In 1934, a Lutheran pastor attended a convention of clergy in Frankenmuth, Michigan. During the convention, the pastor was sought lodging in the home of his cousin, who was a farmer. One evening, after polite dinner conversation, the farmer showed his cousin a family heirloom, an old German Bible. As he examined the book, he realized that it was centuries old. Then, as he opened the cover and began to read the title page of the Bible, he gasped. In the lower right-hand corner, handwritten in ink, was the date 1733. Just above the date was a signature: “J.S. Bach.” This book was the personal Bible of the great composer Johan Sebastian Bach.
For generations, even for centuries, this book has been regarded by its owners as just another dusty old book. For almost 200 years, no one recognized the significance of those old books. Today the “Bach Bible” is housed in the rare book collection at the Concordia Seminary Library in St. Louis, and is the library’s most prized possession. I’ve had the unique privilege of seeing the “Bach Bible” with my own eyes.
The lesson learned from that story is clear – never judge a book by its cover. To the farmer, this was just another dusty old book. When in reality it was a priceless treasure. Tonight, being Christmas Eve, perhaps instead of “never judging a book by its cover,’ a more appropriate lesson might be: “Never judge a gift by its wrapping.”
Tonight, on Christmas Eve, the beautiful message of Christmas is that the greatest gift of all – our Savior – came to us in modest, unassuming wrappings. A barn instead of a palace; a manger instead of a crib; swaddling cloths instead of purple robes. In his Gospel, Luke describes for us the humble scene of Jesus birth: “And while they were there, the time came for Mary to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn.”
This most precious gift of all – the gift of our Savior – was packaged in the tender, vulnerable flesh of newborn child. That child was welcomed into this world, not by mid-wives, princes and kings, but by Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds who were tending their flocks near-by
God then chose an angel to reveal the true identity of this special child. “An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior Who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angel makes it unmistakably clear who this child is. He is the Christ – the Messiah. He is the Savior of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is God in human flesh, the greatest of all possible gifts. But why did such a great gift come to us in such humble wrappings?
The most significant feature of that gift was human flesh and blood. As the Scriptures proclaim, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father full of grace and truth.”
God revealed His amazing love for us in the humble, unassuming way His Son came into this world. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This shows that above all else, this gift was meant for us, for flesh and blood human beings. We also know that 30 years later, this gift of God was crucified on the cross, bearing the consequences of our lifetime of sins. All of this so that you and I will enjoy the benefits of salvation and everlasting life.
Yes, the wrapping is important. Yet, as with any other gift, we’ll want to get past the wrapping and get to the gift itself. Tonight we don’t want to become enamored with the swaddling cloths and bleating sheep. God’s gift to you this day is His Son – true God and True man- Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” 33 years after the gift of this birth, the love our Savior has for us was revealed as Jesus was lifted-up on the cross for all the world to see.
Tonight, God delivers His gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and everlasting life, Tonight God gives us His powerful life-giving, sin-forgiving gift that is His Son.
A young man was deeply in love with a young woman, so he bought several gifts for her. Most of his gifts he had professionally wrapped in beautiful foil paper, held together with ribbon and a bow. She opened those first, since they were by far the most attractive to her. That left one very plain looking present for last – simple brown paper tied with twine. It seemed insignificant compared to the other presents under the tree. But when she unwrapped it, that humble looking gift was the one that changed her life, forever; inside was a diamond ring – a diamond engagement ring.
Tonight, in the humble package of a new-born baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, our lives are changed forever! Amen!