Evening, and twinkling lights glint on gold thread. I ask Adam what he wants for Christmas and he says, “Presents.” The word lights his eyes and tumbles out of his mouth with dancing laughter and an “Oh!” that wraps up the feeling of a bow-topped gift given, handled, expectantly shaken.
“What kind of presents?” I say, reaching over to touch his hair with my fingers. But instead of telling me what should be inside, Adam tells me how to wrap it.
“Blue. Blue presents.”
I laugh out loud, pulling my son close to me, because suddenly I hear my own voice, my own conversations with God, in my son’s conversation with me. How often do I talk to God not about what I actually need—Him, so much of Him—but what it should look like on the outside? I have these lists, see. But when God asked Solomon—Ask me for whatever you want me to give you, Soloman asked for “an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9).” The Hebrew words–shama leb–literally mean a hearing soul. Instead of some self-styled wrapping, Soloman asked for the gift inside, the gift of God within. Solomon asked to be spiritually hearing. Ears to hear are Spirit ears, and so God was pleased with his request.
“Okay, Blue presents,” I say to my son, loving him for his answer, even though he hasn’t yet arrived where I want him to be in the conversation. In the same way, God says to me, Okay, you want a quiet day. But what do you want to find inside the quiet? The answer is simple, and yet it is every good thing at once. I want Him. I want to find Him. I need to find Him there inside the quiet, waiting to fill me. God gives Himself, and He is the gift I want. But sometimes, like my son, I’m stuck on the surface of things, and my heart just doesn’t quite hear the substance of the question.
“But what do you want to find inside the presents, when you open them? I ask Adam. “What do you want to find inside?” I move my hands in pantomime: here is the gift, here is the paper flying, here is—Wow, what’s that?!—the gift inside??
Adam smiles. The description had been more than he wanted to offer me anyway, just something he grasped at wildly because he doesn’t know what else to say to satisfy me. He giggles, slithering out of my arms. “Presents,” Adam says again. “Presents for Christmas.” He doesn’t want to be more specific, and in this, I think he’s wise. His answer leaves plenty of room for my creativity, for my tenderness for him. I enjoy seeking out the gifts that will bring him both initial pleasure and lasting joy. God says, If you, then, though you are evil–but in a physical sense, the word actually means “blind,”and I am knife-struck by the truth of it–know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him?”
Another thing touches me now, as I walk back into the glow of the kitchen: Because Adam struggles to find words to speak to me, I also delight in his specific requests and long to honor them, especially the ones I find truly genuine. I know that when I speak to God from a hearing heart, guided by eyes that really see, asking Him for spiritual things with spiritual words taught me by His Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13)—indeed, He pantomimes for me, too–He longs to honor my requests with still more of Himself. Indeed, God gave Solomon wisdom and great insight, a breadth of understanding”—of spiritual hearing–“as measureless as the sand on the seashore (1 Kings 4:29),” and He gives the Spirit without limit (John 3:34).
Suddenly now I see it clear, led by Spirit-star: Every day is an unwrapping–giddy fingers sliding under ribbon, expectantly peeling back paper, tossing the top half of the box aside; and every season, Christmas. Christ comes and is coming. He gives Himself, here with us, often in the most ordinary, life-scented scenes: a baby, new-crying from a rough-hewn trough. “God gives God,” as Ann Voskamp writes well, a refrain repeated so simply (The Greatest Gift) it might be easy to miss the profoundity.
So today, I unwrap a thousand grace-gifts, heaped into my arms. And God’s Presence is inside every present—He, who wrapped Himself twice over in flesh and blood and bone. I am your shield, your very great reward (Gen. 15:1), He said to Abraham so long ago, right in the moment of covenant-love, of you are mine and I am yours and whereever I go, you will go. He says, Every good and perfect gift is from above (James 1:17), and I have given you everything you need (2 Peter 1:3). I hear. It’s just that sometimes, like Naaman (2 Kings 5), I specifically ask that He show up in a way that fits my own conjuring for majesty. I want the parting of the Red Sea instead of some spit in my eyes that helps me see, or a swim in a muddy river to heal me. Like the first disciples, I like to imagine my King in the jeweled crown instead of the crown of thorns. And when God says that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), I want that good to look like the exact rendering of my wishes instead of a better rendering of Him living in and through me. I often talk to God not about what I actually need but what I want it to look like in physical terms, how I want it wrapped. Because I forget that the real gift is Him—God with us; and I forget that He often chooses to come humbly, even sacrifically. A baby in a feeding trough (Luke 2). A gentle whisper instead of a shattering wind, an earthquake, or a fire (1 Kings 19:11-11-13). The every day sacrificial things, the skin and bone and blood things, the gentle things—these are the familiar wrappings He chooses for His gifts. But inside, inside the humble and the daily, shines the stunning radiance of His Presence. His gifts only wait the unwrapping, the careful cradling, the glee-spinning recognition of a hearing, seeing soul. And “God gives God,” that I might see, that I might hear, that I might speak, that I might find the gift of Him.
I think now—from here in the covenant intimacy of Advent—I will follow the example of my son, and when God whispers deep, Ask me for what you want me to give you, I will ask for Him, for absolutely all of Him. I will ask for a hearing soul, for spiritual words to ask for the gift inside instead of how I want it to look on the outside. For presents–or Presence–because He is every gift, the gift given, the gift coming. Or, to put it as Moses did, I’ll simply say this: Show me your glory. Give me eyes to see. Because I don’t want to go unless you’re with me (Exodus 33). Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you stay, I will stay, that covenant refrain.
There it is now, the answer.
What do I want for Christmas, Lord?
I want you—all swaddled up and waiting for me, in the middle of my gritty living.