It was Dec. 24, 1998. I was 6 years old and deeply anticipating Christmas. This year was different, I could feel it. This year I asked for something bigger. I asked for a Nintendo 64. This was the game system to end all game systems. On the playground, all of my friends had been talking about all the games they played on their Nintendo 64. This year, I would finally join them. No more spending the night at their houses to play games or asking them to bring their game systems over; this year, they could come to my house.
On Christmas Eve, my family exchanges gifts. All my aunts and uncles would give gifts to the kids and then do their adult gift exchange. I opened gift after gift anticipating a Nintendo 64. As was typical for my childhood Christmas gifts, I received countless Lego sets, batteries for my Game Boy, and Batman action figures galore. Finally, it was down to the last gift. It was from Grandma. Grandma always gave us the biggest presents! This was going to be it.
Imagine my surprise when I received a small gift no bigger than my 6-year-old hand. Nervously, and hoping it was a note leading me to a well-hidden Nintendo 64, (it must have been well-hidden because I had already been snooping for my gifts) I started opening the gift. I opened the small white box to see a golden Christmas ornament that my Grandma had made with my name on it signifying my birthdate. I said “thank you,” but I imagine that my eyes betrayed my disappointment. The next day when I woke up, I discovered Santa had brought me a Nintendo 64, which I spent the remainder of my Christmas break playing (I even got my mom to play Mario Kart 64 with me).
I was so excited that I quickly forgot about the ornament. I cannot even remember if I even put it on the tree that Christmas. In hindsight, I should’ve been more grateful for my grandmother’s gift, but can you blame a 6-year-old boy for not seeing a Christmas ornament as an unexciting disappointment? An ornament seems so mundane.
As I put that ornament on my tree this year, it reminded me of another story. Let’s flashback 2,000 or so years. There is a young girl, barely in her teens. This young woman is set to be married and has a most unusual encounter:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)
This little girl, probably no older than a middle school student, was to convince her husband-to-be and the rest of his family that she was to conceive a baby by the Holy Spirit. Anyone with half a brain could make the case that Immaculate Conception is impossible. Can you imagine Joseph’s disappointment when his bride-to-be comes to him with news, and her news is that she is pregnant?
Let’s flash-forward to the present. My grandma is no longer with us. This year, I decorated my tree with her ornament while my Nintendo 64 collected dust upstairs. It turns out there were other game systems that were more advanced and flashier than the Nintendo 64. As I put the ornament on our tree, I remembered that Christmas and my attitude. As I finished setting up my tree and reflecting on that experience, I thought of Mary and Joseph, her surprise and his disappointment — I could relate to that.
God had planned the salvation of the world to start with a carpenter and his wife, who was probably suspected by his family to have been unfaithful to him. How unexciting; where are the warrior angels or the pillars of fire? In fact, it seems to be a common theme among God’s work. He used a man with a speech impediment to speak to Pharaoh. He turned a liar into the father of Israel. He used a teenage girl and a carpenter to usher in the kingdom of God.
My grandmother had the wisdom and foresight to see that her small gift would have a lasting impact. It is something that I will hold on to. It is even more so with God. He has the power to turn the mundane into the extraordinary. This holiday season, as we get caught up in the excitement, take time to enjoy the little things and appreciate the unexciting. Enjoy the family and the traditions, not the gifts. Those are the things you will carry with you forever. You never know how God will use those unappreciated, often forgotten things to change your life and the life of those around you. He has done it before and will do it again.
Jordan Britt is a 2015 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University where he majored in philosophy and religion. He resides in Indianapolis.
1. What meaningful gifts have you initially failed to appreciate?
2. Why do you think God chooses to work through mundane circumstances and people who may not seem impressive in people’s eyes?