Gift Wrapped Glory

How many of us are all finished? I mean, all ready for tomorrow? If perchance you're seated near someone with their hand up, they can't help it; please forgive them. After all, Baby Jesus is all about forgiveness. Now… who here besides the preacher has still got something left to wrap? God bless you one and all! Oh, friends, tonight's a glorious night to think about gift wrap. In fact we might say tonight's all about gift wrapped glory! And not just the shiny kind. Oh no, Christmas gift wrap is about all that and much more.

Did you ever wonder who invented Christmas gift wrap? (No, it wasn't Hallmark.) Personally, I ask myself this question each December 24th. It's late. I'm hurried. Beverly has already placed her things under the tree. Now, you should know. Beverly used to work for Hechts. Yep, gift wrap! So you can kind of guess what my stuff's going to look like next to hers. (I've never actually set things out in a brown paper bag, mind you, though I have thought about it; I've been tempted. After all, mine will never look so lovely or worthy as hers.) Whose idea is this, anyway? And then I remember. Wait a minute. I'm a pastor. I'm supposed to know this.

It occurs to me that gift wrap is God's idea! His original Christmas idea. And it is glorious! Listen, as though for the first time, to what Luke reports of Mary, now arrived with Joseph at Bethlehem. "The days were accomplished that she should be delivered." Many an expecting mom has said to herself at the first sure sign that a birth is at hand, "It's about time!" Luke isn't just telling us what Mary and every birthing mama knows. He's telling us in a personal way what John's Gospel tells us in a more theological way. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and nothing was made without him…. In him was life; and the life… was your Light and mine. The true Light that lights all God's children, even now, is coming into the world." (John 1, sel., alt.) God has gift wrapped in a baby, that which he has been prepared to deliver from the very first day ever. Light, and Love. He put them in a package as easy to understand as the promise and hope of a new-born. You can't miss hope like that, joy like that. A baby softens the hearts of the hard hearted. An infant invites everyone who's down, depressed, blue, to dream again, to imagine again. A baby is a kind of human "do-over" that says you and I have a second chance to get it right for the first time! That's the love of God for us. An idea so big we couldn't grasp it, except that Heaven has wrapped in that sweet little Jesus-Boy we come to sing to Christmas after Christmas.

You gotta go home and wrap some more tonight? Or look-in on what you've done and hope it looks fine enough for mornin'? Maybe you're goin' home to unwrap a little before you go to bed. Lots of families have that tradition. Maybe you're goin' home to a strangely quiet house this year. 'Where nobody else is home any more, and you pine for them. 'Or where what you'd like to be under the tree isn't, or maybe there is no tree at all. Whichever, please accept this Christmas Eve invitation to look on the baby Jesus in that cattle stall. 'The one you can see with the eye of your heart. When you do, take a look at Mary's wrapping. Hers are the first human hands to wrap a Christmas gift. The gift. Christ himself! Luke tells us about it straight away. "She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

I'm not sure I want to extol the virtues of swaddling. Especially in a stable. But I do invite you to take the time, this holy night, to wrap Jesus as tenderly as you can. Wrap the greatest gift you will ever receive in whatever is the dearest act or thought or feeling you can offer him. Mary wanted to protect him against the cold. Has the world really warmed much for Jesus? Has it warmed to him? Don't our headlines scream every other day than December 25th, "Still No Room for Him"? Mary wanted to comfort him, make it possible to caress him. She wanted to give him the very best she had. And even if it wasn't much, wasn't grand, or shiny and had no
Ribbon or bow, what she could do for him, she did do for him. Immediately. (She did not hesitate.) Intimately. (Her love for him was overwhelming and deeply personal.) He was everything to her. And she showed it as she wrapped him tight! Friends, whatever else you wrap for Christmas, or see wrapped, or unwrap, I pray with the angels tonight that you will experience a love for Jesus that wraps him immediately, intimately, protectively, welcomingly, and says to him on Christmas day, and every day, "Jesus, Sweet Jesus, you are everything to me!"

I tell you the truth, for Jesus, for God in Heaven, this would be gift wrapped glory! And the thing is, should we do this, everything and everyone all around us would be changed. I doubt you came tonight expecting a word from Roaring Camp. A rough and tumble mining town in the Old West. But it offers a telling tale of gift wrapped glory, instructive to our Christmas Eve. Roaring Camp was a spit and sweat and whiskey wonder, filled with men only, if you could call them that, as distinct from a pack of wild dogs. The only woman there was Cherokee Sal, who, shall we say, by dint of her profession, had a child, it seems. She did not survive the birth. The miners, not knowing better, grabbed a wooden box and put the child inside, covered by some soiled old rags. One man didn't think that right. He rode 80 winter miles to return with a rosewood cradle. The rags looked wrong in it. Another miner rode all the way to Sacramento. 'Came back with silk and lace blankets to cover the little baby girl. Now the dirty floor looked awful under that cradle. Men with rough, hard hands and hearts to match took to their knees to scrub. Others saw to the walls and ceilings. Word spread that "Little Sally" was sleeping nights and days, so the brawling in town would have to tone down. At last, they'd take her in her cradle to the mine entrance so all could watch her as they came and went. But the mine entrance was so ugly, they deemed it unfit, so they planted flowers at the entrance and brought out shiny stones from down in the earth and piled them 'round to honor and please her. Pretty soon, the general store sent a large, surprising order east for shaving cream and soap. No one wanted to look less than clean to see her, or to touch her with unclean hands. It's true. All true. It only takes one baby to change everything. God knows that. So God sends us this baby, God's baby, this Jesus.
Love wrapped in an infant, holy love, glorious love. And if and when we wrap him in our own, nothing will be the same, and neither will we. And the world all around us will be made over, and the world inside us too. No one will want to look less than clean in their souls to see him, nor to touch him with unclean hands. Why, call such a place and time, call us, gift wrapped! And that, shall truly move the angels to sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all on earth! Amen!

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