The Gift of Beauty in Unexpected Places
REVISED FROM December 2015
The season of gift giving is upon us, folks. Estimated American holiday spending for 2016 rings in a close to 655.8 billion dollars. We’ll go to great lengths to find that “perfect” gift: take laps around the mall, scroll through the 488 million items on Amazon.com, and, alas, pick up the last-minute Starbucks gift card when our creative juices stop flowing. Some of us will smother our precious gifts in Styrofoam® peanuts and ship packages across the country to friends and family. Still others will rediscover the wonder of double-stick tape as we lovingly wrap must-have electronics, the latest eye-shadow palette, or toy to place under our tree. We’ll exchange cheesy white elephant gifts at office parties and deliver sugar cookies slathered with frosting and red sprinkles to our neighbors. We’ll donate Barbies and trucks to the local toy drives, drop our change in buckets to bell-ringing Santas, and offer crayon masterpieces to our kids’ teachers. Gifts, gifts, gifts, and more gifts.
And then, just like that, the flurry of holiday festivities will be over. You know the scene. Carefully crafted wrapping paper lies in a crumpled mound on our living room floor. That ugly orange sweater goes into the return pile. And the last crumb of yummy goodness is devoured. Most of us are pooped. Mom and Dad savor a much-needed break, teachers relish the peace and quiet, and office computer screens sit blank for a couple days.
I’m not sure when the concept of gift giving began but let’s be honest – we all love to give and receive gifts. A year ago, I traveled to Israel for the first time with Proverbs 31 Ministries. The little town called Bethlehem stole my heart.
Beauty is still found in the most unexpected places. Nowhere is this truer than Bethlehem, a walled city, surrounded by armed guards and under Palestinian rule. I struggled to picture ancient streets where a young couple named Mary and Joseph stopped to find respite. Here, in this insignificant, small town, God gave the greatest gift when grace intersected humanity.
I found myself drawn to every word of our Christian guide in Bethlehem. I bent low through the Door of Humility to enter the Church of the Nativity, the world’s oldest church, built over the site where Jesus was born. Even earthly rulers must bow to visit the birthplace of the King of Kings. Amidst the pungent smell of burning incense and the sound of Greek Orthodox prayers, God met me in a powerful and personal way.
For the first time in a long time—too long—I felt profound amazement at the magnitude of God’s plan. I felt a sort of dizzying awareness that I participated in the fabric of God’s story, a story written before time began.
I felt tiny. Humbled. Overwhelmed.
God’s plan to redeem mankind sent His Son, not to be born in the majesty of a palace, but in a dark, damp cave.
Beauty is still found in the most unexpected places.
In a store in Bethlehem I found some of the most stunning Nativity sets I have ever seen. Amazing local Christian artisans carve exquisite pieces out of olive wood. Living behind a wall, these resilient, brave hearts craft their art, undiminished by brokenness. I agonized over purchasing one as an early Christmas gift to myself, but, though my budget wouldn’t accommodate the purchase, I still received a gift. The unexpected beauty I discovered in Bethlehem, remain indelibly imprinted on my heart and mind.
Perhaps the greatest gift we can give this year isn’t found in a mall or online. Perhaps, this year, we can give the gift of beauty. We can refuse to be diminished by brokenness and carve beauty into our world. Our neighbors. Our family. Our schools. The lost. The hurting. The fractured.
Perhaps you need God’s grace to intersect your humanity. Perhaps you long for God to meet you in a powerful and profound way and amaze you with His love. Perhaps you’re asking for the gift of perspective in the midst of a broken world.
This year, let’s look a little closer. We might just rediscover the gift of beauty in unexpected places. Once again bow before the King of Kings, humbled by the gift of His extravagant grace, and overwhelmed by His love—the love that sent the greatest gift ever known.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son; that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”