Since the first Christmas celebration, one word has crossed everyone’s lips more than any other this time of year. It isn’t the word carol or tree or food. It’s gift.
Gifts are so inseparably linked with Christmas that we can hardly think of one without the other. If you listen to conversations in stores this month, I’m sure you’ll hear gift mentioned several times. We all have lists of gifts we hope to buy—and some of us have lists of gifts we hope to receive. I remember one of my children every year would present me with a carefully printed Christmas list. It even included optional gifts I could choose to give if I wanted to and always those essential gifts that were not optional—the must-have gifts!
With all the giving and receiving that happens at Christmastime, it seems right that we pause to think about God’s gift to us . . . His Son. Jesus was the one-of-a-kind, original must-have gift that God intended for every person on earth.
Reflecting on God’s generosity in giving His Son, the apostle Paul penned my favorite Christmas verse. I always love seeing it on Christmas cards:
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!
(2 Corinthians 9:15, NASB)
It doesn’t fit in what we usually call the “Christmas Narrative,” but it’s my favorite because it communicates a true sense of awe found in the Baby in the manger.
Paul was a brilliant man with a broad vocabulary. He was competent in his use of the Greek language, an excellent teacher and communicator both on his feet as well as on parchment. He was the most prolific writer of the New Testament and, apart from Jesus Christ, perhaps the greatest theological mind that has existed. Yet, Paul’s pen paused when he came to this simple four‑letter word, “gift,” and after giving it careful thought, he wrote, it’s “indescribable.”
As he dipped into the treasure of his knowledge, he could not find any word existing in his day that could describe God’s gift. No descriptive synonym fits the bill for the person of Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and given to us at Christmastime. Paul was suddenly and completely at a loss. What word should he use?
The King James Bible says, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” Kenneth Wuest, in his expanded translation, writes: “Thanks be to God for His ineffable gift.” The English Standard Version reads, “His inexpressible gift!” The New Living Translation, “This gift too wonderful for words!” The Amplified Classic Edition, “His Gift, [precious] beyond telling!”
Why is God’s gift indescribable, unspeakable, ineffable, inexpressible, too wonderful for words, and precious beyond telling? One simple reason: Jesus was so much more than a tiny baby lying in a manger! As we gaze closer and think deeper, we see Jesus wrapped in more than swaddling clothes . . . much more!
First, Jesus was wrapped in prophecy. Read Isaiah’s astounding prophecy of Jesus as mighty God and eternal King centuries before Jesus was born.
For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end. (Isaiah 9:6–7)
Second, Jesus was wrapped in history. Sovereign over time, God wove the events of history so that they dovetailed perfectly, at just the right time, with prophecy.
But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. (Galatians 4:4–5)
Third, and most significantly in this context, Jesus was wrapped in mystery. True “awe” resides in the mystery of Jesus’ nature. Even in this tiny baby, we find undiminished deity clothed in perfect humanity. Linking the two natures together in one personality, housed in one unique body, the God‑man Jesus was born. No less deity, no less humanity, in one person, in one body, forever.
That’s awe-inspiring mystery! No wonder hosts of angels declared in unison, “Glory to God in highest heaven” (Luke 2:14)! What words fail to describe only worship can express.
This is why the Christmas story must be repeated in God’s words time after time after time, year after year! That’s the only way people will hear the truth . . . and believe it.
So, as you celebrate Christmas this season, sing the carols, enjoy the food, and exchange the gifts. But don’t let the season pass without remembering the prophecy, the history, and the mystery that surrounds the original, must-have, indescribable Gift: that tiny baby wonderfully wrapped, silently delivered . . . eternally adored.
About the author
Pastor Chuck Swindoll
Pastor Chuck Swindoll has devoted his life to the accurate, practical teaching and application of God’s Word. Since 1998, he has served as the senior pastor-teacher of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, but Chuck’s listening audience extends beyond a local church body. As a leading program in Christian broadcasting since 1979, Insight for Living airs around the world. Chuck’s leadership as president and now chancellor emeritus of Dallas Theological Seminary has helped prepare and equip a new generation for ministry.More articles by Pastor Chuck Swindoll