Unwrapping Christmas

The theme of our church Christmas party this year was “Unwrapping Christmas.” That theme implies that Christmas is a gift, a wrapped gift. The thing about a wrapped gift is you don’t know what’s inside and you can’t enjoy it unless you peel away the things that keep it hidden. Perhaps unwrapping Christmas would look like removing the things that prevent us from enjoying the gift Christmas truly is.

Consider for a moment what it might look like to peel off the unnecessary hoopla that has, through the years, like layers of paint on an old house, accumulated to the point that you can’t see what the original color is. The beautiful color of Christmas is under there somewhere but it’s been buried by the whims of cultural custom, societal pressure, commercial interest, and spiritual neglect.

One of those layers has to be hurry. The Christmas paraphernalia is on the shelves the day after Halloween. There were lights up on my street before Thanksgiving as many rushed into the Season. Someone coined the term “hectivity.” Hectic activity. Often, rather than fill us with Christmas cheer and enriching our hearts it leaves us drained and impoverished.

Advent is about waiting, not hurrying. Mary waited for the birth of her child. Israel waited for the promised Messiah. We wait for the coming of the Kingdom in its fullness. It seems the patient posture of Advent has been usurped by Christmas rush.

I wonder what Christmas would look like if we took the hurry out of it?

And then there’s the plague of consumerism. Most businesses do a third of their yearly sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I love gifts. Personally the giving and receiving of gifts is way up on my love language list. But I’m not talking about gift giving. I’m talking about consumerism; a power that leads so many unsuspecting victims down the road of never ending debt, stirring greedy desires for things doomed to fill our cabinets and cupboards, garages and sheds, drawers and closets to overflowing. It’s one of the coats of paint, one of the layers of wrapping paper that prevent people from experiencing the true gift of Christmas.

And what of the endless array of seasonal attractions, the must-see Christmas blockbuster movies, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, the holiday cleaning, grocery shopping, school concerts, and workplace parties; none of which, in and of themselves, is wrong. They’re only a problem if they hide the gift of Christmas.

What, then, is the gift of Christmas? Deep in our hearts we all know. We’ve always known. The gift of Christmas is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave…”

If love is the motivation of all our giving, if love is the driving force behind all our going, then we’ve unwrapped the gift of Christmas. But if somehow love has been buried underneath the pile of bows and banquets and parties and platters and gift cards and honey-baked hams, then maybe we need to do some unwrapping.

I hope I don’t sound like a Scrooge. I certainly don’t mean to. I’m just wondering if so many of the things we do in the name of celebrating Christmas is only wrapping paper hiding the big surprise. Maybe it’s true what the Beatles sang to the world back in 1967:

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love
Love is all you need



crooked arms



I recently spent three days at a friends cabin.  This Ponderosa Pine is within an arms length of the deck I spent most of my time on.

they look like crooked arms
appendages that have seen better days
gnarled, weathered, leafless limbs
turned gray by lack of life and years
their usefulness seems something of the past

yet there they are like stairs
a ladder reaching heavenward
inviting someone to take hold
ascending from the shadows to a place
where crystal skies and sunshine rule the day

like wrinkles on an aged face
each crease a story told or not
of days gone by
the shape of life
read in the furrows left behind

initial thoughts of pruning them
now seem a sacrilege
each crooked arm a testimony
of a life that was
a life that is

perhaps my crooked arms are gifts
treasures of the past
reminding me where I have been
stepping stones
to life that lays ahead

removing them for beauty’s sake
is a mistake I think
their usefulness is not perhaps
found in their outer loveliness
but rather in the deaths that brought me here

Growing Up With Jesus

Note:  I recently returned from a three day retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, California.  One of the days my director asked me to pray with Jesus’ hidden years, those years growing up that we know almost nothing about.  He instructed me to allow God to use my imagination to experience what it might have been like growing up with Jesus.  The following verse is the result of that prayer time.


We are no more than four or five years old.
We’re playing “carpenter” with Joseph’s tools.
We’ve produced imaginary doors and chairs and stools.
We’re as proud as four year olds can be.
Every moment that our parents will allow
we spend together doing things that boys enjoy;
hikes, and hills, and throwing rocks,
and chasing dogs, and catching bugs;
enjoying life the way that only little boys know how.

Life with him is life lived as life should be lived;
full of joy and cheerful chatter;
doing things that matter when you’re young;
mischievous, but not crossing the point where hurt results;
just the right amount of fun to cause the old and young alike to grin
that knowing smile that says good times been had by all.
He seems to have a knack for it.
Hard to believe that he is my best friend.

We especially enjoy a rainy day.
We sit inside the door and catch the raindrops from the roof.
I don’t know why we find it so much fun. But we do.
There’s something fresh and free that keeps us sitting there all day
and we’re saddened when the rain has gone away.
We’re also saddened when we have to part,
he to his home and me to mine
counting the time until we can be side by side again.

We grew, as boys are apt to do,
and chasing bugs turned into chasing other things,
but what he chased seemed richer than the things my heart longed for.
Unlike the other friends I had, no one could match him
for the love, a wholesome, true, and faithful love
that touched a place inside my soul I didn’t know was touchable.
We shared a bond I didn’t know was shareable.
I felt so blessed he shared that bond with me.

