Monday, December 30, 2013

“Never Judge a Gift by its Wrapping” (Luke 2:5-6)

S-1402 CE/3A 12/24/2013 Hymns: (O) #87; #92; #95; (S) #102; #647; (C) #646

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-20

Theme: “Never Judge a Gift by its Wrapping” (Luke 2:5-6)

Question: “What is important the wrapping or the gift?” Armour, SD

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for our meditation is from the O.T. lesson: “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:5-6).


{In the center of the chancel is a table with a large box wrapped in shiny paper and an old paper bag. The large box is filled with old newspaper, non-winning lottery tickets and the like. The old paper bag has in it a 50+ year old copy of the Scriptures. I will invite one child selected at random to choose one of the gifts.}

Which gift would you choose; the big box with shiny paper and bows or the crumpled bag? Most people are distracted by the shiny paper and would choose the box. I don’t know many who would choose the crumpled paper bag. And when they see what’s inside, I am not sure they would regard either of them as real gifts. After all, in the bag is nothing but a worn out old Bible. There are many here tonight that would say, “That’s it? I came for Christmas and all I got was this old, falling apart Bible?”

This illustrates something that happened in 1934. A Lutheran pastor attended a convention of clergy in Frankenmuth, Michigan. During this convention, the pastor was offered lodging in the home of his cousin, who was an area farmer. During conversation, the farmer showed his cousin a family heirloom, an old Bible that had apparently come from Germany, since it was written in German. When the pastor examined the book, he recognized that it was centuries old. Then, as he opened the cover and viewed the title page of the Bible, he gasped. In the lower right-hand corner, handwritten in ink, was the date 1733. Above the date was a signature: “J. S. Bach.” This Bible had originally been the personal copy of the great composer Johann Sebastian Bach!

For centuries, this book had been regarded by its own­ers as just an old dusty tome. For almost two hundred years, no one had recognized its origin or its value. It had been packed away in the attic and long forgotten. But no longer. Now this “Bach Bible” is housed in the rare book collection at the Concordia Seminary library and is valued as that library’s most prized possession.

The lesson learned from this story is clear—never judge a book by its cover. To the farmer, this was just another ancient, out-of-date, unimportant book. In real­ity, however, it was a priceless treasure. This reminds us also of the advice given to us by our parents, who said: “Never judge a gift by its wrapping.” The most valuable treasure can be wrapped in modest packaging.

This nearly 50+ year old Bible in my hands could be regarded as modest packaging. But it has recorded in its pages the greatest gift that any human being has ever received. {Read the Christmas Story from Luke 2 again to highlight the treasure.} PAUSE.

Tonight, on this Christmas Eve, we are reminded of a sim­ilar lesson about not judging a gift by its wrapping. Indeed, the message of Christmas is that the greatest gift of all—the gift of God’s own Son—was deliv­ered in modest, unassuming wrapping. Christ was literally born in a barn, wrapped in rags, and laid in a feed trough for livestock.

This most precious GIFT of all—God Himself!—was packaged in the flesh of a vulnerable infant. He was born of peasant parents and wrapped in swaddling cloths— ordinary strips of fabric. And He was laid in a manger, which would normally hold fodder for the animals. All this happened because there was no place for them. This child was welcomed not by kings and princes, not by dignitaries and the elite of society. Instead, on that night, He was greeted by shepherds, who were regarded by most as lowly and unclean, even as outcasts from society.

So it was an angel who was sent to unwrap the identity of this child and to reveal the true nature of the gift. In brilliant light the glorious news of the birth of Messiah explodes over the darkened creation. The deafening, yet sweet melody of the Gloria in Excelsis was impossible for these unlearned and simple men to ignore the announcement of this gift. They HAD to go to Bethlehem. They may have gone in faith. They may have gone in curiosity. But not going was not an option for what they had heard and seen from the angels.

Can you imagine their reaction when they arrived on the scene? With the angelic announcement one would expect something more. They found Messiah alright! But if it had not been for the angels, there is no way they would have believed what they saw. The great Redeemer of the Universe was a baby. The hand that was barely big enough to wrap around Mary’s finger was the same hand that fashioned the very creation He has come to save. The One who spoke everything into existence with His all powerful word is now left a communication that is simply cooing and crying. The only way that these men could believe this baby, as cute as He was, was Messiah was to believe the message that the Lord sent through the angel. Had it been left to them, they would have seen the wrapping of the infant flesh in the swaddling rags and simply passed on this great treasure. PAUSE.

How often do we, even today, get all wrapped up in the packaging and marketing of the moment to the point where we miss out on the true gift? This is what we see in the box with the shiny paper tonight. In this box is all of the bad news of the world today. There are the empty promises of drugs and alcohol. There is the fool’s gold of instant wealth of winning the Lottery—that last week as the lottery grew in size we were told, every hour 11 million tickets were purchased. There are even the false promises of academic and professional achievements. These gifts are glitzy and glamorous. But soon their luster fades. The wrapping paper is trashed. The news continues to be bad. The bottle empties and the headaches and heartaches follow. And those lottery numbers never seem to come in for us. Our achievements also fade with time and are overshadowed by those who follow after us. This is the gift that life in a sinful world offers, produces and seduces. These gifts are empty, worthless, and just plain sad.

And yet, this is the gift we choose so often. We choose to follow after the world rather than sit and hear the Word of God. We seek to make our best life now, all the while rejecting the very gift that would make not only the best now, but also the best eternity for us. We work and we strive. We tear others down because we don’t know any other way to communicate the pain within our sinfully broken lives. We dig deeper in the box that is the world’s gift and we find more meaninglessness. We choose this for ourselves! We can’t blame God. This is all on us!

It is on us because all the while that we were oogling and ah-ing the world’s gift, the plain brown wrapper of God’s gift is present. It looks so boring. It looks so plain. It is just a book. But don’t judge that gift by its wrapping! When you take a closer look this gift is so much more. This is why here at Redeemer Lutheran Church we hand out Bibles in 3rd grade to stress the importance and the value of this gift. Not to be placed on a shelf but to be used daily for our faith to grow.

This is the gift that brings the angel’s message to you. It breaks through the sin and death of our lives and points us to a new life. It shows us God in the flesh, God on the cross, God in the tomb and God bursting forth from death. It is this gift that promises and delivers. It promises a Savior and it delivers at Christmas. It promises a Suffering Servant and it delivers at the cross. It promises a Resurrection and it delivers at the empty tomb. It promises forgiveness and salvation and it delivers at the Baptismal font, the altar and the pulpit.

And this gift never breaks, goes out of style or fails to fit. Big or small, short or tall, young or old, this gift is for YOU. It is for you this night whether you have known it all your life, knew it once but walked away, or if this is the first time you are hearing it. This is God’s gift to you. It comes wrapped in basic wrapping: a baby and a Bible. It doesn’t look like much, but I promise you by the power of the Holy Spirit it is the most incredible gift you will ever receive from anyone!

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Don’t judge this gift by the wrapping! Don’t judge this gift by what the world says about it either. Judge this gift by what it is and does. This gift remains. It remains because it is timeless. For 2000+ years we have been hearing and receiving this gift. The Holy Spirit leads us to look past the wrapping and see the heart of this precious gift. And what we see there is the very heart of God who was willing to do everything for you!

The Holy Spirit will lead you to look past the wrapping and receive the gift. He will open your eyes of faith and you will see yet again that the treasure wrapped in this musty, dusty book of a wrapping, is the only GIFT that will gleam forever. And it is all for YOU in Jesus. Rejoice at this gift. Merry Christmas! AMEN!

Now the peace…


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