Why my family puts a shoebox under the Christmas tree
HEARTLAND | Serena Butler
Where do babies come from? It’s a question children have been asking through the ages and one that parents have found some creative ways of answering. My family has a unique explanation for a baby’s arrival to its new family.
When my dad, Charles, was about two years old, his mother was expecting a baby. The day came for the birth, and the doctor was summoned to the farmhouse in northern Florida. My grandfather took my dad and his older sister out into the fields to take a walk so that they would not be in the house during the delivery. A little while later, when they returned home, my newborn Uncle Benny was there. Because the family did not have a cradle for the baby, Uncle Benny was placed in a shoebox. So, if you were to ask little Charles Butler where babies come from, he would tell you that the doctor brings them in a shoebox.
Seventy-five years ago, Benjamin Harrison Butler was born and placed in a box. Two thousand years ago, another baby was born and placed in a box. Benny was a gift to his family. Jesus was a gift to the world.
This is the time of year when Christians remember the gift of the Christ-child. We hang lights, put up trees, and buy gifts for one another. We plan special worship services and send cards to family and friends. But we must remember that Christmas would not exist if it weren’t for the crucifixion and resurrection. The birth means nothing without the death. For this is the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead, conquering the power of sin in our lives.
Grace, mercy, forgiveness, and new life are the true gifts given through Christ. But we celebrate the gift at its beginning, the birth.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 says, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.” When we accept the gift, our life is changed forever. In fact we are given a new life. And this new life is a gift from God.
We know that. We have heard it through numerous sermons and devotions. We know it through our own life experiences. But how often do we ignore the next part? Once we have received the gift of salvation, we then are given the responsibility of passing that gift on to others. The verse tells us that we have been “given the task of reconciling people to him.” That means sharing the gospel.
Christmas shopping season is upon us. We will visit malls and shop online. Some of us will spend hours making gifts to be given to loved ones. But the clothes we give will be outgrown or wear out. The toys will break or be cast aside. The electronics will become outdated.
Jesus is the one gift that will never fade away. It is truly the best gift anyone could receive. Paul describes it this way: “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15)
A few years ago, my dad told the story of Uncle Benny’s birth to his Sunday school class. He also related it to the birth of Christ and how he was placed in a box. A few weeks later the class gave my dad a present. It was a baby doll in a shoebox to represent both Uncle Benny and the baby Jesus.
Now, if you were to visit the Butler home at Christmas and look under the tree, you would see a baby doll, dressed in blue, in a shoebox. He is named Uncle Benny, but he is a reminder to our family that the greatest gift of all is Jesus, a baby who was born and placed in a box. It is also a reminder that the baby should not stay with us, but we should be giving Jesus to others.
So, as you look for that perfect gift this Christmas, don’t overlook the gift you already possess. Jesus is the gift that is always the right size, won’t wear out or go out of style, and will be exactly what they were wishing for.
Serena Butler is Upper Midwest regional manager for Operation Christmas Child. She formerly served as IBSA’s director of missions awareness and Illinois WMU.