The Gift Beyond Words
by John Larsson, General –
Are you behind with getting your Christmas cards sent off? If so, you will sympathize with the woman who rushed into the card shop just before Christmas, snapped up a packet of 50 identical cards, signed 49 of them, ran to the post office, and managed to get them into the last mail. It was only as she returned home that she looked more closely at the one remaining card in her hand. To her horror she discovered that the main text read:
There were 49 disappointed people that Christmas!
But long before the first Christmas, God, through the prophets, had been sending out many such cards. Their message was always the same: “A gift is on the way!”
“The virgin will be with child,” they proclaimed, “and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)—God with us! “For to us a child is born,” they said, “to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Rejoice! A gift is on the way!
And at the first Christmas there was no disappointment. As the day dawned, the gift arrived just as the prophets had said it would.
But not only did the gift arrive. To those with the eyes of faith the gift exceeded all expectation. The prophets had created huge anticipation. But not in their wildest imagination had their hearers thought that the promises would be fulfilled in the way they were.
Gifts are doubly precious when they exceed our expectation. When my wife, Freda, and I served in Chile our two young sons attended an American school. They learned American history and geography, their friends were American, and they even spoke like Americans! Their great dream was to visit the USA one day and see it for themselves. And—unbeknown to them—the opportunity for us to spend some days there as a family suddenly opened up when Karl was 11 and Kevin was 10.
Freda and I decided we would make the visit a special Christmas present that year. We wrote on a card: “A special gift—a visit to the USA next summer,” put it in a small box, and covered the box with Christmas paper. We then put that box inside a bigger box, padding out the space with crunched newspaper, then covered that box, too, with Christmas paper. We repeated the procedure with an even bigger box, and then again and again and again—until the final box was bigger than the boys themselves. We put the giant box by the Christmas tree some days before Christmas. It was clearly labeled “To Karl and Kevin.” And the process of guessing its contents began!
We saw them lifting up the box, checking its weight, wondering what it could possibly contain, making wild guesses. Huge parcels create huge expectations—and we could see it happening. And then Christmas arrived. Ignoring all the other unopened gifts, at the appointed hour the boys headed straight for the monster box and began tearing off the Christmas paper. They were a bit surprised to find that inside the box was a smaller one that also needed opening—and another and another. But they soon got the idea. Their excitement and expectation kept growing—but as the boxes got smaller and smaller I began to detect a note of anxiety in their reactions. Perhaps the gift wasn’t so special after all. I even wondered for a moment whether we had overdone the drama.
But then they reached the small final box. They opened it, took out the card, read it, looked at us—and then went wild! They let out whoops of joy! They jumped up and down! And as we told them of the places we would visit in the USA their joy and excitement knew no bounds. They wanted to share the news with their friends as soon as possible. Never in their wildest imagination had they thought that the box would contain such a gift. The gift had exceeded their greatest expectations!
It was just like that on the first Christmas morning when the gift of God to the world was revealed. Through their words, the prophets had built up immense anticipation. But that God’s gift to the world would be his one and only Son exceeded all expectation. The angels went wild with joy. “Glory to God in the highest,” they sang. The shepherds glorified and praised God. And the world rejoiced. For the gift was literally “Immanuel—God with us!’”
Paul was not known for being short of words. But when he later reflected on what had happened on that Christmas morning, he could only exclaim: “Thanks be to God for his gift beyond words!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 New English Bible). Jesus—God’s indescribable gift! Jesus—God’s gift that exceeded all expectation!
General of The Salvation Army
(Note: All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version except where indicated)