Every year I say I’m going to get my Christmas shopping done before December. This year, for the first time, I actually bought a few gifts before Thanksgiving. But here it is almost Christmas, and I still sit at my computer, searching Amazon for the perfect gift for a few hard-to-buy-for family members. And I wonder, If I know these people as well as I think I do, why can’t I even pick out a simple Christmas gift?
Feeling worn out, I sigh and glance to the bookshelf on my left, where the kids and I recently set up our nativity. There in the midst of haphazardly arranged sheep and wise men is Mary, gazing down at the tiny bundle cradled in her arms.
So small. So unexpected. So exactly right.
The perfect gift.
Sighing again (super dramatic, I know), I look to my right and notice my piano next to the window. And it gets me thinking about a time in my life God showed me how much better he knows me than I give him credit for, how much more he understands my heart than even I do.
It started in college when, as part of a music scholarship I received, I was required to take advanced piano lessons with an incredible Juilliard-trained pianist named Brian Lee. Dr. Lee is the kind of pianist who can effortlessly command the keys with fury and feeling for two solid hours without a single sheet of music. I can still see his jet black hair flinging wildly left and right (I think he kept it a bit long for that singular dramatic purpose) and his fingers moving so fast they were nothing but a blur. He was kind, but his expectations were high. I was terrified to breathe in his presence, and my lessons with him were a disaster from start to finish. My inability to let go of my insecurities and comparisons led me to label myself a piano failure and stuff all my training in the back closet. I gave up believing I had something to offer with my music. For years I barely touched a piano.
And then, just before Christmas three years ago, the God who knows every inch of my heart led me to say yes to something completely unexpected and gave me a gift I didn’t even know I wanted. Our church was in need of a keyboard player and my darling husband, who had been explicitly instructed never to tell anyone I played piano, sort of volunteered me for the job. After a few days of debating and grumbling at him, I decided to grab the speck of faith I had and hold on for the ride.
Into the dingy, grimy stable of my heart, God placed a gift, and eighty-eight tiny keys came alive again.
It’s such a little thing, really, just a few hours of my time each month. It might seem insignificant. But there was a tiny longing buried deep that God saw and said, Daughter. I want this for you. Be healed. Now I get to spend sweet Sunday mornings playing music I love, hearing the voices of people who are so dear to me lifted in praise, and sometimes I just about burst. And to think I almost missed it.
Maybe because I expected something else to fill that small empty piece of my heart. Maybe because I stopped believing that God really knew me.
Or maybe because I stopped expecting anything at all.
According to Scripture, God was silent for about 400 years before the birth of Christ. It would have been easy for the Jews to stop believing their deliverer was coming. I wonder how many gave up looking for him.
And then. Quietly, with only a bit of heavenly fanfare seen by a few shepherds, Jesus was born. Just a little cave, a bunch of stinky animals, and a couple nondescript travelers. It was so easy for the people of Bethlehem to simply go about their lives, missing the incredible gift right in front of them.
But in this moment, with a little wooden Mary on one side of me and my beloved piano on the other, I remember.
At the intersection of awareness and faith wait some of God’s best gifts. Gifts that breathe life back into weary bones and dead dreams.
And I decide, although I may not give perfect gifts this year, it’s okay. Because I know who will.
Jesus, wherever we are this Christmas, whether in chaotic or quiet places, busy or empty moments, help us see the gifts you have waiting for us. Help us to look in those unexpected places–those dirty stables, those nothing-special nights–and find you there. Thanks for knowing us so well. And thanks for coming.