When my cousin Ted was a kid, he really wanted an Atari for Christmas, but instead his dad wrapped up a box of bricks. Ted was sure he knew what was inside, but when he tore into it, he discovered nothing but bricks and crumpled up newspaper. After he’d cried for a couple of hours, they brought out the Atari, played some Pac Man, and all was forgiven.
You can divide the way people wrap presents into two different camps. You have the traditionalists who wrap everything in the original package it came in. Then you have the sneaky, underhanded types, who love to put gifts inside other boxes just so you won’t guess what it is. You also have gift-baggers and gift-carders, who will not even be included in this discussion, because, c’mon, everyone knows what’s in their presents.
Boxes. Mystery. Surprises. That’s the magical lure of Christmas presents, right? It’s all about answering the question, “What’s in the box?”
When I was seven, the suspense pushed me over the edge. How could I just sit there and stare at those enticing packages under the tree for weeks before I could open them? Yeah, that’s right, I said weeks. My parents tortured me by putting most of my gifts out early. What was I supposed to do? So, one fateful night I found the living room unguarded, sneaked in and cleverly unwrapped a few boxes. Unfortunately, my wrapping skills didn’t compare to my stealth, and when I rewrapped the presents, it looked a three year-old had done it. As a result my mom began trussing my gifts up with so many yards of ribbon that it now takes hours to unwrap. I think last year we finished sometime around Groundhog Day.
But it’s worth the wait, because we all want to know what’s in that box.
In Christian circles people love to say you can’t put God in a box. They mean that you can’t limit God, that sometimes He does things you would never do, like love the unlovable and forgive the unforgiveable, that sort of thing. They mean He’s not a Baptist God, a Methodist God, a Catholic God or even a Republican or Democrat God. He’s just God, and He was God long before we were around to stick tags on Him. Though our faith traditions can help us connect with Him, sometimes they put him in a box that keeps us from seeing all of Him.
It’s true that you can’t put God in a box, but on Christmas, God did it to Himself. He put Himself in a box, a manger. Yes, you can’t limit God, but in Bethlehem God limited Himself. Within the manger He contained His cosmic power in an even smaller box of infant flesh.
Boxes are helpful things. You can get your arms around them. You can carry them with You. You can even give them away.
That’s exactly why He did it. God boxed Himself in humanity so that we could get our arms around Him. He wanted us to see Him, hear Him, touch Him. He wanted us to experience Him in a way that we could give to others by living like Jesus.
“No one has ever seen God,” the Bible says. “The only Son, who is truly God and is closest to the Father, has shown us what God is like.” (John 1:18, CEV)
Big, almighty God? I can’t really wrap my head around that, but Jesus, walking around loving others? That, I can see. That, with His power, I can even begin to do.
That box, that gift of Jesus, I will be unwrapping for the rest of my life as I get to know Him better every day. This Christmas as I tear into my presents I hope they’ll remind me of the ultimate gift that never disappoints, God in a box with no bricks anywhere in sight.