The best gifts are the ones that don't fit

Christmas Eve

In the name of God: fill us with your love, and make it overflow into the world.  Amen.

Some of my fondest memories from childhood where on Christmas Eves, when my brother and I would suspend whatever battles that were raging between us through most of the year, and call a truce, centered around our common interest at the time: anticipating Santa’s arrival, and the gifts that would overflow on Christmas morning.

For much of my childhood, we lived in a house where my brother’s and my bedrooms were on the second floor.  There was a staircase leading up there that made a sharp turn at a landing, before rising the rest of the way to our bedrooms.  On Christmas Eve, after getting home from church, we would set about building a sleeping place there on that landing.  We would pile pillows and blankets and wait there, hoping to catch Santa.  It seemed like the perfect spot – the stairs were open to the top, so we could hope to hear the sleigh and reindeer hooves on the roof, but downstairs, and just around a corner was the fireplace, so when he arrived, we would be able to creep down a little lower and see him at work through the spindles.

Though our plan was well-conceived, it never quite worked out for us.  Before long, we always drifted off to sleep – no matter how hard we tried not to.  The next thing we knew, it would be morning, and we’d missed everything.

The disappointment was never very long-lived, though.  Even though we’d missed all the action, we always woke to find that Santa had, indeed come, and, as if by magic, the area around the fireplace downstairs was flooded with gifts.

Even as a child, though, it didn’t take me long to learn that the best gifts were the ones that wouldn’t fit in our stockings.  The stockings would be filled to overflowing, but with little things.  Always an orange and some candy canes, but other little toys and trinkets, too.  They were fun.  But the main event was the things that there simply hadn’t been room for.  The bigger toys.

My mind drifted back there this year, reading this familiar story of Jesus’ birth.  We hear it each year, but still, like the magic of Christmas morning, each year it’s always new again.  The pieces are always the same, but as we grow we keep hearing them in new ways.

But I thought of my overly-stuffed Christmas stocking when the story reminded me that there was no room for them in the inn.  Just like I learned as a child, the greatest gifts are very often the ones that don’t fit in their planned packages.

The story of God coming into the world, to take on the veil of humanity and to see us through our own eyes is a gift like no other.  There was no room for them in the inn, but the gift spilled over into the world anyway.

It reminds me of a favorite quote from Mother Theresa.  She said, “I have uncovered the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no more hurt.  Only more love.”

When we think there is no room for good things, God finds room.  The story of Jesus’ birth illustrates this, but it’s true throughout most of our lives.  When it feels like there’s no space for kindness, there’s always enough room for that.  When we feel like there’s no room in our hearts for charity, there’s always more room.  And even when our experience is full to overflowing, there is always room for love.

The best gifts come once the space is already full.  The best gifts are those that overflow into the world, even when there’s no more room.

That’s what God, in the person of Jesus, represents.  The love of God has been pouring into the world since creation – so much so that it overflowed into the humanity of Jesus.

Today, we are the body of Christ in the world.  Today, we are the vessels of God’s still-overflowing love.

Christmas is about the unexplainable becoming real.  Our call is to be that unexplainable and uncontainable love of God made real for everyone we meet.

The world is an overstuffed stocking.  But there’s still room for God’s love – that greatest gift.  Amen.