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Look for Christmas' ultimate gift in manger



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December 22, 2010 - I will never forget how our oldest son experienced his first Christmas.

We were living near Honolulu then and we took our almost one year old downtown to see the Christmas lights which we thought were quite spectacular.

They even had palm trees decorated in fun ways, something we had not seen before.

But what amazed us was that we took our son to see the bright lights and decorations, and much to our surprise he was much more interested in the other people around than in the lights. We took him to see the lights but he saw the people instead.

That same Christmas as our son opened his presents he would invariably tear at the wrapping paper for a few moments, but not really with the purpose of opening the gifts. Instead when he had a piece of brightly colored paper torn off he was satisfied and would drop the rest of the package, which we thought was the real present. He liked empty boxes a lot that Christmas too.

Reflecting on those experiences about 20 years ago I wrote: "I wonder when he will learn, like most of us have, to care more about the bright lights instead of the people right in front of us? I wonder when he will learn to care more about what's inside a present than experiencing the sheer joy of something new given to him – no matter what it is…When is it that we lose our innocence and wonder about such things?"

Well, as you probably already know, it begins to happen for most of us sometime between the ages of one and four, and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to get that wonder back and trying to keep things in proper perspective.

Now each Christmas I hope to experience again the childlike wonder I used to have and to be reminded of what really matters.

Christmas is a time when even adults can experience the wonder of miracles and angels and an amazing story of how God came to earth as a baby born in a barn to love us and save us.

Christmas is a time we can experience again the wonder of such things, but it probably won't happen unless we take some time and make some space in our busy lives for it to happen.

There is so much to do getting ready for our Christmas celebrations that we sometimes forget to do what Mary did that first Christmas when she "treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19)

So how do we know when we are really ready for Christmas? I don't mean that we have all the presents wrapped or cards sent or food prepared. I mean when are we really ready for Jesus' birthday?

A few years ago another pastor wrote about his young son coming into the bedroom at 4:30 a.m. on Christmas morning, saying, "Daddy, mommy, come quick! I saw it!"

As the parents wiped the sleep from their eyes they knew what had happened. Their son had broken the family rule and had already gone downstairs.

So the surprise of a new bike he had wanted for 2 years was missed by them. Disappointed they got the rest of the family up and made their way through the dark house. Surprisingly their young son led them downstairs past the Christmas tree, totally oblivious of the bicycle, to the window.

There he pointed his little finger to the eastern sky and said. "Look! The Star of Bethlehem! I've seen the star!" And that family was again filled with the wonder of Christmas.

I know that I am really ready for Christmas when I take enough time to ponder the Christmas story so that it comes alive again. I know I am really ready for Christmas when my favorite gift is the one that comes wrapped in swaddling clothes and is laid in a manger – for me.

I hope you will take time to receive this ultimate gift of love from God into your lives with childlike wonder and excitement this year. For me it puts everything else into perspective.

The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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