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Seven Gifts from God (A Christmas Meditation)

Christmas, for some, can be an especially discouraging time of year. One often hears of those suffering from “seasonal depression” or the “holiday blues” as they contemplate the loss of a loved one, a failed marriage, unemployment and the financial pressure of being unable to provide gifts for their family, or perhaps a child who simply won’t come home.

But I have good news for you today! You have a reason to rejoice that far exceeds the combined effect of the difficulties and disappointments you face. The reason comes in the form of seven blessings from God, but not the sort that you find wrapped with ribbon and bow and placed under a tree. Rather, these blessings are embodied in one gift, one person: Jesus Christ. Listen closely:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

These gifts are seven glorious truths concerning the person of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But before we begin to unwrap them, one by one, there are a couple of things to note. First, when the prophet says his name shall be “called” Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, etc., he does not mean that Jesus actually bears these names, as if his mother Mary might have said: “Go tell ‘Wonderful Counselor’ that dinner is ready!” Rather, these names or titles are descriptive of his character and personality. He IS the kind of person the names portray him to be.

Also, these are not merely the names or titles or descriptive phrases of some ancient historical figure. These are more than lyrics in a chorus from Handel’s “Messiah” or words on a Christmas card. These names and titles express what Jesus is to you, in you, and for your sake. So I suggest that you read this passage personally: “For to me a child is born, to me a son is given . . .” Each gift has a tag with a single word.

(1) Sympathy! When the prophet declares that to us a “child is born” and a “son” is given, he highlights the fact that Jesus was and is a human being! Fully God and fully man. Wholly human and wholly divine. Both the son of a virgin peasant girl and the Son of Almighty God.

Everyone has their favorite Bible verse, that one text that has exerted on them the greatest and most life-changing influence. Mine is Psalm 16:11, followed closely by Zephaniah 3:17 and 1 Peter 1:8. But let me briefly share with you what I regard as the most amazing verse in Scripture. By “amazing” I mean incomprehensible, stunning, bewildering, beyond the capacity of the human mind to fully grasp. For me, it is John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh”! I can think of nothing more appropriate at this time of year than to meditate on this truly amazing assertion.

John’s statement is made all the more amazing when it is seen in the light of John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Note the contrasts. In John 1:1 the Word “was”. In John 1:14 the Word “became”. In 1:1 the Word was “with God” whereas in 1:14 the Word dwelt “among us”. In 1:1 the Word was “God” but in 1:14 the Word became “flesh”. Eternal, unchanging God “became” “flesh” and dwelt among “us”. Amazing!

John doesn’t say that the Word became a “man” (although that's true). Nor does he say he became a “human”, or even that he took to himself a “body” (although both are again true). Rather, the Word became “flesh”, a strong, almost crude way of referring to human nature in its totality: true body, soul, spirit, will, and emotions.

We also note that the Word didn’t pretend to be a man or play at being human. The Word “became” flesh. The Word did not “beam down” in full bodily form. The Word did not enter into flesh, as if to suggest that there was a man, a human being, into which the Word made entrance. He doesn't say the Word “dwelled” or “abided in” human flesh. What John means is that the eternal Word, God the Son, entered into this world by being born as a human being.

Whatever else Christmas may mean to you, it is first and fundamentally about the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Word. The Incarnation means that two distinct natures (divine and human) are united in one person: Jesus. Jesus is not two people (God and man). He is one person: the God-man. Jesus is not schizophrenic. When the Word became flesh he did not cease to be the Word. The Word veiled, hid, and voluntarily restricted the use of certain divine powers and prerogatives. But God cannot cease to be God. In other words, when the Word became flesh he did not commit divine suicide.

When the Word once became flesh he became flesh forever. After his earthly life, death, and resurrection, Jesus did not divest himself of the flesh or cease to be a man. He is a man even now at the right hand of God the Father. He is also God. He will always be the God-man. Thus, we might envision Jesus saying: "I am now what I always was: God (or Word). I am now what I once was not: man (or flesh). I am now and forever will be both: the God-man."

Take a deep breath and ponder what this means. Don't dismiss it as theological speculation. This is a truth on which your eternal destiny hangs suspended. This is a truth the beauty and majesty of which will captivate your attention and cause sin to sink in your estimation. Wherein lies the power to turn from iniquity and say No to sin? It lies in the power and irresistible appeal of an uncreated God who would dare to become a man!

The Word became flesh!
God became human!
the invisible became visible!
the untouchable became touchable!
eternal life experienced temporal death!
the transcendent one descended and drew near!
the unlimited became limited!
the infinite became finite!
the immutable became mutable!
the unbreakable became fragile!
spirit became matter!
eternity entered time!
the independent became dependent!
the almighty became weak!
the loved became the hated!
the exalted was humbled!
glory was subjected to shame!
fame turned into obscurity!
from inexpressible joy to tears of unimaginable grief!
from a throne to a cross!
from ruler to being ruled!
from power to weakness!

Max Lucado put it this way:

"The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierceable. He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl. God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created. God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother” (“God Came Near,” pp. 25-26).

