Can you think of your favorite Christmas gift of all time? You spent days and months, maybe years, thinking about it and dreaming of having it, and then early one Christmas morning, you open a package you hadn’t noticed, and there it is. Surprise, joy, happiness, all these emotions run through your body as you try to express thanks.
If you’ve seen the Christmas Classic “A Christmas Story” with Darren McGavin, you remember that all Ralphie could think about was a particular BB gun. It was a Red Ryder-Carbine-Action-Two-Hundred-Shot-Range-Model-Air-Rifle!” to be more specific. And Christmas morning, when he opened that gift, he could hardly speak. It was all he wanted. To him, it was all he’d ever need. His young life, at least from his perspective, was complete.
Whenever I open a gift that one of my kids has made for me, I get the same feeling, a photo album, a painting or ceramic “thing” that they hand-crafted just for me. It’s all I ever wanted. My life is complete. I get all teary eyed and can’t even talk. Gifts of love and generosity, carefully and personally selected just for me. They don’t have to be expensive, and they don’t have to be fancy. They just need to convey love and thought and care.
And really, this idea of giving and receiving gifts is at the very heart of the Christmas story. And it is God who initiated it by providing the first and greatest gift:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16
For God so loved the world that He gave, gave His first, gave His best, gave His Son.
Emerson wrote that “Rings and jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts, the only true gift is a portion of oneself.”
God didn’t send rings or jewels or great treasure; He sent a portion of Himself. That’s the miracle of Christmas. That the Son of God became the Son of Man so that sons of man might become the sons of God. Because in His incarnation, He addresses the question that has been on man’s mind for thousands of years, and that is, “How can God possibly relate with me?” How can God, Creator, and Sustainer of Life, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Eternal God, possibly, in a million years, know what it’s like to be me?
And that’s the essence of a conversation held in an all-night diner one Christmas Eve not too long ago between a couple of long-haul drivers. The hour was late; the restaurant deserted except for a sleepy waitress, a cook in the back watching an old TV, and these two drivers. One driver was a Christian man who had missed the Christmas Eve service and would surely miss Christmas morning with his family for the first time in his life. And the other man, a grizzled trucker with no home, no close family, and no holiday cheer.
“How can you not believe in God?” exclaimed the Christian; look at all there is around you.”
“I didn’t say I do not believe in God, but only that there is no evidence of Him. I tell you, if he does exist, he does not work very hard at letting us know it. And there is even less evidence that he cares for people.
“But the Bible says…” started the Christian.
“The Bible? Don’t start with the bible. No, if there is a God, then let him come down here where we are. Let him live in this filthy place where we live. Let him smell the stink, let him feel the poverty, let him know the pain, let him know the hunger. Let him feel the hunger. Let him know what it is like to eke out an existence in wretched poverty as so many do. Let him see a friend die, feel the agony of loss, the unfairness of death. Let him know what it is to watch a little child die and see him taken from his mothers’ arms for burial. Let him see our diseases, cancer, Aids, and all the rest. Let this God of yours be hated and mocked and jeered and cheated and robbed! Let him lose everything he owns at the hands of an unjust court like I did. Let him discover firsthand how unjust justice is!”
The older man’s fever grew as he continued. “And sin! Huh! He is so interested in whether or not I sin – let him feel my temptation. Let him experience my weaknesses. Then let us see how he feels about all the rules and commands he has put on me – rules I cannot live up to, yet, if I do not live up to them,” he snarled, “he will not like me anymore! Let him feel what I feel here in this miserable, aching, decaying body of mine! And then let him die! That’s right, let him die the way I will probably die, like many people die, out here alone. Homeless, uncared for, forgotten. If he wants to impress me, let him become like me. Then. Maybe. I will believe in your God—But not until then.”
Suppressing tears of compassion, the other trucker, seated two stools down the counter, whispered, “You are wiser than you know, friend, far wiser than you know.”
If God would give that old truck driver a present, one picked out especially for him; you can bet it wouldn’t be a necktie. Because there is something that matters more to him than any temporary gift, it’s the same thing with the busy homemaker, the harried commuter, and the struggling student. It’s the same with the mother of hungry children and the jobless dad. The gift they need is one that addresses the critical issues of life that have them trapped:
- The problem of suffering and pain
- The struggle for meaning and worth
- The desperation for love and acceptance
- Does God understand? Can God relate, with me, with my world, right now?
I want to suggest to you that there is a gift under the tree for you this year. It’s got beautiful wrapping and a big bow, and the lights flicker and dance as it sits there. On the tag is your name; it’s a personal gift, it is just for you, and it’s from God.
The Apostle Paul got a gift like this somewhere along the way, and he couldn’t even describe it, but it changed his life forever. One day he was a bitter religious zealot, observing God’s law as if his life depended on it, and the next day he was set free, born again, released from religious ritual, and set forth to a personal relationship with God. And Paul, the most eloquent and prolific of the biblical scribes, put it this way:
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift. 2 Corinthians 9:15 NKJV.
The New Living version translates the verse:
Thank God for His Son – a gift too wonderful for words! 2 Corinthians 9:15 NLV.
Even the prolific Apostle Paul was challenged in explaining what God had done in sending Jesus. He calls it “indescribable,” “unspeakable,” or “too wonderful for words.” The reality of Christmas is that God addressed all the concerns of that old truck driver—all the problems of sin, death, guilt, and shame, when, before the world began, He determined to save and restore the creation He loved so dearly by humbling Himself and becoming a man.
Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. Philippians 2:.6-7
Would you let that sink in for a moment? Let me reread it.
“He made himself nothing…” Now consider what you know about the birth process, how it begins with a single fertilized egg, barely visible to the naked eye. This little egg divides and re-divides until a body starts to take shape, enlarging cell by cell, in Jesus’ case, inside the body of a nervous teenage girl named Mary. Can you begin to imagine the Omniscient Creator God placing Himself in that position? Yet He did it all for you. He did it for everyone.
And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. And Jesus experienced temptation and ridicule and scorn, yet without sin. Ultimately, He willingly gave His life so that not only would He know your every feeling and need, and desire, and temptation and weakness—but also that He could take us further than this life by His victory over death.
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because you Gentiles have become his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and now you can call God your dear Father. Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, everything he has belongs to you. Galatians 4:4-7.
Jesus is the gift too wonderful for words. He is the gift to you from God, and He wants to adopt you as God’s very own child, fill you with His Spirit, and enjoy your life together with Him. Today is the day for you to open the gift too wonderful for words.