The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
I’ve always been impressed by people who are really good at wrapping presents. You’ve seen them; they’re pretty much origami masters. They can do that cool thing where they cut the gift wrap without ever squeezing the scissors. The blade just sort of skates through the roll. Watch them at their craft. They can wrap anything – a pineapple, a dirt bike, a Siamese fighting fish – and make the package look like it belongs on the cover of a Hammacher Schlemmer catalogue. Their corners are tight, their coverage is uniform, their presentation is impeccable.
I am not one of those people.
For me, gift-wrapping represents an annual lesson in humility. Despite those handy guidelines on the back of the sheets, I can’t get the paper cut straight. The tape, obstinate in my hands, twists and crinkles and sticks to itself. My folding work is indistinguishable from that of an adolescent sea lion.
Worst of all is my inability to properly estimate how much paper will be required to enclose the gift before me. Half the time I take too much and end up having to mash several strata of extraneous wrap up against the box. On the other occasions I wind up just short and am forced to snip a palm-sized “patch piece” from the roll. (Without fail, the four square inches of the gift that don’t get covered are the “dead giveaway” spot on the box. The little exposed cardboard says “Wii” or “Barbie” or something like that.)
There have been seasons in my life where this handicap has moved me to consider other options. I went big for the gift bag trend. Grab one of those glossy bags with the little ropes, stick some tissue paper (failing this, a couple of Kleenex work) on top, and call it good.
But then a few years ago, I turned the corner and figured out how to do the job right. Key steps:
- Carefully select a tasteful roll of wrapping paper.
- Find a sharp grown-ups scissors (no more snub-nosed kindergarten tools for this guy!)
- Get some quality scotch tape. Do not use double-sided.
- Lay everything out on the big table at my workplace.
- Purchase bribe.
- Ask one of my secretaries to come in and do the wrapping.
I’ve been batting 1.000 ever since.
Actually, you want to know how bad I am at gift wrapping etiquette? Last year, I ran through Dollar General for a last minute roll. When I got back to my office, I discovered that I had actually purchased something called cello wrap. I now know that
a) that stuff is transparent and not likely to work as wrapping paper and
b) doesn’t work with large stringed instruments.
Gift-giving’s hard, isn’t it? And it’s not just the wrapping; before that comes the choosing. Most of us know what it’s like to have given something that has disappointed the recipient. Oh thanks…it’s an electric can opener. O thanks, it’s a gift certificate to Quaker Instant Oil change. Oh, thanks, it’s a Nickelback album. And there’s almost a cringe in saying “Thank-you.”
When people give gifts, they want a different reaction. They want to see light on the face of the recipient. The ultimate nailed-it moment in gift-giving is when you can sense the opener thinking – “This gift shows that you really do know me!”
Why did God send Jesus at Christmas? Why did the Father, the King of the Universe, send his Son into the world? Why swaddling clothes? Why flesh and blood? Why a manger?
Why? Because God understands his children perfectly, and because he came through in providing exactly what the world required – both for eternity and for today.
Redemption was only possible (credit to St. Anselm for working this out for us) by way of one who was fully divine and fully human. So God sent Jesus wrapped in flesh. In veins and in neurons and patellas and hair. In short, God sent Jesus to earth in the most hurtable form there was.
Jesus came as baby, remember. He was helpless and vulnerable. He was wrapped in the most easily-rejected form. He could have frozen to death. He could have starved. He could have been crushed at any minute. And yet he came.
In a number of his Advent messages, Tim Keller has recounted the 1964 stabbing death of Kitty Genovese in Brooklyn. According to police reports, Genovese was attacked outside of her apartment and screamed desperately toward the building for help. Though lights came on in the apartments and people looked out their windows, nobody came down to assist the woman. When interviewed later, one of the witnesses simply stated “I didn’t want to get involved.”
At Christmas, The Triune God looked at a flailing and helpless world and decided to get involved.
In the end, that involvement cost Jesus his life. Because though Jesus came unto his own, his own received him not (John 1:11). They didn’t accept the gift. They wouldn’t have what God offered. And in the end, Jesus was destroyed by a race bent on self-determination.
Church, look again at those swaddling clothes. Don’t you see what’s to come? Here at Christmas, he is wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a manger. In the blink of an eye, the Christ will be wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a tomb.
But this is what we needed. Not an advisor or coach. We needed a deliverer. We needed God wrapped in human flesh. We needed the birth that led to the death that makes for new Birth.
God gave us Jesus in human form to show us his own heart. That ours is not a God who remains above the fray. He enters the hurt. He takes on the pain.
Because of this, we worship a God who’s been there. It’s often been quipped that the worst thing about young doctors is that they’ve never been sick. Despite their natural bedside presence, there is no replacement for having been the patient themselves.
Because Jesus came to Bethlehem as a man, we never need wonder if Heaven gets us. The old hymn puts it better than I can:
Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song;
As the burdens press, and the cares distress, and the way grows weary and long ?
Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed to resist some temptation strong;
When for my deep grief I find no relief, though my tears flow all the night long ?
Does Jesus care when I’ve said, “goodbye” to the dearest on earth to me
And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks, is it aught to Him? Does He see?
Oh, yes. He cares; I know He cares His heart is touched with my grief
When the days are weary, the long nights dreary I know my Savior cares.