It’s almost Christmas. There are presents under the tree. The wrapping paper, pretty bows, and all of the other items that people use to decorate the gifts they will give to their loved ones are flying off the shelves so that last minute gifts can be in place for the big day. You know, when you get right down to it, all of the wrapping paper, pretty bags and such really serve just one purpose – they are meant to conceal the true contents of the package. You just can’t have folks finding out too early what you gave them for Christmas. There would be no anticipation. There would be no “give me a hint” or “Can we open just one before Christmas?” So that our secrets won’t be given away we wrap up our gifts until the time is right for little hands to shred the paper and bows and explode with excitement!
Many years ago there was a package of another kind that came special delivery to the entire world. The world was waiting in anxious expectation for the Gift. Like little children shaking packages and taking a guess, sneaking a peek when moms not around, and checking closets and garage hideaways — there was much speculation and anticipation about what the Gift would be and when it would come. Many believed, from the rumors that had started and stirred the hearts of young and old alike, that the Gift would be a King – someone to turn the nation back and deliver peace at last. The idea of the Gift being a King wasn’t just a shot in the dark, the people were paying attention to the clues they were given. Let me ask you something, “If you heard the words of the prophet Micah what conclusion would you make?” Listen and decide.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” 3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be their peace. (Micah 5:5-15 NIV)
Micah wasn’t the only one who was speaking of the coming Gift. The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the Gift. He said that there would be a sign that the people should pay attention to if they wanted to know the big day of the Gift’s arrival. Turn to Isaiah 7 and read along with me.
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 7:14 NIV)
A “ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old.” “The virgin will be with child — Immanuel.” Draw me a picture of what the Gift will look like from those clues. An old baby maybe? Are you confused yet? God gave another hint about His Gift when the prophet Jeremiah wrote about the “righteous Branch” that was on His way. Listen to these words written by Jeremiah in chapter 23.
5 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:5-6 NIV)
A branch? A baby? A ruler? Which is it? “Give me another clue Lord, please?” Those who lived before the Gift arrived had their hearts set on what they thought the Gift would be. They just knew that the Gift would be a King, a noble leader who would put an end to Israel’s oppression and domination by those around them. Someone that would put the tax collectors in their place. Someone who would thump the bullies on the head while all of the nerds and geeks looked on and laughed. Someone who could quiet the sounds of gunfire in the neighborhood and turn the drug houses into daycare centers. They expected a King who would bring peace and prosperity for all. The world was expecting a King, someone to turn things around, make things right, lift the world from its quagmire of quandaries, and bring hope, peace, and salvation at last. Many were looking, they were searching, but they never dreamed?
The one they were looking for would have to be strong, a leader above all leaders. He would have to be brilliant; who could solve the problems of the world without a mind that surpassed Einstein? He would have to possess a charisma that had never been witnessed if he was going to rally the people and lead them to a new beginning, a brighter tomorrow. Who would the leader be? What would the Savior look like? How would they recognize him? The people thought they knew what they would receive, but like so many of us, their conclusion was based more on what they wanted rather than what God knew they truly needed. One wise man once wrote,
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
God had planned, from the beginning of time, to send us a Savior. One who would deliver us from the sin that enslaves and seeks to destroy us. The people never dreamed that the Gift would be a Savior, One who would forgive and set us free from something far more powerful that this world’s evil despots, neighborhood bullies, and devilish dilatants and dictators.
The prophets had foretold the coming of the greatest gift ever given, but what the people were looking for and what was given were two completely different things. The people were expecting a gift of leadership, strength, and charisma. The people wanted to keep up with the Jones’; they wanted to be like those around them. They wanted a King, not the King of kings mind you, but a King like all of the other nations had at the time. In 1 Samuel 8:4-22 we hear the hearts of God’s people. Read along with me.
4So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” 10Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 19But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” 21When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” (1 Samuel 8:4-14; 19-22 NIV)
The people wanted a King, but God was their King. He had promised to rule over them with grace and shepherd them like no human King could ever do. He had told them what a human King would do to them, but they were determined.
Throughout history God had promised that He would send a gift for His people that would change their lives. God’s gift would bring peace, joy, release for the captive, and salvation for all who would receive it, but He would give the Gift when the time was right. The people expected the Gift to come at any minute. They wanted a strong leader, a charismatic chief who would rally the troops and overthrow their enemies. They expected a Prince on a white house, but when Christmas morning came they rushed downstairs to look under the tree and found that God had sent them a baby. A baby! The most defenseless, helpless, and dependent of all of God’s creatures?a baby. How could a baby help the people of Israel overthrow their enemies? How could a baby bring economic prosperity when he couldn’t even hold down a job? How could a baby bring peace when all he was concerned about was getting changed and fed? How could a baby??
