The following is a daily devotional from the Advent Devotional Series from CBF Arkansas. Find the full Advent Devotional for 2015 here.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:16-21)
One of the Christmas traditions in our family is to hide gifts within gifts. My wife started it years ago when she wrapped a small gift for one of our children inside a larger but much less desirable gift. She took great delight in seeing their puzzled looks as they opened a present that seemed to be of little value followed by relief and a return of their original enthusiasm when they noticed the gift within the gift. It wasn’t what they first thought it would be. It was something much better.
Christmas is like that for me. It’s a gift within a gift. Some traditions fill us with anticipation for things that often are little more than bright shiny wrapping. Don’t get me wrong. I like those things too. This Christmas I’ll introduce my two-year-old granddaughter to Santa and Rudolph as we sing about jingling bells and snowmen. I expect to hear giggles of delight over those “gifts.” We’ll all enjoy them with her until there is nothing left but memories and the anticipation of next year.
But wait! There’s more. After the last package has been opened and wrapping is strewn all over the floor, we look around, not fully satisfied and maybe a little disappointed. God says, “Keep looking! There’s something else.” There’s a gift within a gift. It’s one that leaves us with much more than memories.
This gift wasn’t what many were expecting. When it was unwrapped they wondered, “Is this it? Should we keep looking?” Many were disappointed. But it was something much better than they imagined. Some were expecting condemnation but they were given grace. Some were expecting judgment to be poured down on others; instead they were surprised when the doors to the kingdom were opened to everyone. Some were living in darkness but became filled with the gift of light and life. It wasn’t what they were expecting. It was something much better, a gift within a gift.
What are the surprising gifts in your life? Are there gifts that seem disappointing at first? Can you see the gift within a gift?
Gracious God, thank you for your surprising gift, one that is more than I could ever imagine. May I always have eyes to see your acts of grace illuminated by the light of your presence. And may I be sustained by the power of your love that overwhelms the darkness. Amen.
Danny Reding serves as a member of the CBFAR Coordinating Council and is the minister of music at First Christian Church in Rogers, Ark.