Growing up on a central Indiana farm created many memories that pop into my mind from time to time. My brother and two sisters and I were close. My oldest sister had her fifth birthday six days before I was born allowing mom and dad to raise us like a litter of puppies. My first memories emerge from the edges of an early childhood fog that include glimpses of great grandparents, riding on farm equipment and working around the animals.

Work and play were always a part of our lives. The girls helped mom inside with household chores while learning to can produce and sew. The boys worked with dad outside feeding and tending hogs, working in the fields and maintaining the buildings and equipment.  We all pitched in on the garden planting, weeding and picking of whatever was ripe.  Occasionally, for some unexplained reason I would end up inside with the women. I believe I was told that mom just enjoyed my company, but on reflection despite my innocent nature that unexplainably tried my parent’s patience at times I think I was really some chip in a parental bet that mom lost that day. A contributing factor may be the complaining my devious siblings did about me – they were just jealous because I was the favorite.

During the summer us kids would get on our bikes each with a hoe in hand and head toward a bean field to “walk the beans”. We would start on one end and move across the field hacking down weeds until noon when mom would bring some lunch. She always seemed a bit more chipper on these days, I guess she missed the four of us and was so ecstatic to spend quality time with us. Walking the beans was something that paid off for us though. If we had enough hoeing done before the county fair then dad and mom would take us for a day giving each of us a bit of spending money. I loved the fair, the food, spending time with my cousins in the cattle barn where they had 4-H cows, riding rides, the food, waiting with expectation to see what ribbon I got on my 4-H projects and the food. It was several years before I figured out that the fair was free and we had been working for about 2¢ per hour but that was okay – the anticipation of the fair was worth it.

I looked forward with anticipation to many other things through out the year, camping trips, market days, family vacation, visiting grandparents, the last day of school and Sundays where I could take a walk down by the creek with my dog and good friend Peppy. Ultimately, though, Christmas topped the list of things that could not get here soon enough. The anticipation was heightened when Christmas break started – signaling two weeks out of school, and in between chores, making snow forts and watching Christmas movies the countdown began to December 25th.

Christmas morning found my brother and I in our sister’s room all crammed under the blankets of a twin bed pondering this deep question – “is it still too early to wake up mom and dad?” Unknowingly in the other room Mom and Dad were playing the game “how long can we sleep in before they come and get us?” This battle of wills always came to head with excitement and joy we passed out presents wrapped in festive paper from under the tree and opened them one at a time. Christmas morning was spent playing with the toy we received, reading the book unwrapped or playing a new game. There was always one thing left near the tree from our parents to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas – a manger scene with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, animals, wise men and shepherds.

My anticipation of Christmas and its gifts is dwarfed by the anticipation that Mary must have felt looking forward to the birth of her first son and the start of a family on that first Christmas. In Luke 1 Mary is told by the angels that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…”  Mary hurries off to tell the news to her cousin Elizabeth who greets her with bubbling joy already knowing Mary will be the mother of her Lord. When Mary meets Elizabeth she has this song on her heart that is recorded in chapter 1 of Luke beginning in verse 46. But here is what amazes me about this song – Mary’s anticipation of a gift. Not a gift for herself like I squirmed in anticipation for but a gift for all of mankind. As you read her song one can only imagine that Mary was anxious to start her own family but she was most pleased that she was to deliver a gift “from generation to generation” – a gift of God wrapped in the form of the baby Jesus that would for all time provide “mercy”, “perform mighty deeds”, “scatter those who are proud”, “lift up the humble” and “fill the hungry with good things”.

Knowing that by sharing the gift of Jesus she could impact the whole world was a joy to Mary. In actuality though sharing the gift of Jesus was not always joyful as she witnessed this precious package to the world ridiculed, beaten and tortured to death through her own tear filled eyes. On Christmas we anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus and acknowledge that gift to us so long ago? Do you stop there? Do you realize we as Christians are the ones to share the news about the gift of Jesus to everyone who may not have heard even if it may be a bit hard to do? Have you told anyone about Jesus and why he came from heaven? Is your fear, laziness or indifference causing someone else to never know the fulfillment their heart desperately anticipates? Please do not be the one who selfishly desires the gift for themselves – denying others the salvation and benefits so accurately predicted in Mary’s song. Share the gift – it is a gift for us all.

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This daily devotion is written by John Key

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