Christmas Eve is a night of surprises! Overnight, empty stockings are filled. Cookies and milk left for St. Nick disappear, leaving only crumbs to mark their place. Mysterious packages marked “From Santa” appear under the tree.
On Christmas Day, we discover the contents of the gaily-wrapped strangely-shaped packages that have been accumulating under the Christmas tree. We finally get to reveal those odd-shaped, beribboned bundles that rattled and gurgled so mysteriously each time we found a reason to move them.
That is probably why, in our family anyway, Christmas Eve was always a bigger night of surprises. To foil our attempts to shake, sniff and feel the packages bearing our names, my parents started using unusual containers for our gifts. It is a tradition now carried on by my sisters and me.
The standard practice in our family is that you can’t really tell what your gift is until it is out of the box and in your hands. A box that once held greeting cards may now hold a pair of gloves. A huge suit box may contain a smaller box of earrings or a necktie. A Pringles can might disgorge a pair of socks or a stocking cap. A box of Frosted Flakes might actually be a holiday t-shirt or vest.
Christmas is a time of surprises—surprising gifts, unexpected visits from friends or relatives from distant places, cards and greeting from far away places and people.
The first Christmas was a time of surprises, too. Joseph, the carpenter, was surprised. His fiancé, Mary was going to have a baby—before they were even married! Joseph was angry, frustrated, hurt. It wasn’t his child that Mary was carrying. By Jewish law, he had the right to call off the wedding. But, before he got the chance, Joseph had another surprise—a visit from Gabriel, the same angel who had visited Mary. The message was simple. Joseph, Son of David, do not fear to take Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sings. (Matthew 1:20-21)
The first Christmas was a time of surprises for Mary, too, a young girl barely in her teens soon to be married to a much older, hard-working carpenter. Suddenly, she was going to have a Child. Not just any Child, either! She, a peasant girl from an unknown family, was going to give birth to the Messiah—the Chosen One of God. And she gave birth to her first-born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
The shepherds were surely surprised. Like their fellow Jews, they had waited, and hoped, and prayed for their entire lifetime for the Messiah to be born. For centuries, the Jewish people had been pleading with Jehovah to send His Deliverer. What a surprise it must have been to those shepherds as they watched their flocks on the Judean hillside that cold, clear December night!
It was a night like any other night. The flock was bedded down. Supper was over. They had drawn lots to see who would stand the first watch and who would watch the sun rise. A few minutes of fellowship around the campfire, and those going on watch wrapped their blankets around themselves to ward off the night’s chill.
Suddenly, the blackness of the night became as bright as midday. An angel appeared with all the brilliance of the heavenly host. An angelic vision was surprise enough, but the angel’s message filled them with even greater wonder and amazement. Be not afraid; for behold I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people. For to you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)
Can you imagine the wonder, the joy, the surprise of the shepherds that first Christmas? Suddenly, their prayers were answered. The Christ of God had come. That in itself was surprising enough. But to have the Messiah born as a helpless infant and for them to get the message was the greatest surprise of all!
Wise Men’s Surprise
The wise men from the East must have been surprised, too. They had travelled a long way seeking the King of the Jews. Where else would you seek a king but in the capital city of the country? They went to Jersualem—straight to Herod’s palace—only to be amazed that King Herod knew nothing about the birth of a new king!
But Herod was most helpful. Calling the chief priests and scribes of the Hebrews together, he charged them to find out what these three strangers were talking about. When the priests returned, they informed King Herod and his royal visitors that the Christ was to be born in Bethlehem—a little town about twelve miles south of the capital city. The caravan started its journey again—heading south out of Jerusalem toward the city of David. The caravan with its royal garb and wealth was an unusual display in such a poor country. The star which they had followed for so long preceded them until it finally stopped behind the village inn.
How surprised they must have been to discover the King they were seeking asleep in a manger in a stable behind the inn How shocking it must have been to them to see royalty housed in such rough and rude surroundings. How surprised Mary and Joesph must have been to see men of such obvious wealth and noble upbringing prostrating themselves on the earthen floor—presenting costly gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense to their newborn Infant Son.
The BEST Surprise
A night of surprises—for Mary and Joseph…for the shepherds…the wise men…for us. For on that Christmas night so long ago, a Baby was born. A Baby whose birth and life and death and resurrection was destined to change men’s lives.
An unusual container for the greatest Gift mankind has ever received. Wrapped in the soft flesh of a Baby was God Himself—come to live among us, die for us, and rise again that we might know love and forgiveness and hope and eternal life.
Christmas. A time of surprises. Surprise visits. Surprise gifts. But the greatest surprise of all