December 24, 2005
"The Gift Unwrapped"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
There was a Dad who decided that Christmas was going to be different this year. Dad called a family conference and challenged his family to get more into the true meaning of Christmas and not buy into the commercialism. He asked them be more mindful of their time together and to limit their spending on gifts for each other and friends. He talked about getting along and establishing a loving atmosphere in their home. Like a High School Coach just before the big game, Dad brought the speech to a crescendo with his final rally cry, "Let's make this the BEST Christmas EVER!"
His second grade son raised his hand and then said: "But dad, I don't see how we could ever improve on the first Christmas."
It's amazing how we've tried to improve on that first Christmas, isn't it? There was a little boy who was steeped in the Christmas story and loved it dearly. He was out shopping with his mother and stopped at the local toy store. There he wandered through the store, looking at everything in every department. Finally, he caught up with Mom and with a frustrated look on his face said. "I've looked everywhere. There's lots of toys but where's Jesus?"
That's the question that's on a lot of people's hearts.
Start with Video: "Where's Jesus?"
"Where's Jesus?" That's the question on God's heart tonight. I doubt that we could ever improve on what happened that first Christmas but we always try don't we. Why is that?
I think it's because, from the world's point of view, everything about that first Christmas was wrong.
First of all, it was the WRONG GIFT. If you were to ask people what they wanted for Christmas, I'll bet there wouldn't be anyone who said: "I want God to enter into human history. I want God to step out of heaven to become one of us and live among us."
Even the most devout believer probably wouldn't have asked for that. Why? Because it's too frightening. God in the flesh, wandering around messing in our affairs, expecting a relationship. As long as God's in heaven and some distant figure we don't really have to deal with it's OK. But if God becomes one of us, real flesh and blood like the rest of us, then suddenly God is real and not some theological head game. And if God is real, then the demands of God become real, too.
And who would ask for that? So, you can see why, according to the world's standards, it was the WRONG GIFT.
Besides, this Gift came at the WRONG TIME. If God were to do it all over again, NOW would be a much better time. Look at all the mass communication we've got today. Mass communication back then was a town crier or announcement at the local synagogue. Why, if Jesus had been born today we could capture the whole thing on video and broadcast it live throughout the world. We could text message everyone with cell phone, post streaming video of the angels and wise men on the internet. We could send out a spam free mass email that could be forwarded to all of our friends.
Just imagine Tom Brokaw, Wolf Blitzer and others scrambling to be the first to interview the shepherds. Of course the National Enquirer would probably have the true story of the alien visitation and the untold story of Jesus twin brother but we'd ignore that like all the rest.
Imagine a play by play description of the wise men bringing their gifts, the description of their gifts, pop up links to further information on the use of Frankincnse and Myrrh and spread sheet on the value of gold in every world market. And we'd finally get answered the age old question of just how many wise men there actually were. Three? Five? Eleven? Did they really ride camels? Oh and think of the astronomy and astrology lessons we would receive. Every stargazer in the world would suddenly became an overnight celebrity.
We'd see Jesus' first smile, hear his first giggle and watch him take his first steps. We'd know what happened between the birth and his trip to the Temple. And we could find out just what he did for the next 18 years before starting his preaching ministry.
And think of the message of Jesus. The sermon on the mount could have been heard by the entire world, live, with limited commercial interruptions.
So, you can see why, according to the world's standards, this gift came at the WRONG TIME.
Not only that but this Gift came in the WRONG PACKAGE. Who'd a thunk it? As somebody said. Jesus as a baby. God wrapped up in the fragile innocence of infant flesh. In our super charged, super size me world, we'd want something or someone bigger. A God with a "mighty hand and an outstretched arm!" as the prophets said. A God with his dukes up ready for a good brawl! A turbo- charged, beefed up, hard body, no nonsense, take charge, "The Force be with you!" kind of God.
Not a baby. What kind of God announces his coming, puts everybody on hold until their expectations are high and then comes as an infant who makes us wait until he grows up. We want something or someone who will turn the world upside down, now. Not in thirty years.
