Dr. Jim Denison
A couple of Christmases ago I wrapped Janet’s presents in birthday paper and never noticed (though she did). On Monday I received an email essay forwarded by a compassionate friend. It reads:
This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, “presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: “And lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, she saideth, ‘Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!’ And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense. ”
But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics: 1. They were wise; 2. They were men.
I wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.) If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh’s body would be covered only by Scotch tape.
On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.
My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men.
In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The really important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.
To a visitor from Mars, wrapping Christmas presents would seem strange indeed. As would the rest of the holiday. He would find it odd that we cut down trees and put them in our homes; or, even stranger, buy fake trees which look like the real thing. He’s have serious questions about the sanity of wrapping houses and trees in enough lights to land a 747. It’s an amazing time of year.
But then the miracle goes away. The wrapping paper is trashed; the trees go out by the curb or up in the attic; Santa Claus returns to the North Pole, taking Christmas with him.
Not this year. I’m praying that this year you and I will not miss the lasting, life-changing significance of this event. I’m praying that you and I will understand the true miracle of Christmas–not the toys and tinsel and trees, but the actual miracle which made possible the most significant turning point in human history.
When we remember all that really had to happen for Christmas to come, I think we will stand in awe of this miracle. And we will understand why it matters just as much to us today as it did to those who first witnessed the foundational event of all eternity.
Christmas in heaven
Before we can understand how the miracle of Christmas happened on earth, first we need to understand how it happened in heaven.
Last week we rehearsed the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 and the fact that Satan is now the unlawful god of this age. But at the very beginning of Satan’s rebellion, the true King of the Kingdom predicted his ruin: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15).
We are at “enmity” or conflict with Satan, the prince of this world. But the “offspring” of the woman will win the war. He will “strike the head” of Satan, but first Satan will “strike his heel.” He will kill the enemy, but first the enemy must kill him. Here’s why.
Our sins separated us from the holy and righteous God who is Judge of the universe. And “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). Because sin separates us from the God who is the source of all life, sin causes us to die physically, relationally, emotionally, spiritually, eternally. Just as a brick left on the lawn blocks the sun’s rays and causes the grass to die, so sin blocks the Son’s life and causes us to die. Death is the inevitable consequence and penalty of our sin.
And the only way our sin can be forgiven by a holy and just God is for its price to be paid in full.
When I hit a baseball through a neighbor’s windshield back in the sixth grade, someone had to pay for the windshield. An apology wouldn’t keep the rain out of the car. Ten dollars wouldn’t fix the glass. The debt had to be paid in full. Sin requires death.
The moment you and I sinned, we deserved to die. Our death could not pay anyone else’s debt, for we owed that debt ourselves. Only a sinless person’s death could pay for the sins of someone else. And the only sinless Person in the universe is God himself. God would have to pay the penalty. His Son would have to die. That’s why the Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8).