One of the highlights of Christmas for most people is unwrapping the Christmas presents. Whether you are a child waiting to tear into the packages or a parent or grandparent who is delighted to watch the excitement, unwrapping presents is great fun. Some people go to great lengths with wrapping. Some are perfectionists making sure that each corner is square and perfect. Some are creative looking for different ways to wrap and decorate the presents. And some are mischievous. Have you ever gotten a present that was wrapped in multiple layers of paper and boxes? Inside each box is another, smaller wrapped box. My opinion is that the giver gets far more delight out of the present than the recipient.
God has given us the greatest present of all when he sent Jesus into our world. But God didn’t just extend his gift. He wrapped it in multiple layers of meaning and wonder. Today, on the threshold of Christmas, I would like to spend a little time unwrapping the Christmas story.
God wrapped his gift in prophecy. Prophecy is a little like giving hints to what might be in a Christmas present. When I was a boy we used to try to get my parents to give us hints about Christmas presents. We were never very successful. Throughout human history God dropped prophetic hints about the gift he was sending. He used prophecy to foreshadow what he was going to do in the world. The prophet Isaiah gave two significant clues about the coming gift.
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6-7 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
God wrapped his gift in mystery. I remember the year my Dad gave us .22 rifles. We knew Dad had something big in mind but we didn’t know what it was. On Christmas morning we gathered around the Christmas tree and passed out all of the presents. After everything was unwrapped my Dad said, “Oh there’s one more thing. Go look in the front closet.” We raced each other over to the door and when we opened it there were three long packages. We eagerly ripped into the paper and uncovered brand new .22 rifles.
God had some surprises up his sleeve when he sent Jesus into the world. He chose to use a virgin named Mary to carry the precious gift. He convinced a young carpenter that God was in the midst of this. He manipulated Caesar to move Mary and Joseph to the right place for the birth. He had Jesus born in obscurity, in a stable. His first crib was a manger.
God was not done with his surprises. He chose to announce the arrival of his gift to common shepherds. He pulled out all the stops to announce Jesus’ birth by sending an angel army.
God wrapped his gift in humanity. For children Christmas presents are only a dream until they are allowed to open them and hold them in their hands. Until that time they remain a tantalizing mystery. God made his gift tangible. The Jews had always known that God was present with them. They could look back to the pillar of cloud and of fire that led the children of Israel through the wilderness. But God was always distant and unapproachable. In fact they were prohibited from coming too near to God’s presence. All of that changed at Christmas.
John says it best in John 1: 14. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. The Apostle Paul expanded on the nature of the gift in Philippians 2:6-8. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
God wrapped his gift in eternity. Some gifts tend to excite for a moment and then quickly fade. Every year I look for some small toy to put in my kids stockings that is just for fun. One year I gave them penny racers. We had fun with them for a few hours until the novelty wore off. But other gifts tend to grab our attention and hold on tenaciously. They are special gifts that tap into some deep desire that we have. I remember when I got my first real bicycle. It was more than just entertainment, it was freedom.
God’s gift was not a momentary wonder. He sent Jesus into the world to change the world forever. Although Jesus’ journey began in humble circumstances it didn’t end there. Jesus shook up his world and continues to shake up ours. The true value of the gift is summed up in John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”I look forward to Christmas when my family will be gathered around the Christmas tree to open presents. I am anticipating the delight of that time. But what is far more important is that we have unwrapped the greatest gift of all, our relationship with Jesus. It is that great gift that gives meaning to everything else.