As Paul said in 1 Tim. 3:16, "great is the mystery of godliness: God was revealed in the flesh!"

Stay with me for just a moment more. If it hasn't hit home yet, perhaps the following will do the trick.

Conception: God became a fertilized egg! An embryo. A fetus. God kicked Mary from within her womb!

Birth: God entered the world as a baby, amid the stench of manure and cobwebs and prickly hay in a stable. Mary cradled the Creator in her arms. "I never imagined God would look like that," she says to herself. Envision the newborn Jesus with a misshaped head, wrinkled skin, and a red face. Just think: angels watched as Mary changed God's diapers! Tiny hands that would touch and heal the sick and yet be ripped by nails. Eyes (what color were they?). Tiny feet (where would they take him?) that likewise would be pierced by nails. She tickled his side (which would one day be lanced with a spear).

Infancy: God learned to crawl, stand, and walk. He spilt his milk and fell and hit his head.

Youth: Was he uncoordinated? How well did he perform at sports? Perhaps Jesus knew the pain of always being picked last when the kids chose up sides for a ballgame. God learned his ABC's!

Teenager: Jesus probably had pimples and body odor and bad breath. God went through puberty! His voice changed. He had to shave. Girls probably had a crush on him and boys probably teased him. There were probably some foods he didn't like (no doubt squash among them).

Carpenter: Calloused hands. Dealings with customers who tried to cheat him or complained about his work. How did he react when they shortchanged him?

Some are bothered when I speak of Jesus like this. They think it is irreverent and shocking! As Max Lucado has said,

"it's not something we like to do; it's uncomfortable. It is much easier to keep the humanity out of the incarnation. Clean the manure from around the manger. Wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Pretend he never snored or blew his nose or hit his thumb with a hammer. He's easier to stomach that way. There is something about keeping him divine that keeps him distant, packaged, predictable. But don't do it. For heaven's sake, don't. Let him be as human as he intended to be. Let him into the mire and muck of our world. For only if we let him in can he pull us out” (pp. 26-27).

The marvel of it all is that he did it for you and me! It was an expression of the depths of his love for you that the Word entered the depths of human ugliness, human weakness, human humiliation.

As you gather with your family this Christmas, meditate on the amazing implications of this most amazing verse:

He was conceived by the union of divine grace and human disgrace.
He who breathed the breath of life into the first man is now himself a man breathing his first breath.
The King of Kings sleeping in a cow-pen.
The Creator of oceans and seas and rivers afloat in the womb of his mother.
God sucking his thumb.
The Alpha and Omega learning his multiplication tables.
He who was once surrounded by the glorious stereophonic praise of adoring angels now hears the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the stammering of bewildered shepherds
He who spoke the universe into being now coos and cries.
Omniscient Deity counting his toes.
Mary playing "this little piggy went to market" on the toes of God (well, being Jewish, maybe it was “this little pony”).
From the robes of eternal glory to the rags of swaddling clothes.
The omnipresent spirit, whose being fills the galaxies, confined to the womb of a peasant girl.
Infinite power learning to crawl.
Mary playing "patty-cake" with the Lord of Lords!

What significance does this have for you? Simply this, that “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18). In other words, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).

There is no temptation or trial that he cannot understand. There is no struggle or sadness with which he cannot sympathize. There is no hardship or difficulty for which he cannot provide strength to endure.

(2) Supremacy! The “government”, declares the prophet, “shall be upon his shoulder.” If Jesus is more than able to shoulder the weight of the world, he can surely bear your burdens!

Contrast this with the structure of our government and its separation of powers. The Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches are designed, among other reasons, so that no one person or group of individuals should bear the weight of the whole. But Jesus rules alone! Supremacy of power and authority rests with him. He is the King of kings, President of presidents, and Judge of all judges.

Terrorists may destroy, politicians may posture, armies maneuver and nations threaten, but Jesus Christ sits on the throne in unchallenged and unassailable supremacy!

(3) Sagacity! He is the “Wonderful Counselor”! Can you think of any situation in which Jesus said the wrong thing, or spoke out of turn, stuck his foot in his mouth, or remained silent when his words were needed?

His counsel is unfailing and flawless, perfectly suited to the situation, always practical and prudent. There is no problem on which he needs to “study up” or refer to a professional. I often feel the frustration of having to say to those confused or in need, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to tell you.” Jesus is never lacking for advice or an answer to satisfy our souls.

And note well: he’s not simply a good counselor or wise counselor but a wonderful counselor. And not only are there wonderful things about him, he is himself a wonder! It brings to mind that simple chorus we sang in the nineties,

“Jesus, what a wonder you are!
You are so gentle, so pure and so kind.
You shine like the morning star.
Jesus, what a wonder you are!”

(4) Sovereignty! He is the “Mighty God”. Jesus is not only able to give perfect advice; he is also able to supply us with the power to heed it. He is able to enable you to achieve what he advises! When people leave my presence, taking with them what little wisdom I may have provided, I’ve done all I can do. I can’t energize their wills or empower their hearts or stir their souls to act on what they know to be true. But Jesus can!

