Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Grace by Martin Wiles

The gifts circled the tree in a wide radius and reached toward the ceiling. I suppose I never wondered how they arrived before Christmas; I was simply excited that my pile was bulging. 

I was the first grandchild on my father’s side of the family. The next didn’t make her appearance for four years which gave my grandparents plenty of time to spoil me. And they did an exceptional job—even after the other grandchildren arrived. My grandmother was my babysitter and early childhood instructor. I was her Avon partner and playmate. 

Early Christmases escape my memory, but the later ones I remember fondly. My grandmother worked at the local hospital as a nursing assistant, and my grandfather drove an ice cream truck. Neither occupation paid much, but my grandfather was a thrifty man who had grown up on the outskirts of the Great Depression. As a young boy, he had to assume control of the family farm after his father’s untimely death. With a mother and a house full of siblings to care for, he learned the lessons of hard work and saving money. 

After he and my grandmother married, these early lessons served him well. While there were periods when he had to rob Peter to pay Paul, by the time I arrived on the scene things were more comfortable. They weren’t well off by any means, but he always made sure his income was greater than his outgo. My grandmother had a certain amount of money deducted from her salary at the hospital and placed into a Christmas fund. To my grandfather’s disdain, she also had a department store credit card. When Christmas rolled around, the first was depleted and the other inflated. The entire new year was spent paying for last year’s Christmas abundance.

So in my younger childhood years, Christmas at my paternal grandparent’s house bulged with gifts. My grandmother carefully counted to make sure each grandchild received the same number of presents. To our immature minds, this was sufficient. We never stopped to think that number doesn’t necessarily equal amount spent. Our parents noticed the difference, but we were oblivious. And in an attempt to avoid being accused of partiality to the first grandchild—me, she always sneaked me a few presents ahead of time. 

Christmas day found our family and Daddy’s sister’s gathered at my grandparent’s house to celebrate the Savior’s birth and open the plethora of presents. My cousin—the next grandchild in line, and I passed out presents, our eyes brimming with excitement as we watched the mound of presents grow at each recipient’s feet. It seemed we would never reach the bottom of the pile. They were in front of the tree, under the tree, behind the tree, and overflowing into the living room proper. Our excitement grew as we finally delivered the last one. Now we could all relax and open our gifts. 

Whether we opened them one person at a time, one gift at a time, or all at the same time, I don’t remember. Wrapping paper and bows flew in all directions while yells of excitement waffled through the air. Santa had delivered everything we asked for and much more we hadn’t anticipated. Perhaps that’s why the presents arrived ahead of time. He couldn’t deliver all these gifts—along with everyone else’s in the world, on one night. 

As the excitement filled the air—accompanied by ooh’s and awe’s and thank you’s, my grandmother sat snuggly on the couch enjoying each moment. Especially the ones when a grandchild received exactly what she knew they had asked Santa for. 

Our parents weren’t as excited as they tried to load all the goodies in vehicles too small for the loads. Presents were stored in every crevice with only a small space left for the children. Since these were the days before mandatory seatbelts, children could be stuffed anywhere without fear of being fined. At home, we filled our rooms with our newfound treasures. Some we cherished for years to come and others we only played with a few times before adding them to our not-interested-in piles. 

As I reflect on those early Christmases at my grandparent’s home, I think of grace—the same grace that God demonstrated with his Christmas gift. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past. (Micah 5:2 NLT)

Other than a sense of pleasure and fulfillment, my grandmother received nothing from all the time and effort she put into making these Christmases special for her children and grandchildren. Her purchases cost her dearly. I remember the totals, and for this time period they were extravagant—especially on her budget. She gave us what we didn’t deserve because she loved us. She had no intentions of buying our love; she simply wanted to demonstrate hers.

God’s gift in the Christ child was similar but even more far-reaching. We didn’t deserve his present nor can we ever repay him for it. He doesn’t attempt to force us to love him; he simply wants us to demonstrate our appreciation by accepting his love and serving him. Grace is undeserved favor, and this is what God showed us that early Christmas morning when his baby Son was delivered in a dark stable. Will you share this grace with others? 

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