Did you ever receive an unexpected gift? Perhaps at Christmas, or on a birthday or special event? Someone gave you something totally unexpected, a gift you would never have imagined and it blew you away. You were completely caught off guard by the nature of the gift, so much so that it took your breathe away. All of this would pale before Advent, before the gift of Christmas.
For Christmas is not about what we give but about what we have been given. It is about the initiative of God who gave himself to us in the child Jesus. It is about God gift-wrapping himself in a human baby. And it takes our breath away. In Jesus Christ God gift-wrapped himself in flesh and blood that he might reach us in our need and bring to us his very presence. That priceless, eternal gift comes in human form and it blows us away! Gift Wrap of God.
These accounts of the Christmas events are so familiar that we easily become bored with them or at least pass over them quickly. We've heard it all before. But this morning as we stand on the edge of Christmas day let us consider with great care and eagerness the gift of God.
First, the Gift Wrap of God is about the Divine initiative. God himself acts on our behalf, and leaves us speechless before his grace and mercy. Divine initiative takes precedence over human response.
Listen to the story! What could be more familiar than the context of these events? Mary had been pledged to Joseph to be married. According to the customs of the times that betrothal took place about a year before the marriage itself. One can imagine what that year of waiting was like. One can easily see Mary and Joseph talking in his carpenter's shop about their hopes and dreams, about having a family together, about growing old together. We ourselves have been there! Some here may even now be thinking about these very things!
But then God acts! God takes the initiative! God intervenes! In Matthew the focus of the account is Joseph, who had heard the news that Mary, his beloved Mary, was pregnant, but not by him! How devastated he must have felt! How betrayed! How hurt! How angry! How confused! As he wrestled with what to do he came to the conclusion that he had to divorce Mary, but privately in order to minimize the shame to her. What else could he do? What else would we do? And then God acted!
Twice in these few verses we are told that the events occurred by the Holy Spirit. Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit! The child conceived was by the Holy Spirit! This was no mere act of humanity but the act of God himself. He took the initiative to engage his promises in fulfillment and he did so in their lives, in their dreams, in their hopes! The events that transpired here were under the sovereign control of God Almighty in order to keep his covenant promise to send his Deliverer into the world.
The same essential point is made in Luke where the story is recounted from Mary's perspective. To her question about how it could be that she would be pregnant the answer comes - by the initiative of God. The Holy Spirit was to come upon her. The power of God was to transform her. The gift of God would be implanted within her without human involvement.
Of course there is the human element in this - in response to God's action. Joseph yields to the call of God by rising up and taking Mary as his wife. He embraced the possibility of shame to himself. He did not fear the reactions of neighbours or friends. He gave his fears to God and said "yes". Mary too responded in faith. While recognizing the possible consequences of public ridicule and dishonour she yielded to the work of God. "I am the Lord's servant". God acted; they responded.
Too often we reverse this order. Too often we function as if we were in charge and God was there to jump to our commands. Our Christmas celebrations are about what do, about what we give, about how we participate. And these are important. Christmas is not for bystanders. But Christmas is first about listening to what God has done. In our daily relationship with God, now and throughout the year, the point of departure is always that God has taken the initiative to forgive us in Jesus Christ, not first about what we can do for God. The birth of Jesus Christ reminds us in the clearest terms that He is in charge. And it takes our breath away.
Second, the Gift Wrap of God is about the Divine in a Baby. It is about God wrapping himself as a gift for us that we might know him and his presence with us always. Notice the three aspects of the divine in the child Jesus. First, the gift-wrapped baby Jesus is divine in nature. This is evident by the repeated reference, as we have seen, to the work of the Holy Spirit. The child was not conceived by natural means nor by a human father. The child comes as a result of the actions of the Spirit so that the child is both human and divine. In John's gospel we read about the eternal Word. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us". (John 1:1,14). The eternal Son of God took on our human nature for us - freely, willingly, and lovingly. The child of Bethlehem therefore was both human and divine. Paul put it this way: "Although he always existed in the very nature of God he did not regard his equality with God as something to take advantage of but made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave, by being found in human likeness (Phil. 2:6- 7). What we see in Jesus then is God gift-wrapped for us. To many however he is an unopened gift.
Third, the gift-wrapped Jesus comes with a divine task. We see this in the name announced to Joseph. The name "Jesus" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name "Joshua". Both mean "The Lord saves". The salvation promised is deliverance from the consequences and effects of human sin and rebellion. Is. 53 speaks about the suffering servant of the Lord who takes upon himself the punishment due to sin. "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, and the punishment that brought us peace was upon him...for he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors" (Is. 53:5,12). Jesus himself said, "I came to give my life a ransom for many" (Matt.20:28). Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death; the child of Bethlehem was born to receive those wages in full for us. Do we see the seriousness of our condition? Do we appreciate the eternal peril we face apart from God's gracious act in Jesus?
