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Christmas Eve - John 1: 1-14
Walking through the main door of Debenhams the other day, I had to navigate around a big pile of pretty boxes. I do not know what was in them but on top was a large red sign saying “The Perfect Gift” and, as I wandered through the shop hoping for some inspiration concerning buying something for my mother, I pondered the whole gift problem. When I was a boy, one of the many things that made Christmas special was that presents were wrapped. For birthdays it was different; presents came in the bag that the shopkeeper had put them in. Of course that gave everyone a sporting chance of guessing what was inside. Christmas though meant paper Sellotape and my father laying out his knives and rulers on the dining room table for a few days and carefully wrapping everything making sure to line up the patterns! One year, my Mother asked me to help wrap up Dad’s gift. He liked photography and these were the days of the 35mm slide. He had a projector but no screen, which meant slide shows of our summer holidays were annoyingly mingled with the wallpaper pattern. The screen came rolled up in a plastic box about three inches in diameter and was about four feet long. “Let’s disguise it!” said my mother ! So we set off, and pretty soon we had a very long very thin Christmas cracker with rather floppy ends. “Well he’ll guess what it is anyway” Mother said.
Now I am not sure that the purpose of wrapping the perfect present is to hide its real nature, rather the careful and maybe inventive wrapping is to show that we care. Somehow, Debenhams got it wrong with the sign saying “The Perfect Gift”. How could the store know that without knowing something about me? Not so much about Mum but about me? Of course, the gift has to be suitable for an almost eighty year old woman (no skateboards for example) but surely it has to have something of me in it, something of me in the choice and indeed in the way it is wrapped. It is this combination; that the gift is right for the person and that it has something of me in it that gives it meaning.
Now God had an absolutely infinite choice. God could have come to earth in any way at all, imaginable and unimaginable, but along with this extraordinary freedom, there comes an equally extraordinary constraint. God has to reveal himself, or herself, as God is. There is no question of disguise, it is impossible. God, by definition, is light and truth and cannot dissemble so the choice has meaning. So, what do we make of the choice? It is important you see for this is God revealing himself, showing us his true nature.
It is beautifully wrapped, this story of God coming to earth. From the moment that Gabriel appears to Mary we know this is special and that God cares. His coming is wrapped in the story of Joseph and Mary, in their journey to Bethlehem, in the appearance of a star, in an innkeeper, in a manger, in some swaddling clothes and at last tonight there is a baby. God chose to come as a baby. What does this tell us about the nature of God, why a baby?
Well in unwrapping a baby, there seems to me to be an instant, a split second just before the midwife picks him or her up to give to the mother, there is a moment of total newness; of an innocence that is completely untouched by the world at all; uncontaminated in any way by anything. And still, there in that precise instant of being unwrapped from the womb. a baby is quite perfect. What better way could we think of for God to come into the word and make his dwelling among us?
He came not in clouds of glory with fanfares of trumpets and great heavenly light but He came in a way that we could understand, that reflects his love, his affinity and his urgent need to tell us how he understands us. The gift is designed for us but it tells us of the giver.
So, as you unwrap, really as you undo the Sellotape and ribbons and paper later today, please reflect on the Christmas story, on the unwrapping on the revealing of the love and care of God and on the “Perfect Gift” , the gift of God’s son lying in a manger who came for each of us and assures us all of our salvation and of our eternal life.