What marks “Christmas” for you? What is the moment that you say, “Ah, now the season has officially arrived!”?
For me, it doesn’t seem like Christmas until I hear my mom tell the story about how I got a letter from Santa on Christmas Day explaining why I did not get a (backordered) Millennium Falcon because Rudolph stepped on it and broke it. (For years afterward, I assumed that the other reindeer did not let him join in their games, not because of his red nose, but because he was very clumsy.)
It doesn’t seem like the holiday is here until I hear Ray Charles sing “That Spirit of Christmas.” (Although I alternate between his version and the one by Ray LaMontagne. Click on their respective names to listen.)
And I have a hard time thinking that we have stepped into the season until I see Hans Gruber take his fall from Nakatomi Plaza.
But one moment that marks the passage into the holidays for me is the recounting of a story from my family. Many years ago, late on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, my brother walked into the room and announced to my parents, “I have a secret.” When asked about it, he said, “Santa is bringing me something that I didn’t tell you about: a Mickey Mouse talking phone.”
This surprise statement created a bit of panic in my parents.
“Oh, is Santa bringing that to you?” they asked through stiff smiles. “Why didn’t you tell him earlier? Perhaps in the letter you wrote to him? You could have mentioned it.”
His only reply was, “Because it’s a secret. But he’s going to bring it; I just know he will.”
Shortly thereafter, we were hustled into the backseat of the car for a quick trip to the mall so that “we could see the Christmas lights.” My mom went inside the mall while my dad tapped his thumb thoughtfully on the steering wheel and sighed deeply. I could only assume it was because he was so overcome with the spirit of the season, what with the Christmas decorations around the mall parking lot and such.
And lo and behold, upon the new dawn, what would you expect to be under the tree?
Yes, yes…a Mickey Mouse talking phone.
My brother was overjoyed. My parents were relieved. And I was slightly confused as to how Santa knew these things, and why we wrote letters to him with our lists. It just seemed like a very inefficient way to communicate if he was capable of telepathy.
But isn’t that Christmas? Secrets and surprises. The unknown and the veiled suddenly made clear. It certainly fits the pattern…
An angel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would bear the Son of God (Luke 1:26-35). Redemptive history for all creation would be carried and cared for by a teenage girl in an obscure, dusty corner of the world.
A divine message was communicated to Joseph in the midst of his confusion and concern over the pregnancy of the woman he planned to marry. The angel told him directly that this child “will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
And angels showed up all in a moment to announce to the shepherds that the Messiah had finally arrived (Luke 2:8-20).
God still surprises us with his gifts, gifts that disrupt “life-as-normal” for a better, richer and more-glorious result than we could ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20). So often, we can intentionally or accidentally avoid those moments with God by creating safe and predictable traditions and orchestrating complex and rigid schedules.
Maybe God has a secret to reveal or a surprise to show you. He is always good, and all his gifts reflect his character, so you can trust him in the giving (James 1:17).
This Christmas, would you ask God to dislodge you from the common routine for the sake of a fresh revelation of himself?
If you ask him for that, and he answers you, just imagine how it might turn when someone asks you, “What did you get for Christmas?”
You can smile and say, “I got surprised by God.”