She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:7 NLT)
Christmases at my maternal grandparent’s home in Vance, SC, were different, but just as memorable.
My mother’s parents would have been considered upper middle class by modern standards. When my grandfather died, he had a sizable sum saved. One I considered wealthy. My grandfather also owned several hundred acres of farmland and wooded areas.
But their lifestyles didn’t reflect the money they had or possessions they owned. My grandfather’s only farm implement was a small red tractor. What he couldn’t do with it, he paid someone else to do–which was almost everything except plowing and planting. Their home was an old farmhouse with no central heat or air. Neither ever owned a new vehicle while my grandfather was alive. Overhead lights consisted of one bulb dangling from a wire that drooped low enough for us to reach to turn it on and off. Their furniture was modest, except for a few finer pieces reserved for company and which were nestled in the “front room.” They never hired professionals to make home repairs. Rather, my grandfather called handymen–more handy than skilled–to mend broken items.
And it was to such an environment that we made our way on Christmas day. The experience was quite different from the one at my other grandparents’ home. Rather than bulging with presents as the tree did there, the tree at these grandparents’ house stood almost alone with just a few gifts snuggled underneath.
Some of the presents were used, and others I saw no use for. I often wondered whether they put any thought into what they gave or just went through the motions because we expected it. While I enjoyed the food and seeing my relatives, the presents didn’t tweak the enthusiasm of a young lad with a less than proper understanding of Christmas.
Later in life, I reflected. This grandmother spent her entire day in the kitchen, and Christmas was no exception. She cooked and served while everyone else ate–occasionally not even sitting down until everyone was stuffed and sleepy. And their mindset about presents was starkly different. They seemed to know there were more important things to experience than giving and receiving gifts that would be used only for a brief time.
These grandparents cherished togetherness. They knew something I hadn’t ascertained yet. What they gave me was never what I hoped for, but perhaps it was more important than what they could have afforded to buy.
Our meals and gift opening were often preceded or followed by the men and boys trekking through our grandfather’s wooded land on hunting expeditions. Deer, squirrel, rabbit, quail, dove. It didn’t matter. We hunted it all, bringing back the smaller quarry and escorting them to a small area on the floor next to the solitary gas heater standing guard over the kitchen.
Though I was sometimes disappointed with this different kind of Christmas, in many ways it was more important than others I experienced elsewhere. God’s gift and His view of Christmas also disappointed many of the religionists of the day. So poor were Jesus’ parents that a manger was His first home and strips of cloth His first garment. No fanfare over His birth. No parades. No welcoming gifts. No heralding bugles. Just a dark damp stable and a few shepherd visitors.
No doubt, Jesus was a different kind of Messiah who arrived on a different type of Christmas, and because of it, many chose not to believe in Him or accept His offer of salvation. But He was God’s kind of Christmas gift. Not wrapped in beautiful bows and fancy paper, but a Savior nevertheless. The type of gift that gives presently and eternally.