A worship service on Christmas morning was not a tradition in the little rural church I served, but one year I decided to offer such a service. The turnout was small. The worship was casual. “Make sure to bring the cookies that Santa didn’t finish,” I told the children beforehand. Truth be told, I didn’t have time to bake, and I was on the search for some homemade goodies.
Snow was gently falling as we gathered in the fellowship hall around the Christmas tree. We sang our favorite carols and did a candy cane prayer of praise, where I invited the person holding the piece of candy to say what they were grateful for. Of course, the children’s praises were for the toys that Santa had delivered.
After we were done, one perceptive child pointed to a beautifully wrapped present underneath the tree. “Who’s that for, Pastor Donna?” he asked. The children huddled close to me, eager to peek inside the box I was now holding. I told them this was my present to God for giving me the greatest gift ever — Jesus. I asked the children what they thought was inside. What could be the most perfect gift for God?
I had to suppress my laughter as the children shouted things like a cow, because God needed milk to go with the Christmas cookies, or a Barbie dream house, because God deserves some time off playing with dolls. When they were out of ideas, I showed them what I had given God.
The children’s faces scrunched with disappointment as they stared at the red paper heart in my hand. “What a lame gift,” said a teen sitting on the sidelines. “Is it?” I countered with a soft smile. I then shared with the children, the adults and that teen, all the presents of grace and love God has given me through Jesus. What could I ever give back to show my gratitude? I could promise God to love others — completely, without judgment, as Jesus loved.
Howard Thurman once said that Christmas is “the event above all events,” a turning point in human history, marking the moment “when a new meaning is given to ancient words: The eyes of the blind are opened, the captives are set free.” Christmas is here once again. It is the event above all events.
I just pray that this year it really is a turning point for us, because the world needs our eyes to be opened to hurts that need healing, to the lonely that need companionship, and to the hate that needs to be chased away with love. I still keep a present for God under my tree, and every Christmas morning I take out that now-faded, red paper heart and renew my promise to God — to love. What about you?
Gracious and generous God, you are the most amazing gift-giver. The gifts under the tree pale in comparison to the one that came wrapped as a swaddling baby. On this Christmas Day, I find myself awed and humbled that I can be loved so deeply. How can it be that you deem me worthy of such a precious gift as Jesus your Son? Thank you. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
Take time this Christmas Day to make a paper heart for God. Write on it your commitment to love God’s children. Place it in a box and whisper, “Here’s my gift to you God. Merry Christmas.”