Last year, I came up with a tricky gift tag idea. I formulated this plan because I was frustrated by the way–in years past–my kids had figured out what was inside their packages long before Christmas morning.

They had shaken the boxes of legos.

They had peeled back the tape and wrapping paper from the ends of new video games.

And they had peeked into gift bags filled with new lacrosse gloves or swim caps!

Wrapping gifts takes an exorbitant amount of time–and that’s after I’ve spent the time, energy, and money to shop for the gifts! It seems rather pointless if nobody is going to be surprised on Christmas morning.

So this year, I determined, my kids were going to be surprised. And here’s how I made it happen: I put false information on the gift tags. 

So suppose the box contained a new Lego set for Cade. Instead of writing “To: Cade“, I wrote, “To: Ken“. That way, Cade would leave the gift alone. He wouldn’t shake it! And if a box contained a new sweater for Ken, instead of writing, “To: Ken“, I wrote, “To: Cade“. So if Cade peeled back the tape on that gift he was sure to be disappointed–heh, heh, heh! Am I tricky or what?I was quite pleased with the ingenuity of my plan.

To keep everything straight, I wrote little symbols on the bottoms of the packages, where no one would look. For instance, my mom’s symbol was a star, because she always brightens our days. Lindsay’s symbol was a 3, because she’s the third tallest member of our family. And so on.

But this is where my plan unraveled a bit. Somehow, the symbols got all jumbled up in my head. So sometimes I put a star on a gift for Lindsay (not my mom), because Linday also brightens our days. Or sometimes I put a 3 on a gift for Cade (not Lindsay), because Cade is  the third tallest kid in our family.

My goal had been to preserve the element of surprise on Christmas morning, and that, I definitely accomplished. It was a Christmas of chaos.

Family members kept opening gifts, and then looking up at me with puzzled expressions. “Was this supposed to be for me?” they would ask. And then I would gasp and say, “No, no, no! That one’s supposed to be for Cole!”

Thankfully, everybody was a good sport. We had several moments of doubled over laughter as confused family members lifted up gifts that obviously weren’t intended for them.

The best part was when Cade, age 11, opened an iPhone. With pure disappointment, he said, “Mom, this is supposed to be for somebody else, right?”

But I told him, “No! That one’s for you, Buddy! It’s my old phone. You can use it as an ipod.”

His face registered an instant mixture of shock and incredulous delight. “It’s for me??!” he asked, jumping up and waving the phone in my face. “Mom, really? It’s for me??!!” After repeatedly assuring him that yes, the phone really was for him, he fell back onto the couch and said, “It’s too much! I think I’m gonna faint!”

The memory of that moment still makes me smile. As a parent, it’s so enjoyable to delight my child with a gift he wasn’t expecting. It’s far more fun to watch him express excitement over a gift than to watch him open a gift he obviously isn’t surprised by.

I think God feels the same way. He loves to surprise His Children with good gifts. And with a good story. God didn’t want anyone yawning at the retelling of His Son’s birth story. So He packed it full of surprises.

God sent His Son, Jesus, as a fragile baby, not a warrior on a white horse. He chose his birthplace to be a stable filled with animals, not a palace surrounded by guards. And He sent the birth announcement to a group of shepherds, not the high priest.

None of this is what God’s people were expecting. And the biggest surprise of all was the gift tag. The tag on God’s Christmas gift does not read the way we might predict. Rather than sending the gift of Jesus marked, “To: Good People” or “To: The Most Deserving”; God sends the gift of His Son “To: Sinners” and “To: Broken People.”

Picture that moment of surprise, when a person first realizes that salvation through Jesus–which is the most valuable gift anyone could receive–is a free gift. See the look of shock, mixed with incredulous delight? Now, picture God’s face, as the person says, “It’s for me??! Really?! Even me??!”

Yes, our God loves to surprise His children–especially at Christmas. And if we aren’t surprised by the gift of Jesus, perhaps we haven’t read the gift tag correctly.

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