The Christmas Gift

On Thursday morning, the first week in December, I hauled the dusty Christmas boxes from the attic and set out to fill our house with holiday spirit, eager as a child in a candy store, I flung open cartons, inspected breakables, and gently removed the dilapidated nativity from its nest of white tissue paper.  Slowly I counted each ragged piece, assembled it, lovingly placed it on one end of the hearth, and dared anyone to touch it.

Although this particular nativity is probably the least expensive item in my growing collections of Christmas decorations, its worth to me is immeasurable.  My mother grew up with this cardboard creche.  At least fifty years old, it continues to bring me pleasure year after year.

I can still remember crouching in front of the manger scene as a young girl...

Smiling at the familiar faces of the shepherds and wise men, I steadied them in their corner of the stable, giving each a gentle pat.  The beloved nativity now belonged to me.  One day I would pass it on to my daughter Anna.


Wise men’s Gifts


Later in the day I showed the manger scent to Anna—who was 18 months old at the time—and told her the splendid story of Christmas, using the paper figures to illustrate the narrative.

Anna pointed to the wise men.

“Those are the three wise men,” I said.  They’ve come to bring gifts to Baby Jesus, See?”  Holding one up, I let her inspect the small parcel in his hands.  Satisfied, she scooted off my lap and headed down the hall.

Over the next couple of days, I draped the house with trinkets and fresh holly, with wreaths and berry scented candles, creating the cozy country charm I find so appealing.  I felt quite pleased with my talents.

Sunday afternoon I dashed through the house gathering up the few things I had not used in my decorating spree.  Glancing toward the fireplace, I saw Sunshine lying at the edge of the manger scene.  Sunshine is Anna’s doll, the one she loves more that all her other toys combined.  This is evident from the doll’s frazzled appearance.  Faltering eyelids.  Limp body.  One wiry strand of hair remaining.

This was not the first time I had found the doll in the creche.  Clearly something must be done.  Glancing at Anna, I inquired, “What is Sunshine doing here, sweetie?”

“Jesus,” she said steadily, her eyes watching me like a hawk. “Jesus,” she repeated, giving her head a curt nod.

Jesus?  This wasn’t going to be easy.  I could hardly dismiss Jesus without some explanation.  But Anna spoke only a few words.  How would I make her understand that this nativity was a precious decoration, not something to play with?

“Oh! I get it,”  I said,  Sunshine is Baby Jesus?”

Anna shook her head.  “Jesus!” she said again, this time with passion.  I stared dumbly at the doll.  If Sunshine wasn’t Baby Jesus, then I hadn’t a clue.  “Well.., look Anna” I coaxed,  “Mommy and Daddy are expecting company tonight.  I don’t think sunshine should be here. OK?”

Anna was puzzled and disappointed.  But obediently, she took the doll and disappeared around the corner, leaving me staring after her in silent wonder and feeling terribly guilty.  Had I become too caught up in decorating for the holiday?  What was my motive?  And where was my Christmas spirit anyway?  Unwilling to answer the questions, I cast them to the back of my mind.


Sunshine again


Early the next morning, I paused, reflectively at the Nativity.  A pinkish strip of sunlight  streamed through the window, casting a rosy hue over the face of the Christ Child.  And there, in the front of the stable, to my dismay, lay Sunshine, one eye opened, one eye closed.

“Anna, please come here,” I called, perturbed.

She toddled in, tiny feet peeking out from under a polka-dot gown.  I pointed to the doll.  “It would really be nice, sweetheart, if you’d just keep sunshine away from the Nativity,” I said,  “You might accidentally knock it over.” That wasn’t a lie.  But my reason for wanting Anna to keep sunshine elsewhere had more to do with aesthetics.  That frumpy doll was spoiling my decorating scheme.

“Jesus,”  Anna said, her head tilted, her eyes pleading.

Stooping down, I pulled her close, determined to get to the bottom of this.  “Why do you keep putting Sunshine here, sweetheart?  You say she’s not Baby Jesus?”

She shook her head.

“Well then—“

“For Jesus,” she said haltingly.

“For Jesus,” I mumbled under my breath, desperate to understand.

Wiggling from my hold, Anna marched straight to the three wise men and pointed to their gifts.  “Oh, I see!”  I said, the truth finally sinking in.  “Sunshine is your gift to Baby Jesus.  Like the wise men.  Right?  For Jesus?”

Her face beaming, she nodded, contented.

I gazed long and hard at Sunshine’s exhausted body.  NOT A PRETTY GIFT AT ALL.  A definite liability to the creche.  Yet when I looked into my Anna’s shining face.  I realized she had relinquished her most prize possession.—the thing dearest to her heart.  This child—my child had captured the true meaning of Christmas, giving sacrificially, just as God gave to the world on the first Christmas night.

Suddenly my hands felt empty, my heart heavy.  What gift had I brought to the holy gathering?

As I looked down at the cardboard Nativity, the Christ Child seemed to look back at me.  In that moment, more than before,  I knew that only gift He wanted was me.  ALL OF ME.

Anna bent to take the doll away.

“No,” I said resolved, “She can stay.”

I thought of the stirring words in Phillip Brook’s carol: “O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend on us, we pray, Cast out our sin and enter in—Be born in us today.”

In the pink light of heaven, I knelt at my daughter’s modest shrine.  As a little hand gently stroked my back, the wonderful spirit of Christmas filled my repentant heart.



Dayle Allen Shockley


(emphasis added)