Though life was full and rich and free,
we also shared some darker things.
The darkest was the day when Joseph died.
We were in the midst of teenage years.
The sorrow of that day rings loudly in my ear.
There are no words sufficient for the pain we felt.
Thankfully, our history of life and love had laid foundations
upon which a day of loss could rest.
Solace was found in our togetherness.

Evening’s approach found us astride the bluff
that marked the edge of town.
We watched the sun slip slowly down
below the Galilean hills.
As its rim sank just below horizon’s edge
he turned and looked at me.
I saw a look that I had never seen.
There was the slightest twinkle in his eye.
I thought at first it was grief’s tear until I realized
it was as if he knew a secret thing kept hidden until now.

I had the sense that he knew something I did not.
It seemed as though suspected truth had been confirmed,
a knowing became known, a doubt was laid to rest.
Suffering shifted something deep inside his human breast.
Though the setting sun had brought the dark of night,
it would surely rise and bring the morning light.
I watched his grin grow gently to a smile
and wondered then what days ahead would hold.

That marked the day when he and I
journeyed together on a different sort of road.
No less time was spent in treasured company,
but what we did seemed purposeful in ways I can’t explain.
Carefree became more caring.
The work became like worship.
A new point on the compass steered the heading of his life.
It felt a privilege to join him in the tasks at hand.

Finally the day came that I knew would always come,
the day for him to walk his road and me to walk down mine.
One last trip out to the bluff, we sat there side by side,
and I saw that look, that knowing look, I’d seen when Joseph died.
I realized what he had known back then.
Death was a beginning, not an end.
Though our parting felt a lot like death,
a voice within said, “Take another breath.”

Longingly, I watched my friend leave town today.
I watched him slowly sink below the far off hill
and thought of sunset on the day that Joseph’s breath grew still,
and I recalled again that knowing look.
Though my human eyes will never see my friend again,
that knowing look is now upon my face.
I know the sun will rise upon a better day.
We have not enjoyed our last embrace.

Danny Mullins © 2017



Finger Oil Painting by Brendon Fairley

So many trees
A grove of life
The forbidden tree most beautiful of all
Out of place
A mistake
Rather a restriction birthed by grace
An invitation to a life that’s free
Freedom to love
Freedom to choose
Freedom to be

Only three
So solitary
Perched atop a barren lonely rock
Blossoms of death
The fruit of sin
A Man shaped like a tree his arms the limbs
A beckoning from bloody limbs stretched wide
Come to me
Come and see
Freedom to be

Two trees of life
Along the bank
Crystal living water splits the two
Healing leaves
Unfailing fruit
The drought’s been swallowed up within the Truth
After many years and tears and pleas
I hear his voice
I see his face
Among the trees

Danny Mullins © 2017

To Tell A Truth

To tell a truth
It is a passion that I have
A truth when heard
drills deep into the marrow
of the soul
A truth that penetrates
the inconsistencies
and shows them
for the straw and fluff they are

First the truth
must make its home in me
Perhaps then I can help it find
a home in someone else
A truth upon which
someone’s soul can build
a lasting life
a rock that takes the place
of shifting sand

To tell a truth
It is a passion that I have

Danny Mullins©2017


Layers of life
In some ways like accumulating
rings of trees
marking seasons, telling times
living records that still speak
if we will lend an ear

The only way to hear them
is be cut in half
uncovering the mounting rings
of life that’s been
of life that is
of life that’s true

Layered years
of fire and drought
and joy and pain
and loss and fear
and hopes and dreams
both realized and dashed

The rings don’t lie
but courage is required
to see their truth
to feel their truth
to know them for the gift
they were and are

Past events
aren’t really past at all
they breathe beneath the surface
of the present day
and shape our words
and prompt our deeds
and set our course

The layers of our souls
must be exposed
that we may own
the breadth of who we are

Danny Mullins©2017


An ember buried in the blackness of the night
concealed within the faded hopes of yesterday
Ignited by a cosmic wind the cycle starts again
the eastern fire kindled by a hidden hand
Night yields to dawning day, unique and rare
unlike another, like unto itself alone
Complexities of dust and vapor
incandescent as the morning climbs
Ebony gives way to gray
then quickly yields to colors that defy a name
Changing quicker
than the eye can catch them
And with the day hope rises from its tomb of pain
announcing it survived the night as well
Welcomed or not it shamelessly asserts itself
refusing to be swallowed by the night

Hope is hard to kill

Great effort and persistency
can push it to the edges of oblivion
But even then it’s subject to reviving
for resurrection lives within its veins
I think resurrection flows within my veins as well
how can I tell?
Because I cannot seem to help myself
hope has me by the heart and won’t let go
But evening comes
it always has, it always will
There’s nothing can be done but let it rest
let it lay and turn my eyes toward another day
Even when engulfed by darkest times
the ember glows
Though hidden by the blackness of the night
His wind still finds it
And against my better judgment
I begin to move toward its warming fire

I suppose I am the moth
and hope’s the flame

Danny Mullins © 2016