Fourth, the gift-wrapped baby brings us the divine presence. Because he came, because he lived among us, because he died and rose again, God is with us even this very day! The name "Jesus" is associated here with the prophecy of Is. 7:14, and with the name "Emmanuel", which means "God with us!" Jesus said, "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9). John wrote, "No one has ever seen God, but God, the One and Only who is at the Father's side, has made him known". To know Christ, to see him, is to know and see the character of our God. God is with us. Thus Jesus promised that he would be with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). In Heb. 15:5-8 we read that he would never leave us or forsake us, that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. God is with us! What else ultimately really matters. But that presence comes in a child, in a baby, in the helpless form of a newborn. Doesn't it take your breath away? Illustration.
Listen! A few years ago a man sent his parents a Christmas present - a brand new microwave oven. They were thrilled with the gift and excited about the possibility of joining the "instant generation". They unpacked the appliance, plugged it in and stood They're dumfounded. Even after reading the instructions they could not understand how to get the thing to work. The man's mother later commented to a friend, "To get the thing to work I don't need better instructions; I need my son to come with the gift". God did not give us a booklet of instructions; he gave us his Son.
As we move into the Christmas week let us remind ourselves that each of us stands before God because God stands before us. He took the initiative to show his love and mercy for us. The birth of Jesus transforms us from having to figure out what we have to do to please God to simply having to accept what he has done for us. We are fully accepted in Jesus Christ. When we open our hearts to him and receive him into our lives we become his children through faith. He can not love us more, accept us more, care for us more, bless us more than he already has. God has given us himself fully and completely. Doesn't it blow us away?
Second, Jesus Christ is with us! Christmas is about God caring enough to reach out to us in our need and to speak a language we can understand. He broke through our confusion about who he is and said "This is me!" God is none other than the One revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The love we see in Christ, the forgiveness offered in Christ, the compassion shown by Christ, the call that comes in Christ, is all for us.
Therefore no matter what our condition might be, He is there for us. No matter how we may feel about ourselves, or how others feel about us, He embraces us. As we confess our sin and our fears, our struggles and our failures, we discover that Christ already paid in full the consequences of our sin and failure. Stamped across our lives are the words "Paid in full!" If He did that those centuries ago, if he gave himself fully then, would he stop short now? Would he give less now? Would he love less now?
So, Christmas reminds us that whatever else takes place, whatever our situation might be, He has not abandoned us, he has not left us alone to face life with our own limited resources, he has not withdrawn his love from us. He simply can not and will not. Look into the face of the child of Bethlehem! Do you not see it? God is with us! Our God saves us! Our God stands with us wrapped in flesh and blood. And his name is Jesus! Conclusion.
Fifteen centuries ago Augustine, one of the great
theologians of the Church put it this way:
Maker of the sun, he is made under the sun.
In the Father he remains, from his mother he goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth, he was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakable wise, he is wisely speechless.
Filling the world, he lies in a manger.
Ruler of all the stars, he nurses at his mother's bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God and small in the form of a servant.
Jesus Christ is God's gift wrapped in flesh. May that gift always be open.
A skater entered the ice arena taking a couple of steps on the ice and then fell. Why did he fall, he had stepped unwisely onto the cement and dulled his skate blades. The sharpness was gone and so he fell. The dull skate blades didn't function correctly.
Skate blades need to be sharpened correctly to give us a good skate. Like blades, we need to be sharp. How can we be sharp? We can be sharp by letting the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus Christ, into our spirits, lives and hearts. The spirit of God sharpens our minds to give us the power to skate upright so that we don't fall down and fail.
But, we are only human, you say. God knows that. So he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to take away our failures and renew our minds. Even if we forget to keep our minds sharp, we can always go back to the sharpener. Like a sharp blade, he will have you skate upright in life. For "when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth." (John 16:13) Our own personal Counselor, Conscience, Convictor and Comforter fills our soul, our mind, will and emotions with perfect truth. He teaches our mind, directs our will and guides our emotions. The Holy Spirit is the sharpener of our minds to give us a great skate.
How do I let the Great Spirit Sharpener in me? A simple prayer is the way to do it. "God, I want you in my life, soul, spirit and mind. Please come in me to sharpen me. I want to follow Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead defeating death and have the Holy Spirit to guide me. Please forgive me for my past and help me to skate upright. Thanks God."
You've been off of the ice for four months and you long for the motion and glide across the smooth sleek ice. You can't seem to find ice time and then sticking out in an ad, it says, "Ice time available." You call up the rink with the ice. Before you know it, you are there walking through the rink doors. You head for a dressing room, take off you sandals, stick on your socks, take off the skate booties, put on the skate guard on your skates, put on your skates, lace them and tie them. Then you walk out to the rink, take off your guards as you step on the ice and place your guards on the boards. First trip around the rink, you almost look like a non-skater. Second time around, you look like a newbie. Third time you gain speed. Fourth time, you start to switch from forward to backward and back again. Fifth time, you add a few upright spins. Still everything is ok, even when you do some footwork (easy stuff) but then the sixth time, you get it in your head, "I'm doing great." "I don't have to wait. What's a few spirals?" I'll tell you what a few spirals can do when you're too eager! They can wreck your next month and a half and keep you off of the ice. How do I know? I am that skater that was too eager trying tricks before I was retrained back into proper shape.
