Here’s a question for you.
Do you open your Christmas gifts before Christmas day?
When I was a boy, our Christmas Tree was set up and decorated shortly after Thanksgiving. Although I appreciated the garnished Evergreen tree, in my mind, I envisioned the joy I would experience come Christmas morning, as I opened the gifts!
Unlike some of my friends whose presents were not displayed under the tree until Christmas day, my experience was agonizingly slow and painful!
Beginning around mid-December presents gradually began to appear under our tree. Small packages (which I suspected were practical gifts, like t-shirts, socks, and underwear) slowly began to show up first.
Then, from time-to-time, I would see a larger package or one whose contents I could not identify. I wondered: “What’s in this one?”
Although I was discouraged from peaking, I couldn’t help but read the name tags, praying that I hadn’t been overlooked.
By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, the common question from three eager boys in our home was: “Can’t we open just one present tonight, PLEASE?”
To avoid our pleading (defined as whining), Mom and Dad would agree: “You can open only one present tonight. But you have to promise to wait until the morning to open the rest.”
Then, each of us boys were handed a small package to reveal that our suspicion was accurate: Underwear, T-shirts, and socks had arrived — once again!
It’s not that we were not thankful. But how do you express delight over such everyday things? We would each smile and say, thank you, trying to fake as much joy as possible.
Lying awake in bed on Christmas Eve, I would imagine my friends riding their new bicycles or playing with their new baseball gloves, while I stood before them wearing my new T-shirt, underwear, and socks!
I would remind myself before I drifted off to sleep: “There’s still hope!” There was still a present or two under the tree that was yet to be opened. Possibly, real joy will come in the morning.
In poetic form, the prophet Isaiah describes a time when despair suppressed joy (Isaiah 35:1-10). Times were hard. Fertile agricultural areas failed to yield fruit because of drought, and their once plentiful land had become a wilderness.
Although many of Isaiah’s peers despaired, and many of his friends had forgotten — and had forsaken — the covenant God had made with His people, he challenges them to encourage the depressed and fearful.
“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense [payment] of God. He will come and save you.”
Whining, for my brothers and me on Christmas Eve, was not uncommon. After all, there were still presents waiting with our names on them!
Waiting wasn’t — and isn’t — pleasant. However, to experience JOY requires us to WAIT. The Psalmist expresses this feeling so well:
“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”
As we wait for Christmas Day to arrive, like Isaiah and his friends, our hearts can also be anxious. Many things trouble us. The fear of “what will be” can overload us with weight, as we wait for the arrival of Jesus.
Whether you open your gifts on Christmas Day — or before, may we not overlook the ONE GIFT who transforms our wilderness and provides joy for those who remain steadfast in his love.
Here’s some joyful news!
There’s still a package for each of us with our names on it! And this GIFT provides abundant JOY!
Prayer when lighting the third candle of the Advent wreath:
God of JOY! Deliver me from sin, strengthen me with your grace and mercy. Through Your Holy Spirit, empower me to proclaim joy to the world
through your coming. Blessed be God now and forever - Amen.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Is 35:3–4.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ps 30:5.