Unwrapping Christmas #4
If you had to choose one Christmas present, and only one, which present would you pick? One wrapped in brightly colored paper with ribbons and bows or would you choose the one in The Plain Brown Wrapper?
I think most people would go for the brightly colored paper with ribbons and bows. For some reason we think all that flash and glitter means it has to better. Of course, the game show “Let’s Make A Deal” has truly shown us that outside appearance isn’t everything. You can get zonked as easily as you can win, no matter what it is that you’re trying to win.
God knows that, God knows us better than we know ourselves. That’s why God sent our Christmas gift, our Savior in a Plain Brown Wrapper.
Let’s look at the passage for this morning. Matthew 1:18-25 (NRSV)
 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.
 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.
 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife,
 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
I. THE STORY:
A. This is that never old always told story of Christmas, the birth of our Savior and how God stepped out of heaven in A Plain Brown Wrapper” we call swaddling clothes.
That’s not what everyone was expecting. For years the Israelites had been praying Isaiah 64:1-2 (NRSV) “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!”
That’s who they asked for when they prayed. They’d lived under the oppression of Rome for years and before that Syria, Assyria, Babylon the list goes on. The little nation of Israel, no bigger than the area between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Houston sat at a strategic crossroads of at least two of the ancient Trade Routes. And the Dead Sea was rich in salt and minerals. Believe it or not, Salt was more valuable than gold or silver. Why? Well salt was used for more than one thing. It has great curative powers, it was used to clean out wounds. Then there are its preserving qualities, salted meats and of course how it enhances the flavor of so many good foods.
The Israelites wanted the skies to open up and the mighty hand of God to reach out and smack somebody. They wanted a warrior Messiah who would set them free once again and make Israel the great nation it was under King David. They wanted this Messiah to storm in from the heavens with all the special effects the kind of which would put Steven Spielberg to shame; the kind which would cause the whole world to tremble and fall to its knees.
But that’s not what God did. God sent the Messiah, the most precious gift ever given in the Plain Wrapping of our human existence. God quietly stepped out of heaven and was born of a woman because God knew that the best gifts always come in the smallest packages wrapped in plain brown paper.
A. God always seems to do the unexpected. God chooses the least likely, the least qualified, the smallest, the weakest, the sinner all of those packages that are wrapped in plain brown paper. God takes their plain ordinary selves and does extraordinary things. I mean, really, how can a baby save the world?
Sometimes we forget that this Plain Brown Wrapper, this baby Jesus, was none other than God himself. And while we try to fill the emptiness and shallowness of our lives with piles and piles of things under the tree, this child, this infant born through a very Special Delivery was – is – and always will be none other than our Special Deliverer, our Savior. The only one who can fill that God sized hole in our hearts and lives.
No matter what we get for Christmas, there will never be anything as wonderful or as complete as this gift from God. Who would have thought it could be this wonderful? God stepped out of the heavens and into a manger and wrapped himself in the body of a helpless baby, making a place in every heart, just to show how much we are loved.
B. And because of this Special Delivery in a Plain Brown Wrapper, everything changed, nothing can or ever will be the same again. Especially how we relate to God and to each other. This infant who both melts and challenges our hearts and souls and spirits; this child changes everything. We can’t go about business as usual if we believe this unbelievable story that God became one of us. It calls for more than just a nod of the head. It challenges us to live as Jesus lived.
A few years ago friend of mine shared with me that the families in her church were involved in the Christmas program. One family had opportunity to tell the Christmas story. During practice, the little girl who was telling the story kept referring to Mary, not as the Virgin Mary but as the “Urchin Mary”.
That is so true. We know the details of the birth. There was no room in the Inn when Joseph and Mary got to Bethlehem. Like homeless urchins, they were turned out in the cold. The same thing happens every night all over the world. That’s why Jesus cared about and calls us to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.
This infant Son of God changes everything. Everything about His birth was a special delivery and it began in a Plain Brown Wrapper. That’s the transforming power of this season. That’s what brings out the best in us. Look at what you did for the Angel Tree Families and Friends. And think about all those phantom cookies you bought last week; that money is going to go a long way to help the poor and needy. You helped the youth raise enough money to buy 7 bicycles. But they decided to expand their gift and from World Vision they were able to buy: 1 bicycle, 20 Ducks, 4 Chickens, 2 Rabbits, 1 Sheep, 1 Goat, $550 worth of clothes, 4 bibles and 5 fruit trees.
I think that’s awesome. Those items have become the Word Incarnate, God breathed and God filled gifts of love from God through you. They are God’s Will and God’s Grace at work in the world today. They were all wrapped and made real in the Plain Brown Wrapper of Jesus love, mercy and grace.
Mark Connelly in his classic play, GREEN PASTURES, has the angel Gabriel walk on the stage with his horn under his arm, and approach the Lord who is in deep thought. God is deeply troubled about what is happening among his people on earth. Part of the reason that God is troubled is because he has sent prophets and messengers but the people refuse to listen to them. God is troubled about humanity’s sinful ways. Gabriel offers to blow his horn, the final trumpet, and end the whole thing, but just as Gabriel is ready to blow, the Lord brushes the horn from Gabriel’s lips. Shocked, Gabriel asks the Lord about what He is going to do, who is He going to send this time. The Lord answers by saying, “I am not going to send anybody this time, I am going MYSELF.” And he did.
That’s the good news of this season. It’s the very reason for this season. God did not play it safe and remain in Heaven, receiving a computer printout on the world’s sufferings, needs and prayers like Bruce did in Bruce Almighty. God didn’t issue a memo to form a committee to work on our dilemmas. No! God left the throne and came among us. God put on mortal flesh and blood in the form of an infant. His parents weren’t married when he was conceived. And when he was born, there wasn’t any room in the Inn, so he was born in a stable behind or beneath the inn.
From the throne room of Heaven to a stable. From the throne of Grace to a manger. God put on our sinful nature, and became one of us.
With nail-scarred hands and feet, God stooped to enter our lives and bring us forgiveness and eternal life through love, mercy, grace. And it all came Wrapped in The Plain Brown Wrapper of the swaddling clothes and manger. Choose the right gift this year. Choose Christ. Don’t get distracted by the glitz and glitter of the world even at Christmas.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.