I love brightly wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree. However, I have found that opening a gift is even better than enjoying how pretty the package looks. The point in a gift is not the packaging – but its contents. It is not in how the gift is wrapped, but in its opening. During this week leading up to Christmas we have the opportunity to open the best Gift this world has ever known – the Gift of Jesus.
A big problem for each of us, every year, is that we tend to lose the Gift in the wrapping. Think of the line we hear dozens of times at Christmas. We say, "Giving. That's what Christmas is all about." Or we say, “Christmas is about peace . . . family . . . friendship . . . memories . . . and traditions.” I cannot recall how many times I have said, "Christmas is all about . . ." and then filled in the blank with either the wrappings, or derivatives of Christmas (which in time become the wrappings). When this happens, Jesus is lost in the wrappings.
In one of my favorite children’s sermons of all time, Susan Cutshall, a dear friend of mine, made a memorable point. She said to the group of bright-eyed little ones gathered expectantly around her at a Christmas Eve service. “Mary wrapped the very first Christmas gift.” She has it right! Luke 2:7 reads: “She gave birth to her first baby. It was a boy. She wrapped him in large strips of cloth. Then she placed him in a manger . . .” (Luke 2:7) Jesus has been present in the wrapping since the beginning!
Now that is some package, don’t you think? Mary wrapped the Baby in strips of cloth and gave him to our broken and pain-filled world. Indeed the Gift was God come to earth. Jesus is God Incarnate . . . fully human and fully divine. It is a mystery that we do not have the words to adequately describe. God chose to come from heaven to earth – for our sakes – for the world’s sake – as the perfect Gift.
Jesus is the ultimate . . . the timeless . . . the ideal Gift. He is the Gift of forgiveness sent by God to make it possible for us to know fresh starts in life. He is the Gift of grace moving in ways that transform us, others and our world. He is the Gift of strength helping us to deal with our present reality. He is the Gift of life both on earth and the other side of heaven. Plus, Jesus is so much more. What a Gift! What a God!
The Gift of Jesus inspires us to give, too. When we open the Gift our eyes see the pain around us in new ways. Our hearts feel increased compassion for the plight of those who are in need. Our commitment deepens to serve neighbor and stranger for the sake of the One who said, “I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27)
Yes, some gifts are wrapped so beautifully that they almost seem too pretty to open. We are wise to open them, though, because the purpose of a gift is found in the contents – not the wrappings. The best gift we will ever open – the one by which all others are measured – comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He was wrapped as a baby who would grow up to change the world. Indeed Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Gift who died so that we – so that all who believe in Him – might live, now and eternally. My prayer is that each one of us will experience the Gift of Jesus this Christmas in deeper ways than we ever have before. May we delight in the content of the Gift, not just in the wrappings and bows. May we open the Gift and experience changed lives.
As always, it is a privilege to serve as your bishop.
North Alabama Conference