2Cor9v15: GOD'S INDESCRIBABLE GIFT
Paul wrote in his second epistle to the Corinthians: Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift. "Cor9v15. He was of course referring to Jesus. I am going to use this verse as the basis of my short Christmas day meditation. To do so I will examine what makes an indescribable gift. I think that it must have at least four characteristics. It must be:
(B) Both needed and wanted.
There are lots of presents you might want but don't really need. This could be said of most of the top 50 Christmas gifts featured in the Daily Telegraph including gold wellies from Hunter, A to Z bookends and five fingered shoes.
As a child I received presents I undoubtedly needed but didn't want. My great aunt Lilla and great aunt Hattie invariably bought me and my brothers either socks or handkerchiefs for Christmas - and to add insult to injury I had to write a thank you letter for them! We can all understand Anna Maxted's indignation on being given by a friend, Benefit's Jiggle Gel Body Lotion - that's "fab on flab." She had made the mistake of whining to a girl friend about her wobbly bottom! Ann may have needed the Jiggle Gel but she didn't want it and never used it.
The problem the church faces is that whereas everyone needs Jesus as Saviour so few seem to want him. It is just too humiliating to accept that we need help with our lives!
One of the most memorable episodes of the American comedy series, 'Fraser,' was shot with Christmas in view. Dr Fraser Crane, the Seattle psychiatrist, was looking forward to having his son, Freddy, for the festive season. He discussed with his father, Marty, the presents he had bought for Freddy - a chemistry set, model brain and encyclopaedia. Fraser had bought what he thought his son needed and Marty was far from impressed. When Freddy arrived on Christmas Eve it was clear what he expected for Christmas - a Dalek, electronic voice changer mask. (Something like that anyway!) Of course, Fraser set off to buy one - but he was too late. In the evening Fraser and Marty exchanged presents. They never, ever managed to buy what the other wanted! Fraser opened his father's present - without much hope - and it was a Dalek, electronic voice changer mask. He was overjoyed! It was what he needed to make Freddy happy and so it was also something he desperately wanted. The tearful gratitude with which he thanked his father was very touching.
All over the world men and women meet together on Christmas morning to express their joy because God's gift of the baby at Bethlehem has both met their deepest need and their most desperate want - that is why for millions Jesus is God's indescribable gift.
(C) Costly but free.
I once received an indescribable gift. It was one unspeakably bad! The form I had looked after for three years at Debenham High School was due to leave. I overheard a group of girls discussing a leaving present. One of them said, "Well, we will have to give him something." They presented me with a carrier bag full of one of the girl's father's unwanted neckties - and they hadn't even been washed! The ties were free but they cost my pupils nothing. It was, I think, the biggest insult I ever received as a teacher.
It reminds me of the story I read on the internet. A man bought his wife a beatiful diamond ring for Christmas. His friend said, "I know diamond's are allegedly a girl's best friend but didn't she say she wanted one of those sporty - 4 - wheel drive vehicles."
"She did," the husband replied, "But where am I going to find a fake Jeep."
A really costly gift is one that we cannot afford to buy ourselves. There is only a limited supply of really expensive presents. They are not widely available. There are not many paintings by Van Goth out there.
In 1948 a commemorative postage stamp was issued in the United States. On it were the faces of four American chaplains. The four men had been appointed to minister to the spiritual needs of 900 servicemen travelling to Europe in the SS Dorchester in 1942. The ship was torpedoed as it crossed the Atlantic. The troops scrambled on deck - many of them leaving their lifebelts behind in the panic. The four chaplains found a box full of lifebelts and began to distribute them. When the box was empty they took of their own lifebelts and handed them out. Those lifebelts were costly gifts. None of the servicemen who received one could possibly have paid for it. Yet notwithstanding the tremendous sacrifice of the four chaplains they were only able to save four lives.
Jesus is a unique and costly gift. At Christmas we rejoice that God gave his one and only Son to be the Saviour of mankind. It is a wonderful truth that he is freely available to all. The chorus I used to sing in Sunday school says it all:
Shall everlasting life receive.
This year I received a very nice gift - rather different from that bag full of ties! My cricket club presented me with a painting of the ground done by my niece, Beccy, to mark my retirement from playing. Most people would agree that this is a present worth having. There is no other painting like it - just a limited edition of one - done just for me.
Now it is a very fine painting and gives me great pleasure but I think there is a lot to be said for massed produced gifts that are capable of personal application.
When Johnny Kingdom was depressed a friend gave him a second hand video camera. There were lots of the same model about. But the video camera changed Johnny Kingdom's life. It rescued him from depression and it allowed him to express his love for Exmoor and its wildlife.
There are many objects like the massed-produced video camera - a mouthorgan, football, microscope, digital camera and in certain circumstances the humble pencil and paper can all be personalised - put by the individual to unique use.
Jesus is a gift like the video camera rather than the painting. He is universally available. Jesus is not special by being restricted to the few. He is very special because the relationship each believer has with Jesus is unique. It can be developed and expressed in innumerable different ways. Jesus inspires some to great art, others to inspirational music, still others to design building of staggering beauty, hundreds to found charities and millions to many small, individual acts of self-sacrifice and devotion. That is why he is an indescribable gift.
(E) Thrills the recipient and the giver.
In the Daily Telegraph of Monday Nov 30th 2009 Anna Maxted described the reaction of 38-year-old Samantha Marks, an economist from Muswell Hill, London, to the gift of a coat that made her look like a brown bear. She told the friend who gave it to her that it, "Wasn't her style." Samantha assumed the friend would appreciate her honesty. Not quite!! The gift giver was so offended at the recipient's lack of grace that the friendship faltered.
In giving a gift you give part of yourself and by rejecting the coat, Samantha Marks rejected her friend.
I have to say that it is not often a gift is received that thrills the donor and the recipient in equal measure. At a recent Christmas service Edward Markquart pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, preached in a baggy red sweater. It was over 40 years old. The sleeves were six inches too long. It was knitted using number 14 or 24 knitting needles and so was almost unbearably heavy and warm. Yet Pastor Markquart said that if his house burned down this would be the one article of clothing he would try and rescue because it was one of his most valuable possessions. The red sweater was a Christmas present from his fiancée. He received it with joy because she had spent hours and hours knitting it with love. When she knitted the sweater she was giving herself in love to her future husband. That is why he valued it so much. She was thrilled to give it and he was thrilled to receive it.
I think Marty Crane's gift to his son was like that - given in love and received with joy. My present of the painting was certainly given in affection and received with pleasure. It was quite a feat to please me!
God sent his son to earth with joy. The angels sang at Jesus' birth, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests." The babe was received with joy. Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the shepherds, old Simeon and Anna were all thrilled.
On that first Christmas day God gave part of himself in Jesus his indescribable gift to men. He was thrilled to give him. Are we thrilled to receive him? In receiving him we accept the giver and are accepted by the giver.
John writes in his gospel: Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands's will, but born of God. John1v13.