Christmas Presents Past

I’ve been in lots of Christmas programs. Growing up I would be in a school Christmas program, a church Christmas program and then the big family Christmas program.
          Everyone took part, from the youngest to the oldest by singing, playing an instrument or quoting a Bible verse or reading a poem. The grand finale was when Grandpa and Grandma would sing a Christmas hymn together in German as they remembered their Mennonite roots. Next we would read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then end with family prayer with everyone praying, from the youngest to the oldest.
After that it was time to enjoy food and fun and if there were any gifts they would be opened but usually they would be something like a game for the whole family. We didn’t receive many individual gifts, because my family wanted us all to understand that Christmas was a time to celebrate and worship the Lord God for sending us His perfect Christmas gift, a Savior.
        Except my Dad’s sister found out that her nephews and little niece weren’t getting much for Christmas about the same the time she began selling Avon products. So when I was about 9 years old my Aunt Norma Jean sent a box of nicely wrapped presents. We set them under Mom’s Christmas tree and eagerly awaited Christmas Eve. The first year I have to admit I was a little bit excited.
        All during the family prayer time I kept wondering just what my gift would be. It was too small I decided to be a Frisbee but it could be a Super Ball or maybe Silly Putty or maybe a Super Slinky. Those were the cool gifts back then. And then my Mom caught me peeking. So I had to open my present last.
        My older brother delighted and taunted us all as he twirled around his nice smelling soap on a rope, like only big brothers can do. My younger brother got a set of bathtub playtime toys that he could use during his weekly Saturday night baths and my sister got some bubble bath and a little toy that when cranked, it made bubbles. I was expecting something at least as fun but was let down. The box said, “Gentleman’s Manicure Set”. I looked at the flat nail file and finger nail clippers and wondered what I’d do with those?
I was sorely disappointed and probably the only living thing more disappointed than me was that stray cat when I tried to clip its toenails. Mom insisted we write thank you cards and I wrote:
       Dear Aunt Norma Jean,
      Thank you for my Gentleman’s Manicure Set.
      I will think of you each time I trim my toenails.
      Your nephew Paul
       I must have said the right thing because Aunt Norma Jean sent presents again the next year. Just before the family Christmas Eve program I decided to impress my Mother with my theological ability. I said, Mom, I have a question about prayer.
        Her eyes lit up for a second as she said hesitantly, “Yes?”
        I asked Mom why if it was so important for me to keep my eyes closed while we were praying why she didn’t have to… She said I could open my present last again this year for my impertinence. I guess she wasn’t impressed.
        So I set and sulked as I watched my older brother open his gift. He got some cologne that came in a bottle shaped like a lion’s head. I perked up. Maybe…I thought, I’d at least get a soap on a rope. But my younger brother got the soap on a rope and it was in the shape of a football. My sister got some peppermint-flavored lip gloss.
        While my sister taste tested her lip gloss and my younger brother caught touchdown passes and my older brother roared and pretended he was a lion about ready to attack me, but with a nice odor, I opened my present from Aunt Norma Jean. It was a Gentleman’s Hair Care Set. I looked at the comb and brush and rubbed my closely cropped head of hair. I wondered just what was my aunt thinking? Does she think I’m a gentleman or is she trying to turn me into one?
       At age 10 combing my hair ranked on my list of priorities right next to getting up on time for school. In fact about the only time my hair ever got brushed was on Sunday mornings if Mom caught me running past the bathroom door. And then she would briskly brush my head with varying force, depending on how much I had aggravated her that week. That might be why I have such little hair now.
        For several years, I kept hoping for that illusive soap on a rope, but it never came. In fact, my brothers and even my sister received varying styles of soaps on a rope, but not me. I did however have a collection of aftershave and cologne in normal shaped bottles. And then my aunt stopped sending us gifts at Christmas time.
       Years later, while attending a little church, my wife signed us up for the Secret Shepherd program. We were to secretly give gifts to everyone in another family. My anonymous Secret Shepherd saw me heading for the church basement one night after the church’s Christmas program and threw a box at my head. As the nicely wrapped gift went sailing by me and landed with a thud I knew my gift had arrived. And it was too small to be a Frisbee. I took it home and opened it up in the quiet after everyone had gone to bed, but I was so excited I had to wake up my wife.
       “Look what I got!” I said barely able to contain myself.
       “What?” My sleepy wife asked. “Are you going to take a shower? Who gave it to you?” She asked with a yawn.
“My Secret Shepherd!” I answered as I twirled around my soap on the rope. My wife rolled her eyes and lay back down.
     But I was excited…for a few minutes. Finally! I got the present I’d been wanting for all those years. And although I really, really enjoyed at last getting my soap on a rope, I realized, my family had been right all along. God gave us the only perfect Gift, and the only One we’d ever need. And I am thankful for His greatest Christmas Gift of all:  The Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior.
† – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3:16-17

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