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Christmas Countdown #8: The Joy of Unwrapping Gifts

December 17, 2014

“I can actually sleep with my eyes open, ” boasted my sister Gwen.

We younger brothers weren’t sure if we should doubt her or not.  After all, she was nine years old – much older and more worldly-wise than we were.

We were all bunched into the back seat of our Volkswagen bus, coasting down the road on the way to a Christmas vacation stop at our 1fgrandparents’ home near Tarentum, Pennsylvania, a village down the road from Pittsburgh.

My brother Brent wasn’t sure, but he ventured a careful challenge.  “I don’t think so.  If you can, then do it.”

“Okay.” Gwen rose to her knees without hesitation, faced the back window (these were the days before seatbelts) and stared contentedly at the receding highway.  She was motionless for minutes.

“Hey, Gwen.”  Brent poked her in the side.  She didn’t move, but remained wide-eyed and stock-still.

He poked her again.  “Gwen.  Gwen!”

She blinked.  “Oh, were you talking to me?  I’m sorry,” she smacked her lips.  “I must have dozed off.”

That was my sister.  You never knew what she would come up with next.  She organized plays, parties, and G.I Joe/Barbie weddings.  As a child, she was active in Brownies and eventually in Girl Scouts.  As a teen she was captain of our high school cheerleading squad and a boisterous leader in our youth group. She was joyous, funny and active, and we all loved having her around.

But what most impressed me about Gwen was something she did that nobody saw.

Except me.

In her college years Gwen made a change.  I was still in high school, and noticed a subtle difference each time she visited from her out-of-state college.  Not that she was previously bitter or trouble-making, mind you – it was just that I noticed that her summer and Christmastime visits from college were, well, different.

She seemed at peace.  Her joy wasn’t as loud, but it was twice as deep.  Gwen had joined in with a group of deeply spiritual college girls in Bible study and prayer, and she was showing her joy in the Lord.

One morning during Christmas break, I rose early in order to go to  high school wrestling practice workouts.  I guess it was about six in the morning, and I padded through our home toward the kitchen.  I carried my gear, tiptoed down the stairs and through the living room.

There was my sister Gwen, kneeling by the sofa, praying deeply.

To this day she doesn’t know I saw her, but I left the room profoundly impacted by the sight.  Most of the Christians I knew were mostly concerned with outward appearances and social satisfaction.  They wanted to be emblazoned like a beribboned gift box, shiny and noticeable.

What I saw in Gwen was the quiet unwrapping.  I saw her private heart – a love for Jesus.

It reminds me of the Nativity account of Mary, mother of Jesus.  The Gospel narrative in Matthew dwells more on the outer events; the first chapter deals with the suspicion cast on her, her escape from persecution and her eventual joyous experience.

Luke’s Gospel, however, aims inward.  Luke’s profession was in the medical field, and just as a doctor inspects the inner workings of a person, Luke weaves a narrative of the internal thoughts and private ways of Mary.

In Luke chapter 1,  Mary deals with her fears, her submission and her rejoicing.  She exclaims “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”  It’s borne of quiet, private, incubating thoughts.

The shepherds got a loud announcement.  Herod made a raucous battle.  The magi brought a showy gift-laden welcome.

Mary, however, is the quiet side of the nativity story.  She lives out Isaiah chapter 30: “…in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength…”, and as the Christ child grows and waxes stronger in wisdom and ministry, Mary can take it all in and be all the stronger for it.

Like my sister Gwen, Mary’s joyful quietness in meditating and enjoying Jesus is her hallmark of strength.  It’s the great gift I see as I unwrap the mysteries surrounding this blessed woman of the Bible.  Just like my sister Gwen, who brings joy to all who are around her.

I wonder what type of Heavenly present people find when they unwrap our testimony?

We can increase the value of our inner gift of testimony and, yes, joy by sitting alongside Jesus and gathering strength from Him – in quiet times.

This Savior came to save us.  Secure us. And shadow us in His comfort.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” – Psalm 91:1

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