As our extended family opened Christmas gifts, we never imagined the greatest gift wasn’t nestled beneath the tree.
For many years, our family had gathered on Christmas Eve—or the day before depending on work schedules—to open presents. Everyone sat in a circle while some of the younger members stacked the presents beside the chair each person sat on. When all the gifts had been distributed, we began the hours’ long process of opening them one by one while letting everyone see what the designated recipient had received.
Although the normal gathering place was Mom’s house, for two years, we had assembled at my middle brother’s home for the celebration. Everyone delivered their food to the kitchen and their presents to the bottom of the tree towering in the den. My sister-in-law, like Mary, was great with child—their third. In fact, she was due any day.
After the gorging was over, we took our seats in the traditional circle. Mom, of course, had to visit the restroom, brush her teeth, touch up her makeup, and do anything else that rattled the nerves of antsy children who waited to unravel the bows and shred the paper from their presents. Regardless of where we gathered, she always held up the gift-opening party. Children have a difficult time waiting to open gifts. Finally, she arrived, took her seat, and the opening began.
As we opened the gifts one by one, my sister-in-law lounged in the recliner where she attempted to gain relief from the pressure of her bulging shape. Unknown to my wife, my sister-in-law had wrapped a gag gift for her. When my wife delved into the present, they both let out a loud chortle. And that’s when it happened.
The giddy expression on my sister-in-law’s face turned ashen white. Her water had broken. Their newest addition was on the way, but she wanted to finish opening her presents, so we gave her the privilege of opening all her presents at once. She and my brother then loaded up and headed for the local hospital.
Mary and Joseph knew the approximate time of Jesus’ birth, but they must have been surprised—and a little anxious—when he showed up just after they had made an arduous journey to a neighboring town.
Just prior to midnight on Christmas Eve, my nephew arrived in a world celebrating the joy of the day before Christmas.
Mary and Joseph were relegated to a stable where the Son of God made his humble appearance. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son” (John 1:14 NLT).
Scattered prophecies from the Old Testaments foretold the nature of the coming Messiah, but most individuals overlooked those and focused on the ones declaring his might and power. When he was born in a cave to parents from the insignificant town of Nazareth, many couldn’t stomach the surprise. He met with scorn and rejection—initially, even from his own brothers.
Rarely does God do things the way we expect, and the Christmas story is no different. He chose to birth his Son to a poor young maiden who lived in an unimportant town and who wasn’t yet married. Her husband’s trade was carpentry, which destined her son to repeat the lowly profession—at least until he began patterning himself after his real Father’s business.
Just as he did with his Christmas miracle, God often surprises us as well. He shows up when we least expect him, delivers when we’ve all but given up hope, loves us even after we’ve made poor choices, and gives us strength when it seems we can’t go any farther.
Let Christ be your Christmas surprise.