White Elephants

By Ross Engel

Have you ever gone to a Christmas party with a white elephant gift exchange? You know, one of those deals where everyone brings a gift and then a game is played to select and steal gifts until they’re all gone? In my experience, people usually gravitate towards the big, oddly shaped, and cleverly wrapped packages. People will fight over one specific gift—stealing, trading, and hoping that what is inside is worth the effort. If you are a clever white elephant gifter, you can get rid of some terrific junk. One year, my parents had this giant pink ceramic piggy bank. It was a huge eye sore, but they wrapped it up nicely and watched as people fought over this heavy piece of junk, none of them knowing the “treasure” inside.

A few years ago, my in-laws had a white elephant exchange. The theme was “gift that represents a holiday from your birth month.” My birthday is in March, so I chose to represent St. Patrick’s Day!

In a sloppily wrapped box, I packed all the makings for Irish Car Bombs—Guinness, Jameson, and Bailey’s along with a pint glass and a shot glass. I took great joy in watching everyone fight over all the brightly wrapped gifts, everyone overlooked my simple treasure. Not until all the gifts were unwrapped did my gift receive the love it deserved. At that point, it became the Best. Gift. Ever! I picked it for myself.


Simple, humble things wrapped up in unassuming and unexpected ways can turn out to be the best gifts of all.

When it comes to giving and receiving gifts, the giver makes all the difference in the world. Our Heavenly Father is always the deliverer of the greatest gifts. He loves to work in astounding and surprising ways.

Think for a moment of the simple, no frills, unexpected way that God rescues us from the domain of darkness, sin and death. He takes on human flesh. He places Himself in the womb of a poor, unwed virgin—a young teenager who lived in a time when people lived to the ripe old age of: “died in childbirth.” He is then born in a barn in the small town of Bethlehem and is placed in a feed trough. His first visitors are smelly shepherds. He doesn’t grow up in the midst of wealth or with power. Simple. Unassuming. Almost forgettable. Except, that this is how God chose to come and save His people.

The prophet Isaiah says this of the promised Messiah, Jesus:

He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him. – Isaiah 53:2

His appearance wasn’t going to draw people in. He was filled with sorrow. He knew grief and pain. He was not recognized by many. On the surface, He doesn’t look like much! And yet:

He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. – Colossians 1:15-20

This Jesus is the Savior of all creation. He purchased and won salvation for all the world through the shedding of His blood and His innocent suffering and death. On the surface, it doesn’t look like much, but this rescue from sin, death and the devil, this eternal life, is the greatest thing we could ever possess!

This same Jesus, who came in such humble means nearly 2,000 years ago, promises to be revealed at the end of the age for all eyes to see. He will come with all the power, might, and glory that He deserves as the Son of God—Redeemer of all creation. His second Advent will not be meek, humble, or mild. In fact, this second coming of Jesus will be quite terrifying! The heavens will rip open, the trumpets will sound, and the heavenly hosts, the army of angels, will descend with Jesus.

For all who have been Baptized into Christ, this day will not be one of terror. It will be a day of long awaited joy. This day is one that is anxiously hoped for and excitedly waited for. I’ve heard it said before that “Advent is that season when we expectantly hope that Christmas doesn’t come this year.”


As we wait, God continues to come to us in simple and humble ways—ways that are still unassuming and unexpected.

Through His bride the Church, Christ delivers His love to us. Through the Baptismal font, He is active, making us His own and washing away our sins. Through simple Absolution, spoken by a simple man, Christ is present and declares through that voice that our sins are no longer ours to bear. In the proclamation of God’s Word, God is present, nourishing and refreshing faith. And in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Jesus’ own body and blood is present in, with, and under the simple bread and wine. We receive our Lord’s presence for forgiveness, life, and salvation, until Christ comes again!

Each of these simple, unassuming, and unexpected gifts from God accomplishes life, salvation, and the strengthening of our faith. Consciences are unburdened, and we receive a hope that trusts that we will dwell with Him in everlasting peace as heirs of eternal life when Jesus is revealed in His second Advent.

Until that day comes, we continue in this hope and we pray with the Church of every time and every place. Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.