parents as well.

As a parent, I now have that unique joy of being able to see my kids and my family unwrap gifts that I've been able to seek out and find for them.  I truly do believe there is something holy in this "knowing."  It's the door that we can walk through and discover that deeper meaning and joy of why Christmas is the beginning of the good news for us.

At the heart of Christmas is the assurance that God sees us and knows us ... and knows precisely what we need.

I realized this deep and beautiful gospel word about Christmas again recently while working through a series of reflections in a book by Kevin O'Brien.  In the book, he invites the reader to take up an old Ignatian exercise.  Consider, he says, what it must be like to be God.  What would it look like to see the world as God sees the world?  How amazing, incredible, revealing, and jostling would it be to have God's perspective into our daily lives and dramas?  Imagine:  God looking upon all sorts of different men and women and children all across the globe.  Short and pudgy, as well as tall and lean.  Individuals from different cultures and families with unique traditions.  "People speaking different languages.  Some being born, others dying; some running and playing; others sick and suffering."  But not just our actions.  Also our emotions and our desires, our hopes and fears, our warmth of love and the cold recesses of jealousy and envy, our missteps and our moments of courage.  

How, then, would you feel if you were able to see the world in such a way?  What sort of deep insight would you gain about us, about human beings?  

As Kevin O'Brien asks, "How does the God who is Love respond to us, God's children, who are lost, aimless, suffering, sinning, confused and hurting?"

Yes.  What sort of gift might you long to give such a people?  

Why, you would long to provide relief.  You would long to shine light into the darkness and to give the people hope.  You would long to lift up the gift that will be for redemption.

This is the deepest essence of the Christmas joy, of course.  Long before Santa Claus, God knew.  And God still knows.  With wisdom and love and careful planning, a plan was set into motion to provide for a gift that would be unlike any other - a new hope where the old injuries of pride and pain could be released and new life could be found.  

Behind all the wrapping of this season, this is still the gospel news that God longs to share.  "Good news of great joy to all humankind!  Unto us is born the Christ, the Son of David."  God's heart and mind are never far from us, and God is the one who is working not just behind the scenes but in every event and detail of history to give us precisely what we need.  
Seen in this way, Santa Claus becomes only a symbol of a deeper love at work in the world.  For the Living God doesn't just employ a few elves.  The Living God gets to work over centuries, raising up angels and flying across eons, all while inspiring poets and prophets to give hints and clues of the coming gift.

From the prophet Isaiah declaring how a child shall lead us to Zechariah's image of the Gift arriving on the back of a donkey, the Bible drops hints as often and as boldly as a father who already knows that his son will be getting that great and longed-for treasure on Christmas morning.

Oh, your Heavenly Father knows precisely what you are seeking ... even before you do.

So let me invite you to dwell in this beautiful, gospel news.  Allow me to give you the freedom to stop sometime today.  Maybe even right now.  And let me give you permission to dwell in this good news:

God wants to start repairing your life.

God is longing to give peace where there is pain and hope where it's grown difficult to see the light.

God is intentionally coming near to you to give you comfort and to let you know that you are not alone.

All of this, in Jesus Christ, is true. 

All of it is gift.

You didn't have to earn it.  You didn't have to prove that you were a good boy or girl this year.  In fact, the gift was given even in spite of our short-comings once again.

Out of sheer love, God looks upon you with great and incredible generosity.  God's heart is bursting at the seems to see you discover the great joy and life that He longs to give you in Jesus Christ.

These are indeed beautiful days.  The days when it is a great joy to see the face of children light up over a good gift received.  Don't forget to be young yourself.  Keep that child-like heart as you savor just how beautiful and good this Christmas can be.



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