I was enjoying first grade to the fullest until one day in December when the little girl behind me set “it” on her desk. It was the tiniest Christmas present imaginable, less than an inch on each side with white glossy paper tied up with a sliver of red cellophane. Immediately I was captivated. I had never seen anything so exquisite. Day after day the tiny box caught my eye, and my active imagination tried to guess what miniature treasure might be inside. It had to be something wondrous beyond description. Little did I know that this miniscule object would be instrumental in my finding God.
I longed for that object with all the power a five-year old can muster. Finally, I became convinced that it should be mine. After all, I deserved it because I desired it. Since I rode an early bus to school, it was a simple matter to slip into the empty classroom one morning. My hands eagerly tore open the tiny present. Inside I found—nothing.
Staring at the destruction in my hand, anticipation dissolved into disappointment and confusion. Gradually my childish mind grasped the fact that the little package had been nothing more than a hollow decoration. I sat at my desk with the empty paper and an empty feeling, sickened by the knowledge of my guilt.
That morning I had no idea that this scene would repeat itself many times in my life. As I grew up the world enticed me with all sorts of shiny, gaily wrapped “presents” that caught my eye and promised happiness. Too often when I accepted what the world was offering and tore away the wrappings, my excited expectations were replaced by feelings of emptiness. Over and over I found myself proving the old cliché: You can’t judge a gift by its wrapping.
One Christmas as I carefully arranged the pieces of our nativity scene, I was struck by the humble setting of the event that lies at the heart of the season. An insignificant village, an obscure young couple, a rustic stable, shepherds and animals, a baby laid in a manger. Who would have picked such a lowly setting for the most precious gift ever given?
Today I still struggle with the tendency to be deceived by the outward appearance of a gift. This time of year it’s especially easy for me to be attracted by the fancy wrappings of what the world offers and long for packages that are empty inside. I may take my eyes off the gifts that truly matter, like listening to the soft strains of “Silent Night”, or seeing the wonders of the season reflected in the shining eyes of a child, or choosing just the right gift for someone I love or for an anonymous child in need of help. If I’m not careful I may even shift my focus off the Gift whose grace is the reason we celebrate.
So every December I remember that long ago morning when I stole a Christmas gift. And every December I am grateful that God loves us so much that he’s waiting for us to find Him—even in an empty present.
© Dianne Neal Matthews ( www.DianneNealMatthews.com) . Dianne has written numerous devotionals, magazine articles, newspaper features, and stories for compilations and is a regular contributor to Finding God Daily.
Here’s a little video with the children’s book Celebrate the Gift of Jesus (by Tim Wesemann) read by a child.