We will be unwrapping and unboxing a lot of stuff this weekend.  Tis the season to tear into packages.  We carefully wrap them and then rip them apart with exuberant anticipation.  According to several sources about 13% of Christmas gifts are returned to stores every year.  Data shows that 46% of consumers will return one to three gifts this holiday season for a variety of reasons.  One of the most returned items is clothes’.  There are gifts received that are definitely unwanted, some of which are even puzzling or bizarre.  In the movies, Ralphie from “A Christmas Story” receives pink rabbit pajamas from an aunt.  Clark Griswold’s family in “Christmas Vacation” receives a live cat and a Jell-O mold completely boxed up and wrapped from Aunt Bethany.

Christmas gift giving and receiving can be very stressful because of expectations. There are those that put a lot of time and effort into what they buy or make for someone at Christmas.  There may be a special sentimental meaning behind the gift they are giving.  Unfortunately sometimes the significance of the gift meaning can be lost on the receiver.  They may not “get it” or want it.

For example, when I was 6-8 years old my Aunt Jutta (Judy or Judith in English) who was from Germany gave me a pair of lederhosen or “leather breeches” for Christmas.  They are short or knee-length and are worn as traditional garments in some regions of German-speaking countries.  Think “Sound of Music”.  Today, lederhosen are more of a costume, but at one time they were work clothes for peasants.  I don’t wear leather unless it’s a jacket, hat, or on my feet.  I’ve never owned a pair of leather pants.  Remember the “Friends” episode when Ross wore black leather pants?  That’s why.

My aunt’s gift was really special.  It wasn’t some cheap imitation.  It was the real deal from Germany.  It was special because it was part of her heritage and culture, something that she grew up with and wanted to share with me.  Unfortunately the meaning and significance of her gift were lost on my ignorance, immaturity, and expectations.  Lederhosen probably weren’t still in fashion in Germany either, but at least it was a part of their culture.  They understood it.  They were familiar with it.  It was totally and literally foreign to me, except for movies and TV.  I mean there weren’t any kids wearing lederhosen in my neighborhood or school.  If they did they would probably be made fun of or worse, so there wasn’t much excitement when I unwrapped the gift.  I was polite, but puzzled.  I’m expecting toys, athletic equipment, candy, or cool clothes.  I wasn’t really sure what they were or what I was supposed to do with them, and I don’t think the explanation helped either.  I never wore them besides trying them on that day and when she came to visit.  All I remember was that they were extremely uncomfortable and I didn’t like them.  I wish I could’ve had a greater appreciation for the gifts significance at the time.  It really was a cool gift.

God has given us some pretty incredible gifts: life, love, creation, creative abilities, and communication just to name a few.  There are so many, too many to think of or imagine.  But, when we open our gifts from God we’re kind of like I was with the lederhosen.  We don’t quite no what to do with them sometimes.  They are unexpected, unfamiliar, and even unwanted.  We like the idea of a God who is like a cosmic Santa Claus.  We make wishlists and He delivers.

Jesus Christ was the greatest gift ever given to mankind, to us, but even after all this time we’re still not quite sure what to make of Him or what to do with Him.  Jesus wasn’t what the Jews were expecting either.  2,000 years ago they were waiting for a warrior Messiah, a conquering king, a deliverer, someone who would finally deliver them from the hands of foreign invaders and overlords.  They wanted a superhero.  “Here He comes to save the day!”  (That was Mighty Mouse for those who don’t know.)  Instead, they got something quite different.  He didn’t fight back or storm the castle.  He could have been the conquering Messiah the Jews were looking for, but that wasn’t the plan.  God had something else in mind, a bigger picture.  There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus, but the name of the Messiah is never given in advance.  The only hint of Jesus’ origins comes from passages like this from Jeremiah and Micah.  The Messiah was going to be a descendent of King David, born in Bethlehem.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”  Jeremiah 23:5-6 NIV

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 NIV

Jeremiah and others describe the Messiah as a coming king who will reign or rule, but Isaiah gives us another picture of the Messiah altogether.

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.  Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”  Isaiah 53:2-7 NIV

While there are some that do not believe that the “suffering servant” described in this passage is Jesus, there is ample evidence to the contrary.  When the writer says, “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering”, “was pierced for our transgressions”, “crushed for our iniquities”, “by his WOUNDS we are healed”, and “his life an offering for sin”, it bears striking resemblance to the gospel accounts of Jesus life and crucifixion.  Isaiah 53 is quoted 8 times in the New Testament, including Acts 8 where Phillip witnesses to the Ethiopian eunuch, who is reading Isaiah 53 and asks, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.”  (Acts 8:34-35 NIV)

A Messiah as a “suffering servant” is counterintuitive.  Messiah’s are supposed to be beautiful, majestic, and powerful, but according to Isaiah’s description the Messiah wasn’t going to be what everyone was expecting.  God doesn’t always do what we expect.  In Ephesians 3:20, Paul says that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,”  In other words, we aren’t always going to understand God’s plan or His gifts when they are unwrapped.  When God is “at work”, He covers all the bases and possibilities.  Things that we can’t even imagine or comprehend.  He goes beyond what we think we want to what we really need, and that is His will or best to be done in our lives.

Love y’all!  Have a great weekend!

Weekly Devotional by Robby Morris, Director of Family Ministry & Facility Coordinator @ Andrews UMC.