The first time I heard “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton, when I was just a girl, it struck me so deeply I began to cry. I ran downstairs, with urgency, to tell my mother how much I loved her.
Do you remember that song? Dolly’s family was poor, so someone dropped off a box of rags. Little Dolly didn’t have a coat, and her mother made her one from the multi-colored scraps. While she sewed, she told Dolly the story of Joseph from the Bible. Dolly felt wrapped in her mother’s love as she headed off to school in her new coat, but the other children made fun of her.
When a gift given in love is labeled as “unfit” or “uncool,” it breaks my heart.
Back when my husband was my fiancé, he bought me a pen. It was such a thoughtful, supportive gift because he knew how much I liked to write. My sisters, who were teenagers then, told me it was a cheap gift, nothing to be proud of. My heart hurt. (Years later when I told my husband this story, he told me he actually paid quite a lot for that pen.)
When I turned 17, my loving father bought me my first car, a used Subaru. I was elated! When my Mama congratulated me, she said, “Daddy bought you a sports car!” It wasn’t at all akin to a sports car, but I knew what Mama meant. Daddy had given me the most wonderful gift he could . . . more than I could have hoped for! Upon hearing her comment, my heart ached a little because I knew the world, not seeing what she and I saw, would try to correct her. They wouldn’t see Dad’s generous heart, the beauty of a parent’s love. They would simply see an old car.
The only thing those kids in Dolly’s class could see was a pieced together coat. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7 They couldn’t see her mama’s gentle hands sewing, hear her mama telling her stories deep with meaning, feel the love wrapped around little Dolly.
Would a store bought coat, made in a factory by rushing hands, have been a more meaningful gift? No, but the world would have accepted it.
That brings me to Christmas and the most wondrous gift: God’s gift of love, lying in the hay. Later, the world would say of Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” John 1:46 They wanted flashy; they wanted royalty. They couldn’t see heaven for the hay.
Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would come to give those who believe in Him a coat of sorts: “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness.” Isaiah 61:10
How could the perfect God who created the universe, who is the Father of light and of every good and perfect gift have a relationship with a human who can’t get through a day without stumbling at least a little in the dark?
He gives us a present!
He wraps us up in a robe of perfection sewn by Jesus. Jesus, the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, who was once swaddled, swaddles us in white. And God gazes upon us as a smitten Father.
As a Christian, do you ever feel like little Dolly? You skip off into the world wearing the priceless coat your loving parent gave you, and people don’t understand. They criticize your Father. They discount your coat. You try to use words to explain things only your heart truly knows, and suddenly you’ve cheapened the most sacred mystery. How can you help them see the truth of Scripture? Hear the prayers He has undeniably answered? Feel the tingles of His presence? Hear the whispers in your heart? You can’t seem to make them understand how costly and beautiful His gift is.
But Christmas! During this magical time of year when the world opens a bit to inexplicable wonder, we are all more childlike, wide-eyed, believing! “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 This is the one time of year I feel like the world stops labeling my Father’s gift as “unwanted” or “outdated.” It seems, at least for a few magical moments during December, that every mouth is singing that Jesus is Lord! At those times, my heart is light. It feels like the world is as it should be—that every precious child God has ever created suddenly sees the GIFT that Jesus is, and the whole world is wrapped up in a coat, white as new fallen snow.
P.S. One of those magical moments occurred while watching Dolly Parton’s Christmas special on NBC: “A Christmas of Many Colors.” There, on an ordinary Wednesday night, on a secular television station, Jesus was glorified!