The Best Gift Ever: a Meaningful December Tradition

When I was a child, the thrill of celebrating the December holidays was mostly about the joy of anticipating and then opening my presents. Growing up in a Messianic Jewish home (my parents being Jews who believe in Jesus), I felt like I was getting the best of both worlds. Others celebrated Christmas or Hanukkah but we had both. More presents!

Challenging the consumer mentality

It is easy at any age to develop a consumer mindset about the gifts we receive. But those who are acquisition oriented are usually only satisfied with more and bigger and better—which is to say that they are only briefly satisfied and never really content.

My father understood this and, with great wisdom and imagination, he created a unique tradition, which gradually helped to change my childish ways. Each year he would sit at the dining room table after we kids had gone to bed and he’d wrap our gifts. Instead of store-bought paper, he took colored markers and decorated white paper with meaningful words and pictures. Dad spent a lot of time working on each package; he was pretty good at calligraphy and combining pictures and words to present messages. Often the messages had double meanings to make me wonder—hints about what was inside the packages, along with a much deeper implication.

I learned pretty quickly that I couldn’t just tear off that carefully created wrapping paper to get to what was inside the box. Dad put a good deal of thought and effort into the packaging—how would he feel if I didn’t pause to admire his handiwork and try to understand what he had intended? I wanted his approval so I would take my time, look at the drawing, read aloud the words he had written and think about it before opening each package.

My father taught me to anticipate and appreciate

Just that little bit of time and effort began to shape my experience. My father’s thoughtfulness taught me early on how to more fully enjoy those gifts. I learned to become an appreciator of the gift as I received it, before I even knew what it was. But Dad’s wrapping did something else. It pointed beyond the present. The words he drew, if I took time to reflect, focused my thinking to the past and connected me to the Christmas story, because many of those words came right out of the Scripture.

Words like “Wonderful” spoke to me as a little kid who was excited to know that when I opened the box it would be just that, but even more. I had been taught that one of the names of Messiah was to be Wonderful! (Isaiah 9:6). Wonderful wasn’t just a superlative expression of the Messiah’s greatness; it was intended to provoke a sense of wonder in those who come to Him.

Another word my father liked to spell out in his own unique calligraphy was “Eternity.” I knew that he was thinking of the promise that while the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, His goings forth were actually from of old, from eternity (Micah 5:2).

Yet another word my father used on the packaging was a word that excites the heart of any child: “Treasure”! Of course I knew there would be some treasure for me inside that box, but I learned more about the Messiah Jesus through that word on the box as well. The Bible tells us that in Jesus are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). Such a treasure would never fit in any size box, but these treasures are beautifully wrapped up in the Messiah, the babe born in Bethlehem. Dad helped inspire awe and appreciation for that fact.

My favorite word that Dad would spell out on the packaging each year was “hope”! I knew what I was hoping for that Christmas morning, but Dad wanted me to see that hope was not merely temporal and fleeting. It couldn’t be fully satisfied by a toy or any other item that could fit in a box. The longing of every human heart is for things to be better, for this world to become (whether we know it or not) what God intended. And God offers hope for all of that.

Don’t rush past the sense of wonder

Over time, a mosaic of images and words formed in my mind, connecting the process of opening presents with prompts that reminded me of the best gift ever, the Messiah Jesus. This season, after all, is not about what gifts we exchange with one another, but about the wonder of God’s gift to us. My father helped me understand that we must not rush past that. We must slow down and contemplate the wrapping, the pictures, the words and what they mean.

I appreciate my father’s tradition even more now that I am grown with children and grandchildren of my own. The care that went into my father’s gift wrap will always remind me of God’s prophetic promises to help us anticipate His Messiah. The Incarnation itself speaks to me of God wrapping Himself in humility, if I can use a figure of speech. To think that the God of all creation humbled Himself to come to us as a helpless babe in a manger! As you picture the shepherds and angels and wise men and animals and Mary and Joseph—imagine the star and yes, imagine the baby Jesus, because each image can help you contemplate, appreciate and celebrate the enormity of God’s gift with reverence and awe.

What thoughts do you have as you give and receive presents this month? Why not try your own version of what my father did for me? Use the occasion to make a little time to provoke appreciation and awe for God’s gift, the best gift ever.

Struggles and hurts, fears and disappointments are inevitable in this life, and may grow more frequent with age and illness. But the hope of the One who came and is yet to come again still carries with it all the very best of what God has promised to do. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.”

May every gift we give and receive this month remind us of that hope and provoke us to awe and appreciation. God has given us the best gift ever because there’s not a day or an hour or a moment when we can’t experience that gift in ways that are deeper and more meaningful than when we first beheld it. I hope you will find many opportunities to share that gift with others. And I hope you will pray for our missionaries around the world, as the holidays present special opportunities to meet and greet people with the gospel.

David Brickner is also an author, public speaker and avid hiker. Find out more about David, his writings, speaking schedule and possible availability to speak at your church.

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