I have a confession to make. Although this is a rather public
confessional. I am a little distracted tonight, and it is hard to
concentrate. It could be the full moon or the chocolate, but I know
better. With only four shopping hours left before Christmas, I have not
yet wrapped my gifts. I own them, and we give very few of them in my
family, but they aren't wrapped yet so my holiday anxiety is starting to
Have you assembled everything so far? Have you wrapped everything?
I wonder where that tradition began, anyway: the tradition of wrapping
a gift? In some ways it seems rather odd. If you have a wonderful gift,
why conceal it, why do you cover it up? Why not show it to the whole
world, expose it right from the start?
The Trojan horse was a big elaborate trick of wrapping paper. Although
lots of people say that good things come in small packages. But why do we
conceal things if they need no adornment? Anyway, I am nervous because
I've still got work to do tonight.
Because the truth is, I like wrapping paper. I like the surprise, the
expectation and the emergence that it affords. I like the way that it
announces: something special is contained in here.
I think that my favorite Bible story about wrapping is the one about
Jesus. Translators argue over the exact words, but Jesus was wrapped in
swaddling clothes, which to be more precise means bits of cloth, which to
be honest means rags. But he didn't just have this wrapping: he had a box,
too. The box was a manger, and as
much as has been made of this word over the years, much of it can miss the
We all know there was no room in the inn. But we can forget that the
manger was often on the first floor of the inn, like in German farms to
this day. The animals were just below the house level, and the manger was
literally the trough, the feeding bin, where the animals ate. Some mangers
were also in caves nearby. The feeding spot was carved out of the side of
the cave, like the place where Jesus lay about 33 years later, so that
image scares me a bit. But Jesus was wrapped in rags in a feeding bin.
The reason that I love this image so much is because it made so much
sense to the first witnesses. To be honest, most of us don't have feeding
bins in our homes. But the first witnesses were shepherds, remember? The
first ones called by God's angels in the dark of the night who went in
haste were animal people, and they understood feeding bins.
I wonder if they got the symbolism? God is all wrapped up in what
sustains you. Even if you can't read or travel or discuss philosophy, God
is in your presence in the thing that you most recognize. God is coming to
feed you. I wonder if they got that, from the manger?
Anyway, I think that's the best wrapping story from any Christmas. It
contained quite a gift. But if God was coming this year, I wonder how
Jesus would be wrapped? In our feeding bin: our kitchen? Or at our office,
our bank, our vacation home? Maybe in a shelter. What do we understand
best? Where do we recognize God, and get it?
Isaiah said it twice: for unto us a child is born; unto us a son is
given. Us, and what we understand, are such important values to God.
They're even part of Jesus' name, for Emmanuel means "God with us." In love,
in peace, in a call to service.
In the end God's gift was not covered with adornment but with
adoration. In the end, God wasn't concealing anything but revealing it. I
wonder how God will wrap this up so that we can understand? I won't. But keep your eyes open: this night is full of surprises.
Copyright © 2004 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by