“She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room available for them” Lune 2:7.
Surprise is divine; it’s at the heart of the Christmas story. What could be more surprising than our Savior coming to us simply and quietly in the night as a baby? He spent His first hours in a stable – a stable ‑ warmed by barn animals. He came without fanfare or special wrappings and brought the greatest gifts of all time — hope, peace, joy, and love. The invitation of Christmas is that we keep the gift of surprise alive in our hearts.
Often as adults we lose the ability to be surprised—even at Christmas. Once we reach a certain age, we tend to lose our sense of wonder and expectation. We’ve been around the block a few times and have faced disappointment more than once. Our hearts grow jaded, and we learn to live without anticipatio
Because I’d been thinking about the word “surprise” and its relation to the Christmas story, I resolved to add a fun surprise to the holiday. It’s long been an annual rite to give my kids a book for Christmas. I love children’s literature with a passion. Love You Forever, Goodnight Moon, and The Runaway Bunny were among their earlier gifts. As my brood grew up, they began requesting specific good reads on their own.
All I had to do was add a new twist to the book-gifting tradition that had become a Ho-Hum. Instead of wrapping the books in commercial gift wrap tied with ready-made bows, I dropped each in a plain, oatmeal-colored bag with thin rope handles. The unadorned bags invited play, so I pulled out colored markers and decorated them with quotes about reading. The red gingham ribbon tied to the handles added old-fashioned charm. My kids loved them. They needed nothing lavish to surprise them, only a simple tweak to an old idea. The quotes were a big hit:
We read to know we are not alone. C.S. Lewis
Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend; inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. Groucho Marx
When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I by food and clothes. Erasmus
Never judge a book by its movie. J. W. Eagean
Getting a book from mom is nothing new for my children, but the unusual presentation of the gift was novel and fun. I felt a little smug that I’d managed to surprise them.
Imagine my surprise the following Christmas when my daughter handed me a familiar bag. It was the one that had contained her book from last year, still tied with the same, though frayed, gingham ribbon. She’d elegantly scratched through the To and From labels so they read appropriately and then added a new quote:
A man who won’t read has no advantage over the one who can’t read. Mark Twain
(I taught her well, huh?)
I was delighted because the gift of surprise has become a rare commodity. And that this surprise came from a daughter who, since the previous Christmas, had moved four states away made it more special. I realized our bond would never be broken. She knew my heart. What’s 900 miles when she can still manage to surprise me?
A new tradition had been born. The following year, I sent the bag back to her with another book and an added quote:
Wear the old coat and buy the new book. Austin Phelps
Then the tradition went on hiatus a few years because she moved even farther away to Los Angeles and didn’t make it home for Christmas. The bag got tucked away – somewhere. My daughter couldn’t find it, and I knew I didn’t have it.
I accepted that the traveling book bag had been laid to rest. But this turned out to be the gift that keeps on giving. My daughter wanted me to send her baby book, so I had to go to the attic to search for it. I didn’t find the baby book, but I did find the errant book bag.
Guess what surprise is back under my tree this year?
Prayer: Thank you, God for your indescribable gift of Jesus— our salvation, our hope, our greatest surprise of all. May we continue to see the many ways He continues to surprise us every day of the year.