When we’re children, we get some interesting notions as we’re learning how to live in this world. Sometimes, those notions stick with us even as we become adults. I had such a notion. When I was taught that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, my first thought was that Jesus must get a heaping pile of birthday presents since everybody loved him. Then came the dilemma of what would I get him and how in the world would I get it to him. That memory reappeared as I was writing THE CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT, and it shows up in a scene where ten-year-old Kate Harding and her little brother are joined by their Granny Grace.
Granny Grace is striving to maintain some family traditions and bring a bit of Christmas spirit as this family is learning to do Christmas differently after the death of Kate and Chesler’s mother. The scene takes place in the Harding home as Granny sits on the floor with the children and retells the Christmas story as they assemble the manger scene.
An excerpt from THE CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT –
Granny asked, “What do you suppose the shepherds brought as a gift to the baby?”
We shrugged. Granny picked up the baby sheep. “Maybe they gave what they had. Maybe they gave the baby a lamb”
Chesler said, “No, they didn’t give the baby a lamb because Mary already had one.” Then he started singing, “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb.”
While Daddy and Uncle Don laughed at Chesler, Aunt Susannah Hope got that look on her face like she did when I picked up one of her china dolls. She told them they shouldn’t be laughing and encouraging such behavior. I wanted to zip her mouth shut. My daddy needed to smile for once.
After we all quieted down, Granny told us about the gifts the wise men brought. We knew what gold was, and she explained about the frankincense and myrrh, how they were spices that smelled good and all. That made sense. A baby born in a barn needed something that smelled good.
Then Granny turned to us. “What are you going to give Baby Jesus for His birthday this year?”
Chesler picked up Baby Jesus from the manger scene. “But Granny, Jesus is in heaven, and He’s got everything in the world. He doesn’t need any more presents, and I don’t know if He likes toys.”
“Chesler, you’re a smart boy, and you’re right about Jesus being in heaven and having everything. So He doesn’t really need anything from us, but I don’t think that’s the point.” Granny motioned for Chesler to come sit in her lap. “Come here, and let me tell you something important.”
Chesler crawled across the floor into Granny’s lap. “You know when you had your birthday party last summer?” Granny asked.
“Oh yeah, I remember, Granny. Mama made me a fire truck cake, and I got a dinosaur Transformer, and if I twisted his arm and his head around—“
I interrupted. “Yes, we all remember the robot, Chesler.” I knew he would never stop talking about that robot, and I was more interested in what important thing Granny had to say about getting a present to heaven for Jesus’ birthday. “So what’s the point, Granny?”
Granny took Baby Jesus from Chesler and put it back in the manger scene. “The point is, you didn’t need—I mean really need—the cake or the presents you got. But your mama needed to bake the cake to show you she loved you, and we needed to give you presents to celebrate you, Chesler. Do you understand? Jesus doesn’t need our gifts, but we need to give them.”
I knew Chesler didn’t get it, and he was probably still thinking about that robot turning into a dinosaur, but I got it. I turned around and reached for the matches on the hearth. “Granny, may we light the Christ candle now, sort of like it’s Jesus’ birthday candle?”
Well, Granny’s point gives young Kate another idea about Christmas presents and heaven. I’ll save that for another day. But this thought does beg the question—will I crawl around, like Chesler, thinking about dinosaurs and robots, or will I be more like Kate—trying to figure it out, and lighting the Christ candle? Any ideas about what you’ll give Jesus for His birthday?