This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Wonder of Jesus' Birth". See series.
Since the Christmas season began, one word has fallen from our lips more than any other. Maybe you haven't stopped to think about which word that was. I don't think it's the word joy or carol or tree or food. I think it's the word gift. If you listen in on conversations in shopping malls and on parking lots around this country of ours, I'm sure you'll hear the word mentioned several times in one conversation. We have lists of gifts we hope to buy. Some have lists of gifts they hope to receive. One of my children every year presents me with a single-spaced, typewritten sheet listing the gifts I may wish to get or not. Then I also am given a list of absolute gifts that are not optional.
I'd like you to turn first to the favorite Christmas verse of mine: 2 Corinthians 9:15. Because it is not found in the setting related to the nativity scene, we often don't think of it in light of Christmas. I think it ought to appear on every Christmas card. I think it describes, in terms that really beggar description, the gift of God to us. "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" Now that verse arrests our attention. It certainly should. It's written by a brilliant man who trained under Gamaliel, a rabbi: Saul of Tarsus, who was well respected in his day. He was a keen thinker. He had a broad vocabulary. He was a master of the Greek language. He was a capable communicator. More of his writings appear in the New Testament than anyone else, and, save Jesus Christ, he is probably the greatest theological mind that has ever come into existence. And yet he pauses when he comes to this simple four-letter word "gift" and says it is indescribable. As he dips into the treasure of his knowledge, he cannot find one word that could prefix the word gift. He is suddenly and completely at a loss to express himself. So he simply says it's indescribable.
Paul chooses a term that is used nowhere else in all of Scripture. We would say in our day he coined a word. Maybe you didn't know it, but Paul Harvey was the one who coined the word skyjacking to describe something that happens in the air when a person decides to kidnap an airplane. Paul of Scripture coins the word indescribable unable to be declared. Why is it indescribable? Why is this gift too awesome for words? I mean, after all, it's just a baby. Well let me say that if his had been an ordinary conception and if he had been an ordinary infant, there would have been nothing indescribable about him, just like any other baby. Because he was neither, this brilliant man says it's indescribable.
Turn for a moment back to Luke 2:6. Dr. Luke continues his account much like a physician would fill out a report. Almost a matter of-fact manner: "Came about that while they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths. She laid him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn." Here they were in a stable surrounded by a few animals and straw, and for the first time in all of time she looks at God face to face! Standing nearby was a bewildered man who had nothing to do with the conception. He did not even at that moment know that woman intimately. I am convinced Joseph had not put it all together. He had simply believed the word of the angel: "What has happened to this woman to whom you are betrothed is of God. Believe me. Believe God." And he did. Simple-minded carpenter, he stood back in amazement. She gave birth and she placed him in a feeding trough. But first, please observe, she wrapped him.
For some reason this year I have been caught up in the wrapping of God's gift. Now there are some gifts that seem to have the anticipation heightened by the wrapping. And some people seem to have a lot of fun wrapping. They put one box after another inside one box after another, each one carefully wrapped with ribbon to bring you from one massive gift down to a tiny ring. And who hasn't had that experience. And some gifts you cannot seem to hide even though you wrapped them carefully. I'll never forget trying to wrap a grandfather clock, but it chimed and gave it away. One time when the children were very small, I gave them a little basset hound puppy, and I wrapped it in a box early that morning. It gave itself away-not only by the noise but by the smell. I'll never forget my all-time greatest disappointment at Christmas. It had to do with wrapping again. I had my heart set on a basketball. I'd longed to bounce this basketball and to shoot baskets there on the garage. Like every other kid in America, I looked forward to it. My mother was otherwise convinced. Not nearly as interested in sports as she was in my education, she put together a box that looked just like a basketball except it was a world globe when I opened it up. Ever try to shoot baskets with a globe? It doesn't even bounce!
The baby Jesus comes wrapped in prophecy
How do you wrap an indescribable gift? What material do you use? I don't have reference to a physical body. She wrapped him in cloth. She came prepared for that. I suggest that you wrap this gift very strangely. First you wrap him in prophecy. God doesn't just suddenly drop Jesus Christ out of heaven to earth. I mean he prepares man for his coming hundreds of years ahead of time. Listen to a few.
Turn to Isaiah-the prince of the prophets-chapter 7. Isaiah 7:14-how familiar. "Therefore Jehovah himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call his name God With Us." You wrap something indescribable in something as powerful as prophecy and you have people anticipating his arrival. Chapter 9, verse 6: A child will be born to us-Israel listen; Zion be ready. Heaven will give us a son. What will be his name? Well, the government will rest on his shoulders. His name will be called Wonder of a Counselor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Shalom Prince. There will be no end to the increase of his government or of his peace on the throne of David or over his kingdom to establish it, to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forever more.
