When I was younger, my mom’s extended family always had a family reunion Christmas party. My grandmother had four siblings and all of them, plus their children and grandchildren, came together to eat and swap small gifts. Until the family grew too big, the party was held at someone’s house. Even though I was small, I can vaguely remember the party being held at the house of one of my great-uncles. As my mom and grandmother love to recall, it was at one of these family reunions that I fell in love with a small mechanical Santa toy that my great-uncle had in his living room. The toy had a plastic face with rosy cheeks and a snow-white beard. He wore a simple red suit made from inexpensive fleece and held a silver bell in his right hand. Once turned on, he would walk across the floor, stopping every so often to ring the bell. At five or six years old, that small toy was amazing. Apparently, I spent most of the party playing with it, even after receiving other gifts.
Shortly after that night, my great-uncle stopped by my grandmother’s house. He had with him a small gift that he wanted to give me. After seeing how much I enjoyed playing with that mechanical Santa, he had decided to head out and find one he could give me. At least, that is what he told us. My mom, however, isn’t so sure that’s the truth. To this day, she still wonders if the small Santa toy that my great-uncle gave me was the very one from his living room.
Even though we no longer have the family reunions and my great-uncle has passed away, I still have that Santa. He barely runs, and his beard is not as white as it once was. But every Christmas, I bring Santa out of the box that keeps him safe and put him on display. He helps to remind me of the true meaning of Christmas.
You see, that small Santa was a gift of love. I had not asked for it, nor had I expected to get it. Yet, it brought a smile to my face, so, in love, my great-uncle gave it to me. There was no sense of obligation on my great-uncle’s part, nor was there an expectation of something in return. He simply gave – and gave gladly! – without a second thought to the cost.
That’s what Christmas is about. It’s about a gift given out of unconditional love. It’s about a God who loves humankind so much that he gave of himself, despite the cost. It’s about the gift of a baby boy, born into a broken world to bring healing, joy, and fulfillment to God’s beloveds.
We can get so caught up in the busyness of the season, buying gifts, decorating our homes, planning get-togethers, and attending special services that we miss the opportunity to share the love that was born to us in that lowly stable so many years ago.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (the original cartoon). At the end of the movie, after he had tried to steal Christmas only to witness the Whos in Whoville joyfully celebrating Christmas, despite being robbed, the Grinch said to himself, “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.”
It means so much more.
It embodies unconditional love. Love born to save, restore, and bring joy. May the gift we give to each other this year be love – the unconditional love that God has freely given to us. Amen.