Of the six truths about Jesus in this passage, this is the one non-Christians despise the most. The world is willing to acknowledge the “baby” Jesus, “away in a manger,” helpless, cuddly, and vulnerable. Christmas is o.k., if that’s as far as it goes, for it poses no threat to one’s sin and pride and personal autonomy. Speak and sing, if you must, of swaddling clothes and the tiny, tender infant. But then declare that this babe in a manger is also the Mighty God, Holy, Infinite, Sovereign over all, and they want nothing to do with him. Jesus in a manger is one thing. Jesus on a throne is something else altogether!

(5) Sensitivity! Why this word to describe Jesus as “Eternal Father”? First, the term “father” is not used here in the Trinitarian sense, as if depicting relationships within the Godhead. The prophet is not saying that the Son is also the Father (a heresy denounced in the early church councils).

The word “Father” is a descriptive analogy pointing to Christ’s character. What does a “father” do? What image is evoked by the word? I suggest he has in mind the tenderness and sensitivity of a compassionate and affectionate father. It is the security and love he provides, as well as protection and provision. Jesus, therefore, is fatherly, father-like, in his treatment of us. This is similar to what the psalmist had in mind when he said, “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13).

(6) Serenity! He is “the Prince of Peace”! He is the source of all serenity. He himself “is our peace” (Eph. 2:14), having broken down the barriers that divide us from one another and, most important of all, the barriers between us and God (cf. Romans 5:1).

A day is coming when he will establish peace among the nations and subdue all opposition to his rule. But now, in the present, he is here on your behalf to bring peace and joy and tranquility and calm to your heart. “I have said these things to you,” spoke Jesus, “that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

At Christmas, children often spend time dividing up the presents under the tree, counting who in the family has the most (well, I did anyway; yes, it was carnal and materialistic, but I was only a kid!). Today I’m here to reassure you that you will never go gift-less, not on Christmas morn or any other time of the year.

(7) Salvation!

Here are six gifts from God, specially wrapped and delivered . . . for you! A sympathetic friend, a supreme and unchallenged Lord over all, wonderfully wise, always able to act on behalf of those who trust him, sensitive and caring and compassionate, the giver of all peace and comfort and consolation.

There was a time when the glitz and tinsel of Christmas used to bother me. But no more. It bothered me, then, because it seemed at times as if Jesus had become lost in all the hoopla of the holiday season. I was fearful that the secularism and sophistication of society had somehow obscured Christ right out of Christmas.

But I’ve come to realize that it can’t be done. I’m not bothered by the trinkets of Christmas any more because I’ve come to realize that no matter what anyone does or what a court may decree, the irrepressible Christ will be there. Even in the stores and shopping malls where crass commercialism is so rampant, Jesus is there. Although the Salvation Army may be banned from certain stores, his name is yet on the lips of adoring shoppers. The intercom in the department stores broadcasts for all to hear, strains of “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!”

No matter how hard people may try, and they are indeed trying harder and harder with the passing of time, they can’t avoid Christ at Christmas. Whether in the ever-present nativity scene in someone’s front yard (though it be banned from the courthouse lawn) or the TV broadcast of a choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s “Messiah”, Jesus is there. Jack Hayford put it this way:

“Jesus is the central personality of history, and whether Christmas is canned or canonized, packaged in ribbon and sold for profit or sanctified in a cathedral where humble souls worship, He is the inescapable Christ. The fury of demon-inspired opposition to His praise seeks to ban pageantry and sterilize holy celebration to suit the antagonism of organized unbelief. But Jesus keeps rising again. Every Christmas turns out to be an Easter. The irrepressible power of his life keeps the song rolling from age to age.”

So who is this Jesus, this inescapable, irrepressible figure who fills Christmas with his presence? How shall we think of him: as the baby in a manger, the child who fled with his parents to Egypt, the teenager in the temple confounding the scribes, the angry prophet routing moneychangers in the temple, the teacher revealing eternal truths, the healer giving sight to the blind, the deliverer casting out demons, the savior dying for sinners, the Lord rising from the dead, the king now ruling from heaven? Yes, all this, and far more.

He is God become flesh.

He is virgin born Son of God, sinless man and eternal God in one person.

He is the last Adam, who alone can reverse the damage and death of the first Adam.

He is the substitutionary sacrifice for sinners (after all, the only real Christmas tree is the Cross).

He is risen Lord.

He is exalted at the right hand of the Father. All power and dominion and authority are his.

He is coming King!

So, let us never forget, especially at this time of year, that . . .

Although he entered time and history, he is the source and creator of both (Col. 1:17; Jn. 1:1-3).

Although he became a participant in our world, he is the providential Lord over it (Heb. 1:3).

Although he is in himself eternally invisible, he became visible and revealed the fullness of deity (Jn. 1:14,18; 14:9).

Although sinless, he became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21).

Although now unseen, he will one day return in visible and irresistible glory to consummate his kingdom.

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