To whom would that refer if it is not Messiah? No one fits that description except the indescribable Gift. The Jews held on to those prophecies down through time. Don't forget chapter 11, one of my favorites: A shoot will spring up from the stem of Jesse-just a branch. A branch from it's roots will bear fruit. And the spirit of the Lord will rest on him. He will be distinct. He will be unique. Upon him will be the spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and strength-the spirit of knowledge and the fear of Jehovah. He will delight in the fear of Jehovah. He will not judge by what his eyes see nor make a decision by what his ears hear. With righteousness he will judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth. This Hebrew poetry is beautiful. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips will he slay the wicked. It's all intensified. Righteousness will be his belt. Faithfulness will be about his waist. Look at the beauty of that prophecy. Here we have a gift that comes through the womb of the Virgin Mary, but ahead of time, there was a prophet that said, "Righteousness will mark his life-godliness, the fear of Jehovah. He will with fairness judge the poor and the rich alike. He will be like none other." But his presence, well, don't be surprised. Don't think that the wrapping hides something that appears fantastic. He's just a shoot, just a stem, just a branch.
Turn to Isaiah 53. Isaiah is at a loss. He's asking who will believe this message? He's living among a people of unclean lips. He knows his times. He says: "Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Who's waiting on tiptoes for the coming of the Messiah? Describe him for us, Isaiah. He will grow up before him like a tender shoot, like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon him. Nor appearance that we should be attracted to him. That isn't what made Jesus Christ significant. He looked like any other Jew of his day. As a boy he looked like any other carpenter's son. His appearance had nothing majestic about it. There was no shining glow about him. It was God who came in the form of a man, don't forget, not man in the form of God. He drove a nail just like anyone else. He worked with wood like anyone else. He wasn't a man from whose hands fell miracles until his ministry began. He was just another man from the outward experience or the outward appearance. Why, he was despised and forsaken, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We did not esteem him. How do you wrap an indescribable gift? You wrap him in this kind of honest prophecy.
You prepare the heart of people for an indescribable gift by wrapping him in the prophecy of Micah 5:2: "As for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah …" from you Bethlehem-it's time to be ready from your territory, from your streets-from you Bethlehem, little Bethlehem, one will go forth for me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from eternity. Can you imagine a rabbi looking through the text, reading through the scrolls of Micah and coming across chapter 5, verse 2. Can you imagine looking through the text and reading here this prophesy and rubbing his beard and thinking, My, he will come from Bethlehem! But you see we've got a little bit of a problem. We've got a couple that lives in Nazareth, and this says they will come from Bethlehem.
The baby Jesus comes wrapped in history
Turn from here to Galatians, chapter 4, will you. Because with this indescribable gift, you must also wrap him in history. Prophecy, being what it is, must have its way woven into history. And that's God's job, and he is a master at it. He is sovereign over our times; he knows what he's about. And so he begins to weave history together so it dovetails right into prophecy. Skeptics scoff at that-laugh-calling us foolish to believe such a thing. But just listen. Just listen. Galatians 4:4-"When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, that he might buy back those who were under the law." Now wait; study the words "fullness of the time"-exactly on schedule, precisely as it could have been and at no better time would it occur. When all of the things seemed to fit perfectly together-into that mesh for his coming-a woman got pregnant, a baby began to be formed. You wrap this gift in history. You understand then, you must have a language that people can use to convey his message, and they didn't have one since Babel. The world was filled with multiple languages. There was no linguistic rifle that could be shot from one place and understood at another. It was a collage. And so in history there came along a man named Alexander the Great who formulated a language that became common, koine Greek. So that could be a precise language, that would put together that which would otherwise be abstruse, clearly understood in printed form for the world to read. They had a language. Well if you've got a language and if you've got a message to convey, you need roads to travel on to get the message out. And history tells us Rome built the roads. They had paved roads for the first time in all of time, thanks to Rome. That's the way God works, even on highways. Paved roads that tie east with west, that's part of the fullness of the time. But what about the politics of those days? Well, you had a very unusual situation. You had a census required out of the blue. That required a man who found his roots down in Bethlehem to go literally, physically, to sign that census back to his county seat. And it so happened this man had been engaged to this woman, and they made that little trek down to Bethlehem right about the time of her term. That's how you wrap an indescribable gift. You wrap Him in undeniable history.
Jay Kesler writes a good word in his fine book I Never Promised You a Disneyland:
"Most people, when they think of Christmas, think of camels, swaddling cloths, and a manger. But I think of a Ford Motor plant. One year I toured a plant and watched them assemble cars. It was an eye opener. I'd always had the idea Ford would guess how many cars they needed and make that many. Now they decided to make green cars one day and they'd make two or three thousand. Then they'd switch to some other color. But of course that's not the way they do it. All over America, people walk into Ford dealerships, look around, kick a few tires, and then order a car, a certain model with specific equipment, color, roof, transmission. The dealer fills out a computer card, and then an order is placed with Ford. In one city they make the correct transmission. In another city they make vinyl roofs. And in another mirrors. All these places start feeding their products toward the Ford plant. The Ford plant has a man who puts on steering wheels. The cars come down the lines, and when the green cars come, you can bet he doesn't get a red steering wheel to put on. At exactly the right time the green steering wheels are there. He reaches out and grabs one and sticks it on. That's what happens with each part. The mirror, the roof, the seat covers-every part shows up at precisely the right instant. "Now if man is capable of designing such an ingenious system to bring thousands of events and people together with precision timing just to make a car, well imagine what God can do in preparing his visit to earth! That's what I think of at Christmas. The number of things God brought together at one time in one place and so incredible, it makes the Ford plant look like the corner gas station."
