Unexpected Gifts

Gifts are the stuff of Christmas merriment for most of us. It is fun to both give and receive that just-right, just-what-I-always-wanted present. Many of you probably have a tale of a very special gift that you received, where just remembering it makes you smile again.

And yet, sometimes Christmas brings us unexpected, even unwanted surprises. Gifts that, if were truly up to us, we would not open. You could probably tell me a few of those stories, too.

My family has its share. My mother was born on Christmas Eve, and while grandma used to call it her little Christmas present, decades later, Mom’s sisters still chide her for ruining their holiday.

When my dad was eleven, growing up on a farm in central Arkansas, he received a Daisy, lever-action BB rifle. (This is my story, quit making up your own!) So Harold took his new toy and a carton of BBs, and hiked out into the woods with his younger cousin Delton.

To load the rifle, you first had to cock the lever back, and then drop the BBs into a small hole near the end of the barrel. Dad was slowly, deliberately dropping in each BB, and Delton watched excitedly, asking, “Harold, can I pull the trigger yet?”

“No, Delton, not yet”

“Harold, can I pull the trigger yet?”

“No, Delton… not yet.”

Delton couldn’t stand it any longer, and he finally reached over and pulled the trigger. The BB hit Dad in his upper lip, where he still bears a small scar today, and sent him reeling backward, clutching is bleeding mouth.

Delton panicked, and raced back to my dad’s house. “Mrs. Hartsfield, Mrs. Hartsfield!” he yelled all the way to the front porch. Finally, he reached my grandmother at the door. “Mrs. Hartsfield,” he cried, “I’ve shot Harold!”

Unexpected, unwanted gifts. In my not-so distant past, there have been Christmases that I felt disappointed and alone, depressed, and afraid of the future. It was then that I began to understand the lyrics to the advent hymn…

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here

Many of you resonate with the hymn as well: funerals where poinsettias were present; or perhaps the TV or the radio were the only family nearby; or a whirlwind of circumstance eclipses the holiday season.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here.

It’s to those times and feelings that I want to share another unexpected gift. During the darkest hours, where we are reminded of just how fragile we are, the Apostle Paul writes of a wonderful gift, a treasure.

2 Corinthians 4:6-11 (New Century Version)
God once said, “Let the light shine out of the darkness!” This is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts by letting us know the glory of God that is in the face of Christ.

We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us.

Paul likens us to jars of clay, common everyday pottery. Today we might use the comparison to brown paper bags. Common, used for carrying all sorts of things. But we wouldn’t think of carrying treasure in them. It seems insecure, too risky.

Yet that’s what God has done for us. He prepared the most precious gift of His son to come to us.

The arrival of Emmanuel brings with it the gift of hope. When we’re not sure if we can bear the load, the treasure of the gospel that He has placed in our fragile lives means that we can go on, and even overcome.

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living.

We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.


Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

If this Christmas season has been less than idyllic for you, take heart. As believers we have an eternal treasure stored in our fragile paper bags. We have genuine hope because we have a Savior who has come to live in our hearts.


Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!
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