The baby would grow up and become a man, but the people still weren’t convinced that he was such a wonderful gift. After all, Jesus was from Nazareth wasn’t He? “How can a kid from the other side of the tracks do anything to help us,” they thought. In the first century Nathanael verbalized their thoughts when he asked Phillip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Turn to John 1:43 and read along with me.
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1:43-46 NIV)
There has never been a gift that has been so masterfully concealed in all of history! Jesus didn’t announce to the world that He was the Chosen One. Nobody expected the Savior to be wrapped in humanity, packaged in a pauper’s wardrobe. Jesus Himself worked to conceal His true identity for the longest time – until the time was right. On more than one occasion, when Jesus healed someone afflicted with a debilitating ailment, performed a miracle, or heard from His Father, He would tell those present, “Don’t tell anyone.” In Matthew 17, Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration, when we read,
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:5-9 NIV)
The day came when the time was right and the Savior was revealed in all of His glory. He announced His purpose, He revealed to the people that He was the perfect gift for every generation, the Gift that keeps on giving, and since that day those who have received the Gift have shouted from the rooftops that the Gift has come! Paul wrote to the Romans and explained to them that the Gift had been concealed in ages past, but now He has been revealed as the Promised One of God. Paul wrote,
25 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him-27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. (Romans 16:25-27 NIV)
Earlier in the book of Romans, Paul had told the people that Jesus had not only come at the appointed time, but that He died at just the right time so that those who are powerless might receive power through His sacrifice on our behalf. Paul writes,
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NIV)
When the Gift was revealed so was the grace of God in all of its power and glory. Through the Gift of God’s Son, death is defeated and everlasting, eternal life is the promise for all who will believe and receive the Gift of God’s Son. God’s Gift is not for the powerful – for those who believe that they can go out and get what they want or need. God’s Gift is not for the popular who have all kinds of folks falling all over themselves to give them gifts. God’s Gift is for those who know their hopeless state and yet are willing to receive. Not for those who can reciprocate, but for those who have no ability to give anything in return. Paul wrote these powerful words to Timothy.
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:8-10 NIV)
Jesus, God’s Gift to the world for those who would believe and receive, is more than a sentimental figure to be meditated upon at Christmas. Jesus is more than a revolutionary who came to right the wrongs. Jesus is more than a wise sage who came to dispense wisdom to those who were troubled by their foolish ways. Jesus is the Gift of God, God in the flesh who came to give Himself so that people like you and me could find deliverance and salvation. Paul wrote to the folks in Colossae.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:15-22 NIV)
This Christmas, when you stop to consider the Gift of God, when you unwrap the Gift that has been given to you from the Father Himself, you will see the Lord in all of His glory and grace, in all of his majesty and might come to you to bring you salvation and hope that no present ever given could ever provide.
The Gift has been unveiled. The Gift has been revealed. Yet, in our day there are many who are calling for the veil to be placed back over the Gift and put away in a closet during the Christmas Season. I attended a “Winter Concert” at Annie’s school just a week ago. I’ve heard many stories of the Baby being removed from the manger by order of the Court system. I heard a story recently that caught my attention as to the disconnect from the real reason for this season that we are currently suffering. Let me share the story with you.
A television interviewer was walking streets of Tokyo at Christmas time. Much as in America, Christmas shopping is a big commercial success in Japan. The interviewer stopped one young woman on the sidewalk, and asked, “What is the meaning of Christmas?” Laughing, she responded, “I don’t know. Is that the day that Jesus died?” There was some truth in her answer. (Donald Deffner, Seasonal Illustrations, San Jose: Resource, 1992, p. 16.)
I want to invite you recognize the holiness of Almighty God wrapped in the humanity of Christmas morning. I want to invite you to look deep into the mystery of Christmas, the power of Christmas – that God would come to us, not demand that we go to Him, but that He would come to us – what a Gift! Martin Luther once wrote, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” (Martin Luther, Table Talk.)
I want to invite you this morning to confess your need to the Savior. Tell Him your deepest, darkest secrets – the sins that you pray no one will ever learn. Express your sorrow and deep repentance. Feel His arms of grace and mercy envelope you as you invite Him in to stay. Won’t you ask Jesus into your heart as Lord and Master this day?