How many times do we try to jump into things when we are not prepared for them or need to be brought back up to speed slowly, so we do not burn and crash? I learned my lesson the hard way, breaking my left arm at the elbow and bruising my ribs and hips. But it's not always so clear that we've forged on without God being our trainer and guide. I know that if I would have waited on God, when I went back to the dressing room to fix my skates, I would have not thought about doing any tricks before I was ready and today I would've been able to skate the next time. Now I have to wait again. I pray this helps all of you. (Oh, this happened to me on Thurs. Aug. 5th, 1999.) Trust God and wait on Him. Don't be a too eagered skater!
Sincerely Brigitte Laskowski, Singerskates a confessed skate-a-holic.
You all know that recently Aug. 5th 1999 I broke my left arm at the elbow while skating at the rink. What you don't know is what I went through to get my arm fixed. After hitting the ice with a thud, which came as a surprise to me, I picked myself off of the ice using only my legs. Then I proceeded to skate a third of the rink holding my arm hoping that I just hit the funny bone but that was not to be. Instead of the pain slowly going away, it got worse so I headed for an exit, grabbed my skate guards and headed to the dressing room to take off my skates, placed my skates in my skate bag and put on my sandals. Next I grabbed my stuff with my right arm and got some ice from the arena office to put on my arm. I got in my van and drove determined and focused one handed to the closest clinic hyperventilating almost passing out from the pain. When I got to the clinic I asked for help to get my purse out of the van and to lock up the van and the person who helped me said that I was really white. I walked into the clinic with help and wrote my name on the list and sat down cradling my arm waiting to be seen. After a few people went in to be seen, I began to shake and I went to the window to ask the nurse how much longer she thought it would be before I would be seen. She had me come right in seeing what shape I was in. She took my name and luckily I was already on file from before so I was brought to an examining room right away. When the doctor saw me, he talked me into slowing my breathing down so that I wouldn't pass out and then sent me to x-ray. After the x-rays were taken, I went back to the clinic with the x-rays to see the doctor. The doctor looked at the x-rays and had a few others look at the x-rays too and then the doctor called a surgeon at the hospital and scheduled me for surgery. The doctor wanted me to have someone else drive me to the hospital. I couldn't get anyone who was available at the time on the phone to drive me to the hospital so I drove myself after I stopped at home to pick up my girls so I would have someone in the van to make sure I stayed awake while I was driving to the hospital. Once I got to the emergency room, I registered with nurse at the desk. I sat down for less than 2 minutes and was called to have my vitals taken. Then I sat down in the waiting room again for not more than 30 seconds and I was called to an examining room. The surgeon looked at me had the nurses take my blood and vitals again. Then they let me call home to let my husband, who was finally home, know that I was going to be admitted in the hospital and that I had to have surgery. They hooked me up to an intravenous after six times trying to find a vein in my right arm. All the while I was joking around trying to focus on anything but the pain. Half an hour later I woke up in recovery. But my little story has nothing on what my best friend endured.
My best friend was always being persecuted for what he did and said. One day he was caught by the authorities and bound for trial. He was stripped of his clothes and whipped and they hit him in the head and then he got his clothes back. Then he was brought in front of the judge even though he did nothing wrong. But my friend kept quiet as he was accused. Then the judge passed him off to another judge and he was brought in front of a crowd of people. They were going to decide whom they would set free on their special holiday. They chose the other guy to set free. The crowd sentenced my friend to die. They made my friend carry this heavy cross out of the city to a hill outside of the city. But part way my friend got tired and fell so they got a priest from the crowd to carry it the rest of the way for him. As my friend walked from inside the city to the outside of the city people spit on him and said rude things to him. When my friend was finally outside of the city, the guards stripped him of his clothes again and gambled for them. They broke his bones, stabbed him in the side of his abdomen, beat him beyond human recognition and hammered him to the cross. Yet my friend just let them do this to him. What's more is that he took on our pain, suffering, sickness and sin too. He died on the cross. There was no doctor helping him ease the pain and suffering he went through. No one to do surgery to repair his wounds. For most wanted him dead. My friend Jesus Christ endured all this just because he loves us and wanted to set us free. (Isaiah 52:13-15 and 53) Three days later he was alive again after conquering death.
My friend Jesus helped me endure what I had to go through. He can help you if you trust in him.
Be careful about who sharpens your blades! If the wrong person sharpens your blades, you could break some bones and/or injure yourself.
Likewise, be careful about where you go to church and who is teaching you the gospel. Are they telling you the whole truth or are they only giving you a bit of the truth and adding whatever they feel like. Get the wrong person to teach you, like the Branch Dividdion(sp)and you're existence could come to a fiery end. It's the same as finding a good coach. Find someone and a church the leads you right!
2:5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
2:6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
When the last the scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times of his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. "Lord, You said that once I decided to follow You, You'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most, You would leave me."
The Lord replied, "My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During the times of trial and suffering when you see one set of footprints; it was then that I carried you."