They are the rituals of the season.
We prepare for them.
First, there is The List.
It needs to be checked twice, not because of any moral judgements made about the recipients but because inaccuracy or inattention to detail could lead to disappointment, masked behind polite gratitude.
Beware of the well-intended surprise. While the thought counts, getting it right counts more.
A little girl encouraged to write a thank-you note to her great aunt for her Christmas gift couldn’t help betraying some lack of enthusiasm.
“Dear Auntie, thank you for the pin cushion. I always wanted a pin cushion, but not very much”.
Then there’s the wrapping paper – bow and ribbons and making it look nice under the tree. I’ve never learned to wrap presents so God gave me daughters. Or is it because God gave me daughters that I’ve failed to master the fine art of gift-wrapping?
They’ve usually helped me shop. They always seem to know what Mom wants – and doesn’t. Now two of our girls have married and moved away and I’m pretty much on my own.
Which brings me to a third ritual of this most wonderful time of the year. Try as you might, you may still not quite nail it.
Save the Receipt.
We all know that the day after Christmas is one of the busiest times at Customer Service. Beth has been known to tell me how much she likes her gift – just before she sweetly asks, “Did you save the receipt?”
Gifts and Christmas. The peas and carrots of the season.
The wise men came from the east bearing gifts when they visited Jesus as a little boy. We assume there were three because they opened their treasure chests and “gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2: 11, NLT). Three gifts, perhaps three kings – or royal astrologers, as we think they were.
This began the tradition we hallow today.
Sometimes it’s easy to get preoccupied with gift-giving and getting.
We can lose sight of the Gift of Gifts.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul, in the midst of his exhortations about giving to those in need, reminded the believers in Corinth that they were forever indebted – and blessed – by the greatest gift of all.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (II Corinthians 9:15, KJV).
We usually associate this word with something so vile – so horrible and dreadful – as to be unmentionable. It’s not that we couldn’t describe it but it would be too painful to do so. It remains unspeakable.
The King James Version of the Bible has something quite the opposite in mind in Paul’s declaration.
The Gift of whom Paul writes is Jesus Christ and the salvation he died to bring.
In the Greek language in which the original New Testament was written, there are usually several English words – adjectives – needed to accurately and fully describe the Greek meaning.
Other translations render “unspeakable” as “indescribable”.
Paul tells us that the gift of salvation through Christ Jesus is so wonderful and joyous – so amazing, mysterious, incredible and gloriously beautiful – as to be beyond mere words.
Adjectives won’t suffice. Superlatives wilt in its presence.
The Amplified Bible draws out the Greek meaning:
“Now thanks be to God for His Gift, precious beyond telling – His indescribable, inexpressible, free Gift!”
Words cannot do justice to the meaning of Christmas.
Man has poured out his passions in telling the story of the birth of the Savior. He has delved deeply into his own heart and mind and drawn out all the eloquence within him. He has tapped the very depths of his literary genius and creativity.
For centuries humankind has reached the boundaries of its own divine image in trying to give understanding to the magnitude of the incarnation and nativity – and the emotions they call forth.
Hymn writers, poets, authors, and preachers have left us a distinguished body of powerful and moving work about the birth of Christ.
Paul still calls God’s Gift unspeakable.
The angels sang in their joyous announcement to the shepherds. But when those poor shepherds came to Bethlehem thy could only bow and worship. So too later with the royal visitors from the east.
For us, the holy night of the Savior’s birth remains silent in its beauty and profundity.
This is what Paul must have meant when he called God’s Gift “unspeakable’’.
Sometimes words fail us. Our minds think and our hearts feel but in the end the words are inadequate.
We can barely take it in.
God’s Gift of His Son is unspeakable in its love. For God so loved us that he gave his only Son.
God’s Gift is unspeakable in its sacrifice. God would see his Son despised and rejected with an unimaginable and indescribable suffering as he bore the sins of the world. Our sins.
God’s Gift is unspeakable in its access. It cannot be earned, only received. Whoever believes will be forgiven and accepted. One divine size fits all.
God’s Gift is what we need and what we want and what we’ll cherish for all eternity. It will never be reclaimed, recalled or returned.
The only receipt is the blood of our Savior.
In our silence let us reflect on the beauty and wonder of Christmas.
And give thanks for God’s unspeakable Gift.