So, you can see, according to the world's standards, this Gift came in the WRONG PACKAGE.
THE WRONG GIFT, THE WRONG TIME, THE WRONG PACKAGE. Not only that but this Gift came THROUGH THE WRONG PEOPLE.
Joseph was a nobody. Oh, sure he was a distant relative of King David but so was Mary and probably half of the Jews in Israel at the time. My wife Mary is a distant relative of Charlemagne and I treat her like a queen but that doesn't make her royalty.
These were ordinary, everyday folks. That's just wrong. Shouldn't the Son of God, the Savior have come from a more established, well thought of and well known family than that of a carpenter from Nazareth? Think of all the families Jesus could have been born into today that would have prepared him in the best schools and synagogues possible. Mary and Joseph were nobodies.
According to the world's standards, this Gift came THROUGH THE WRONG PEOPLE.
And finally, according to the world's standards, this Gift came TO THE WRONG PEOPLE.
Who do you give Christmas presents to? Friends, family, loved ones, people you care about and people who care about you. Sure we give to those less fortunate through our Tree of Angels but we don't normally give them to strangers from foreign lands or people we think untrustworthy with bad reputations. But that's exactly who God gave the first Christmas gifts to.
First there were the Wise men. They weren't Jews. They may not have all even been from the same country. They were foreigners. Goya, non Jews. And God told them first and even lighted the highway for them. God had to because they had that long trek following the star.
And then the Angel told shepherds in their field watching their sheep. They sound safe enough, don't they? David was a shepherd. But what we forget is that in the world of that time, faithful Jews were warned by their rabbis against entering six professions. One of those forbidden professions was being a shepherd.
Conscientious Pharisees would never consider doing business with a shepherd! They'd buy wool and milk, but never directly from a shepherd. Shepherds weren't allowed to give testimony in court. Not only that but shepherds weren't permitted to enter the temple or the synagogue. Why?! Well, there were some pretty good reasons.
For one thing, shepherds were constantly walking among the droppings of the sheep, and that made them religiously unclean.
Secondly, shepherds tended their sheep throughout the countryside, without paying any attention to property lines. In other words, they were constantly trespassing.
And there' more, because they were on other people's property, shepherds were considered to be thieves. They ran the local black market! Nobody loved a shepherd! Shepherds were liars and thieves who'd steal you blind. They were dirty, disgusting and despised. And if Willie Nelson had written the song back then it would've been: "Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be shepherds!"
According to the world's standards, this Gift came TO THE WRONG PEOPLE.
But as we unwrap this Gift of God, we look at it and realize that by God's standards and to our advantage, everything about that very first Christmas was perfect.
God coming in human flesh, was the RIGHT GIFT. God came as "one of us. Just a slob like one of us." As Joan Osbourne said in her song. And that was the Perfect gift.
Given at the RIGHT TIME. I mean really. Look what we would do with it now. Instead, God chose a simple time, where like a seed, like a baby, the Word could grow and bear fruit and not become a circus.
And it came in the RIGHT PACKAGE. One of the things that draws us to this story is that God loves us so much that God became vulnerable like one of us by sending His Son. And what melts a heart more than a baby? We all go a little nuts making faces and silly sounds, carrying on like simpletons whenever we see a baby. This gift came in the RIGHT PACKAGE.
And God sent this Gift THROUGH THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Not everyone would have had the faith to listen to God through the Angels and then carry out God's plan in such a humble way.
And God sent this Gift TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE. If the Shepherds, with the reputation they had and the Wise men, who weren't even locals, could receive this magnificent Gift from God, then that means it's available to us as well.
What a confluence of events, time, characters and attributes. The Perfect Recipe for Salvation wrapped up, not in wrapping paper, but in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.
Show Video: "Missing From Christmas"
This year make sure you have a Perfect Christmas. Unwrap and Celebrate the GIFT that came as the RIGHT GIFT, AT THE RIGHT TIME, IN THE RIGHT PACKAGE, THROUGH THE RIGHT PEOPLE, TO THE RIGHT PEOPLE.
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