For about 10 years I was privileged to tell the Christmas story at Stone Mountain Park. The train would stop on the back side of the mountain, and Grandpa Lacey (yours truly) would emerge to greet the passengers and tell (with somewhat of a country twang) a seven minute story about shepherds, sheep, angels, and a baby in a manger. I told the story many hundreds of times to countless thousands of people through the years, never tiring of the experience; I counted it a great honor to be the voice of every child’s “Grandpa” in the Christmas season.
We called it “The Gift.” It was originally written by my friend, Scott Rousseau, with revisions made in ensuing years. It is still being told this year.
We are in the season of gifts, of course, with the celebration of Christmas just days away. Part of the beauty of the season is due to pretty wrapping paper and decorations that appear exclusively at this time of year. Even the music we listen to changes; festive songs that would seem out of place at any other time come to the forefront. Our clothes reflect the celebratory nature of the event, too, and some of us with dispositions that are typically a bit surly try on more compassionate attitudes; we actually cut people a little slack for a change (unless we are stuck in abnormal and unreasonable traffic while shopping for presents).
But gifts – these are high on our list of priorities at this time. They serve as a way for us to express our love to others in a tangible way. And we make them as pretty as we can.
It has become common for us to create illustrations on the subject of gift giving, and to use them to make philosophical or emotionally insightful commentary on life. We speak of persons as gifts (and they are) and we shed light on their differences by talking about the variety of wrappings in which people come.
Perhaps it is this common figure of speech which points to the story we celebrate at Christmas:
“While they (Joseph and Mary) were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths, and placed him in a manger . . . .” (Luke 2:6-7)
The greatest gift of all time was wrapped, too. Not in pretty paper, or even beautifully embroidered material; rather, in simple cloth, and placed in a feed trough for animals. That is, if you judged that particular gift by its wrapping you would be tempted to leave it unopened.
This prompts me to ask what other gifts I leave unopened, or unappreciated, simply because the wrapping doesn’t catch my eye.
Yesterday, my cardiologist delivered some sad news to me: the damage dealt me by my heart attack 14 months ago is still present; the front wall of the heart has shown no improvement beyond the initial progress made in the first two months after my event. I was (and am) devastated. I am stronger, have improved so much, and expected my heart to show great healing over this period of time. Instead, I am told I need an internal defibrillator to make sure I do not drop dead due to an irregularity in my heartbeat created by the lack of movement in the heart wall.
And I am reminded . . . once again . . .
Do not judge the gift by its wrapping.
The truth is, today as I was driving, I was thinking to myself: each day is a gift. A precious gift. Sometimes the wrapping looks like a problem at work, or struggle in a relationship at home; sometimes the wrapping is the dark color of the sickness or death of a loved one. At times the wrapping that presents the gift of the day is a bright blue sky, or the hug and kiss of a dear friend, or a promotion at work, or . . . .
But make no mistake – the wrapping is not the gift.
The prophet Isaiah, in foretelling the coming of the Messiah, used these words:
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2b)
No pretty wrapping. Nothing shiny about him on the outside.
Since the cardiologist spoke with us I have wondered if I might drop dead any minute. Funny, but I never thought about that in the past months when I had no idea it was possible. The truth is, any of us could drop dead any minute.
The clarity I had immediately after my heart attack has waned with time; this present news has revived some of that clarity. And that clarity reminds me today that EACH day is a GIFT. If you are reading this entry, may I suggest you not be fooled about the gift of this day in your life. For no matter the wrapping that encloses the gift of your day, the gift itself is the treasure.
Some years after the birth of the baby boy in the manger Magi arrived with gifts to present to him and his parents. They had gold, incense, and myrrh. There is no telling what wrappings contained these fine gifts, but my guess is they were impressive.
There are times at Christmas when the wrappings we use to conceal our humble gifts are more impressive than the gifts themselves. This is often the case when we want to give something inexpensive but we want it to look like something someone would WANT TO OPEN. But when they SEE the gift itself, and it pales in comparison to the wrapping . . . that is disappointment, indeed!
But the wrapping of a job promotion is just shiny paper if there is no life to put it with. And the wrapping of an illness cannot diminish the value and beauty of your life. Truthfully, the gift of life cannot even be compared with the various wrappings in which it comes.
This Christmas I am once again made aware of the value of life, the substance beneath the veneer of wrappings (be they sparkling, or be they dismal). And I will try not to confuse the two. Each day I can take a breath will be to me a gift. Each day I can give and receive love will be to me a gift. Each day I can feel the air outside, or even battle the annoying traffic of the big city . . . will be to me a gift. For I am alive.