Our cat Winston has discovered the joys of Christmas. He has taken to batting the ornaments off the tree, knocking over candlesticks, and playing hockey with one of the Wise Men from the Nativity. The other day, he pranced into the family room, proudly presenting me with a furry pompom that he had liberated from the tree skirt. He did not understand why I was less than grateful for this “gift.”
Such is the nature of gift giving. Amid all the beautiful expressions of love and “This is just what I was hoping for!” there are gifts that are unwanted, unappreciated, or that leave you wondering, “Why on earth did someone think I wanted this?” (By the way, cats are the consummate unwanted-gift-givers. They always look so hurt when you don’t thrill to the half-dead mouse they have brought you.)
Sometimes, though, an unwanted gift can become a treasure. When I was 18 and studying in Paris, I lived with a woman who was elegant, and always beautifully turned out. For Christmas, she gave me a Hermès scarf. Now, you have to know that the fashion at the time for college students was bell bottoms and platform shoes. Not only did I not know the monetary value of this gift, I had no use for it in my life.
Ten years later, when I was a young professional I discovered the scarf in my drawer and realized the treasure I had. By this time, my uniform was smart suits and fashionable heels and a Hermès scarf was something chic young women aspired to own. What I had dismissed as irrelevant I now cherished and proudly wore. I still do.
In a few days, we will celebrate the birth of Christ, a gift whose worth was not — is not — always appreciated. It would have been hard to imagine that the savior of the world came in this way — small, vulnerable, powerless, ordinary. It is easy to imagine that people would have thought, “This is not the gift I was hoping for.” Even now, even after we know what this ordinary baby grew up to be and to do, people often don’t want the gift of a savior who suffers, who embodies humility, and who, instead of conquering our enemies, asks us to forgive them.
And so, we take the gift and put it in the back of the closet. We can forget about it for a long time until the day when a savior who understands suffering is just what we need. We come upon it and rather than bristling at forgiving our enemies, we are grateful that God has forgiven us.
The prophet Isaiah beautifully portrays this paradox of the gift of Christ. He joyfully proclaims in Chapter 9, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given..and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Who wouldn’t want that gift?
And yet, in Ch. 53, he says this:
“.. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not.”
In a few days, we will celebrate the giving of this wondrous gift — the unexpected, challenging, comforting, sorrowful, joyful gift of a savior. May we recognize its worth and rejoice!