I love giving gifts. And I love wrapping them almost as much—not just for the obvious aesthetic appeal, but for the challenge of making each one look different and unique from all of the other gifts under the tree. Have you ever noticed, though, that there’s always at least one gift that doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped?
A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a Christmas outreach for needy families. After my 14-year-old buddy and I found presents for all of her family members, we helped the gift wrappers pick out pretty paper and colorful bows. Everything was going well until the volunteer wrapper picked up the basketball. I watched as she struggled to make it look presentable, but no matter how hard she tried, it refused to conform. It’s perfectly round shape was now wrinkled and lumpy, and even with the candy cane wrapping paper, there was no mistaking its identity. As I watched the wrapper struggle to turn the mess into something beautiful, the greater message came through loud and clear: Some things simply can’t be covered up. Yet we often try to do the same thing in our own lives, don’t we? We try to smooth out the wrinkles and bumps to present a pretty package to others, when in reality, we feel like we’re falling apart on the inside.
Perhaps we’re afraid of what others will think when we admit that we don’t have all of the answers or that we’re struggling. Or maybe we’re more afraid of failing to meet our own expectations than those imposed by others. For many, the temptation to wrap everything up with a pretty bow, covering up the sometimes messy and ugly contents, is REAL. And at no other time is it as tempting as during the holidays. Christmas brings loads of expectations that can sometimes feel overwhelming, and when played out, we seem more like actors on a stage fulfilling our expected roles.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Underneath the more commercial message of Christmas lies the deeper message that we celebrate at this time of year—the hope promised by Christ’s birth through His ultimate plan of redemption. Despite the more superficial strains of the season, Christmas should remind us above all that Jesus came to die for and redeem the broken. He doesn’t expect us to have it all together, so neither should we.
Our Savior, who was despised and rejected by men, was certainly no stranger to hard and challenging circumstances. Immanuel, God with us, became poor for our sake. Everything Christ experienced, even in His birth, was to prepare Him for death. Christ did not live a life of luxury as His title afforded Him, but rather gave up those things so that He could identify with humanity in its basest form. This King of Kings, this Prince of Peace, this Lord of Lords, chose to come to earth as a humble baby, dependent on others for His well-being. There was no fanfare or pomp and circumstance surrounding His birth; instead, His first moments in this world were spent in a lowly manger surrounded by hay and barnyard animals. Philippians captures Christ’s humility:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. | Philippians 2:5-8
It was messy and inconvenient at best, but that’s just how God wanted it. Isn’t that the beautiful message of the gospel in a nutshell? Christ’s lowest point was also His moment of greatest love. He faced death and separation from His Father to give us abundant life. On the surface, the reality of Calvary and the cross is anything but beautiful, but it was there that Christ took on the weight of our sins, and our brokenness, so that we wouldn’t have to.
Over 2,000 years later, Christ still shows up where we least expect Him. In fact, He excels and specializes in redeeming the messiest and ugliest areas of our lives. It is in those places that the beauty of the gospel shines forth. He didn’t come to save a people who appear to have it all together. He came to save a people who are destitute and lost without Him. The wonderful news is that we don’t have to be perfect, because He is. He stands in our place, and His righteousness is credited to us.
When we disguise our brokenness, not only do we miss out on an opportunity to experience God’s grace through the prayers and encouragement of others, but we miss an even greater opportunity to point to Him and bring Him glory in the midst of our difficulties.
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. | 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
When we gloss over (or even hide) our inadequacies and our struggles, we are robbing Christ of the glory due Him.
This year, let’s embrace our frailties and our struggles. And let’s give Him all the glory in the midst of them. Sometimes, the most beautiful things come in the most untidy packages.