Some people have the idea that Jesus was a remedial action, a last-minute Band-Aid stuck on a wounded world; God had tried everything else, so he decided to try his son. Awww, the Bible says Jesus came in the fullness of time and everything was as fully prepared for him as possible. All the pieces of history fell together. God's preparation was staggering. You wrap an indescribable gift in history and you bring him at just the right time.
The baby Jesus comes wrapped in mystery
But you can't leave out the mystery. If you took away the mystery there's nothing indescribable about him. You have a prophetic word from Isaiah and from Micah and from Zephaniah and from Zechariah and from Malachi and from John the Baptizer and a host of others, saying, "Messiah's coming; be ready. God's gift is about to be delivered without compensation. History is unfolding." The Roman world comes into power and pushes Israel down like a boot stepping on soil. And Israel wonders and screams that that Messiah will come in bright, shining armor on a white horse overthrowing Rome. No, not on your life. This one comes in mystery. What's the mystery about that baby? I can think of a couple of things right away. I think first of God's becoming visible in human form. We're used to those words, but it had never been before and it will never be again. What's God to do? He has his son in spirit form and yet he is to pay the price for the sins of the world. How does that ineffable presence of deity come to this earth and not be contaminated yet by fully man? That's the mystery of it all. The Father God, the Son, the Spirit, co-eternal, co-existent, co-equal, come to this indescribable decision. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us," writes John. God became man. Let me put on the hat of a theologian for a moment. Undiminished deity took upon himself perfect humanity and, linking the two natures together in one personality housed in one unique body, the God-man was delivered. No less deity. No less humanity in one person, in one body. That is a mystery.
Did anyone ever say it any better than Charles Wesley? "Christ, by highest heavens adored; Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold him come, offspring of the virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel." Strangely wrapped-in history, in prophecy, and in mystery. Well, then, something this awesome, something this stupendous had to have some kind of heavenly ad campaign to make it right. I mean, there had to be some kind of earth-splitting or sky-splitting sound or some kind of incredible ancient camera work. But could you imagine what we would have done with the birth-our hype and all the stuff that we do to make those kinds of things known? I've got news for you: We wouldn't even have known about it, Gentiles that we are. Nor would we have cared. Just another baby born in the Middle East. No, this baby was silently delivered. The nursery was a common stable. The cradle was a feeding trough. The first cries were heard only by a mother who was cleaning him up, a bewildered man who stood in the entrance watching it all happen, and a few little animals.
When God finally did decide to make it known, he slipped out into the countryside and he chose a few Bedouin types. Never once are they even named—a bunch of no-account shepherds—because you see it was to no-account people that Jesus came; to sinners, just people who deserve hell and, were it not for his grace, would spend eternity there. But here are some shepherds out in the field watching their flocks that night. Try to picture it. Verse 9: "An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them; and they were terribly frightened," and you and I would have been also. And I've always been amazed at this verse. "The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.' " The middle of the night, expecting nothing, and all of a sudden this angel appears and says, "Don't be afraid; I bring you news from God." What in the world is he going to say? Watch what he says: It's "good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people. Today, in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you …"
This is how God has put his gift together. He's not a grown man; he's a little baby. He's not a knight in shining armor; he's a little baby. He's tucked away in a feeding trough, in a manger, just over the hill. Just a baby. And he's lying in a manger wrapped in cloth—and mystery and history and prophecy. And then this angel is interrupted by a host. I want you to help me read the next verse. Clear your throat, now. We're going to say it like an angel would say it. For some of us that's hard to do. In this case, I think it was nice and loud. Verse 14, nice and loudly, ready? Do it. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." They heard that that night. It had never been heard before and will never be heard again by the angels in that place, but they heard it that night. Now look at what they did: "It came about when the angels had gone away to heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, 'Let's go straight to Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.' " There was no doubt. There was no unbelief. There was no mockery. There wasn't one of them who said, "I can't believe that. You guys go if you want to; I'm staying here with the sheep." No one said that. They came in haste. They found their way to Mary and Joseph and the baby as it lay in the feeding trough. And when they had seen this, what did they say? Did they put it in their own words? No, it's indescribable. They could only quote what they'd been told. See verse 17? "They made known the statement which had been told them about this child." Of course. You try to put it in your words. They won't work.
That's why the Christmas story is to be repeated in God's words time after time after time. Because that's the only way men and women will believe the prophecy and history and mystery that surrounds that baby. Would you believe that we have people today still waiting for the baby to come? Would you believe that we have folks who think the messiah is on this earth and will soon reveal himself? Stop looking for another messiah. Stop anticipating another gift, another answer, another provision from God for the needs of your life. You have him. Your problem is that you've just rejected him. He's here. I have no original message. I just come like a wandering Bedouin out of the field, saying, "The gift has arrived. Take him."
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Charles Swindoll is pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, the Bible teacher on the radio program Insight for Living, and a best-selling author.