It's nice sometimes to remember what it is that we have to offer God, particularly in this season of giving when we are kind of overwhelmed by the greater story.
But let's not forget the greater story. Because the single greatest gift this Christmas, as it has been for the past 2012 years, is Mary's little boy child, God's only begotten Son, the baby in the manger, the Messiah manifest.
Jesus is the reason for this season. As we give good gifts to each other and give good gifts to God, let us not forget the very good gift God gave us one morning in Bethlehem.
Some people say that of course we couldn't forget it. Jesus was our sacrifice; it is because of Him we have life at all. I object; that is not this holiday. Not a one of us was saved because Jesus was born this Christmas day.
The Christmas message is that God loves you so much that He came here. That He put on your wardrobe of flesh that He might have the chance to walk beside you. To touch you. To speak with you. To love you immensely in a way you could understand. In your own skin and bones. His skin and bones.
I was honored a couple of weeks ago to share a few thoughts about Advent with my congregation. Before I was asked to tailor my words in that direction, I have to admit...I didn't know a whole lot about Advent. Actually, I didn't know anything. It's not something my tribe of Christians has been known to much recognize and for the first 15 years of my life, I wasn't a Christian anyway, so Christmas was about Santa and reindeer and presents under the tree.
As I dove into Advent to try to figure out what I would say, I concluded that I believe it is odd, unexpected, and amusingly wise how this season unfolds. Nobody in Jerusalem was looking for a baby. I'm pretty sure Mary wasn't looking for a baby. Not a real baby. Luke records Gabriel's first message to her - that she will be pregnant and bear God's Son - but we don't know if she got any follow-up instructions on that or not. Was she expecting an actual child? A real baby who would be cut from her body by the cord, laid on her chest, and nestled into her bosom for the first year or two of His life? A real boy she would have to teach to walk and talk and cook and eat and work and play and...potty? A real infant whose diaper she would have to change?
What does a holy diaper look like? (Don't answer that. I'm an aunt of three; I've seen a few.)
Nobody was looking for a baby. They just weren't. They'd heard the rumors of the promised Messiah. They'd studied the Scriptures. They had their own thoughts and ideas about what He was supposed to look like, what He would be like when He got here. They were all whispering about the pregnant "virgin" Mary and her crazy to-be, Joseph, who was sticking by her side in this story. They were waiting to see whether any of the rumors were real, whether there was a Christ child on the way.
And you know they were disappointed when He came wrapped in swaddling clothes. Just a baby.
But so much more. God of our God, flesh of our flesh. It's weird to hear those words backward, isn't it? That God would not only create the flesh of Himself but would inhabit it for the chance to connect with His creation. To walk among us once more as He had in the Garden. To be here, to be right here. Beside us. With us. For us. All Him.
I think so many years later, we look differently on this time because we know more about who Jesus is. We know how the story plays out. We know that He came into this world wrapped in swaddling clothes and that the world tried to send Him out the same way - wrapped again in tender cloth - but He laid those clothes aside.
Let's not forget, though, that this season is to celebrate the first thing Jesus ever did for you: He left the comfort of Heaven and the Father's embrace for the bosom of a virgin, the shelter of a stable, and the redemption of creation.
That is the gift.
Merry Christmas, friends.