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Unwrapping Christmas
We can be just like the children—when we celebrate Christmas we can be more enthralled with the packaging than with the gift inside.

The smallest box in my living room came from Ukraine. Small and round, it's actually more a miniature pot than a box, but it is capable of holding things, thus I shall call it a box. Next in size is a gold and green silk box from China. Inside, nestled in velvet, are a pot of red wax and a marble stamp bearing my name. On the shelf below, sits a small treasure chest, covered in gold with a silky tassel. Open it and you'll find a tiny glass nativity cradled in satin. Across the room, a heart-shaped box comes apart like a puzzle.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … .

I seem to be a collector of boxes, which I'd not realized until I began counting them. A few years ago I bought a small oak tea chest for $15 at auction. It sits on four sturdy legs and contains cards too dear to throw away. Upstairs in my guest room, a cedar hope chest holds my childhood collection of international dolls and a beautifully woven blanket given to me by my adopted Greek grandmother. On the bureau, a cherry wood photo box holds images of good friends.

On top of the cedar chest is another box, this one decorated with colourful Christmas pictures of Santas and snowmen. It's one of those hard, cardboard cubes which is lovely in its own right, the kind costing $15 or $25 and so pretty one could be fooled into thinking it does perfectly fine as a box. Why bother put anything inside?

Ah, but this is the season of gifts. While we labour over the wrapping, the bows and glitter, and while a well-wrapped box delights us, the gift is really about what's inside, not the packaging.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … .

In a sense, the Christmas story is all about packaging. God becoming flesh. God wrapped up in a baby formed of bones and ligaments, of heart and lungs, brain and stomach. A baby wrapped in skin. God wrapped in humanity.

Missing the message of Christmas, even if you choose to consider it simply as a story rather than an actual connection with God, is akin to celebrating the season with a stack of beautifully wrapped, but empty boxes. When we miss the message of Christmas—that God cares enough about people to, in the words of musician Joan Osbourne, become 'one of us'—then we miss the hope of Christmas.

God, wrote Johann Christoph Blumhardt in the 19th century, "does not want us to suffer for being so lost—He wants to draw us to Himself."

The Christmas story can be found in three of the Christian Gospels—Matthew and Luke, and, in a more theological sense, in John. Reading these passages, whether you do so in sentimentality or scepticism, is one way of unwrapping the gift of Christmas.

When I first received my sturdy Christmas cube box, it contained a gift from a friend. But that was a couple of years ago. Since then, I've simply placed the box among my decorations, year after year admiring the look of it even though I knew it held nothing. I liked the empty box and was somehow attached to it. We're funny people that way, a bit like children in our contentment with wrapping paper instead of the gift itself.

This year, though, I did something different. I opened the box, put a gift inside and gave both away. Somehow that seemed a more fitting treatment for such a beautiful box.

Lynda MacGibbon is the NB/PEI director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. Her column appears each Saturday in Times and Transcript, and she can be reached via e-mail at

Originally published in Times & Transcript and on, December 18, 2004.




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