You have been planning this for a long time. For months now, you've waited to give this amazing gift to someone you deeply love. You know it will be perfect for them. You know they will absolutely love it. And the best part is, they have no idea what it is. I mean, it's Christmas so they know you'll get them something, but they have no idea it's this. You've dropped hints here and there, but they still don't know what it is until the moment they open it. And that's the best part: the look on their face of surprised delight as they hold your token of love in their hands.
Christmas reminds us of a profound truth of human experience: the joy of giving is even greater than the joy of receiving.
Christmas also reminds us that God is the ultimate Giver. Jesus was a gift God had been planning for a long time. He'd been dropping hints via the prophets left and right (cf. Isaiah 9:1-7, for example), but the people still didn't know exactly what to expect. They knew the gift of a Messiah was coming, but they didn't know it would be like this: a weak and vulnerable infant born to poor parents in a tiny town.
But the Giver knew this gift would be perfect...just what we needed. We needed a Messiah who could identify with our weakness, who experiences our poverty from the inside, a king who does not perpetuate the cycle of violence but absorbs the violence of religion and the state into his own body. We needed a Prince of Peace. This kind of Messiah, this kind of liberator, was a better gift than one we might have chosen for ourselves.
As the angels told the shepherds:
“I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." (Luke 2:10-11)
If giving is a greater joy than receiving, and if God is the ultimate Giver who has given us the ultimate Gift, than God must be the most joyful being in the universe! Christmas means God is not the curmudgeonly Scrooge we sometimes imagine God to be. He must have been bursting with joy when Mary held Jesus in her arms and when the shepherds looked on him for the first time. God knew that in holding Jesus, they were holding the consummate expression of his love. And God was overjoyed!
On Christmas day, we not only re-experience the joy of receiving Jesus as God's ultimate expression of love to us, but, mysteriously, we also embrace and participate in God's own incredible, indescribable Joy.
So we're going to do that together this Christmas. And no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, we hope you'll share that joy with us this Sunday.