There are some things you just have to experience to be able to comprehend how majestically wonderful they are. Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon is one of them, or looking down from the top of Yosemite Falls. These are both experiences that take your breath away. Some things are difficult to explain, like the simple pleasures of sitting in a tree stand all day, or sitting quietly on a porch on a rainy day. Along those lines, there’s one story, only a legend really, on the origin of the Christmas tree. They say it had to do with Martin Luther, who was known to frequently walk through the woods to find quite time in prayer and contemplation. That’s something that used to be one of my favorite experiences – one I got to revisit today while I carried my son as the snow softly fell through the trees.
There is an unquestionable tranquility in that. So the legend goes that Martin Luther was walking through the woods on a brisk night after a snowfall, the snow reflecting light from a full moon. When he looked up, he saw the stars glimmering through the branches of an evergreen. He was awestruck by its beauty. It was an experience he couldn’t describe. It was as though the stars rested on its very branches. He rushed home to tell his family, but he only became flustered when they didn’t seem to grasp what he had seen. So, he rushed out to cut down an evergreen, brought it into his home, and decorated it with candles to simulate the flickering light of the stars. Alas, the tradition of the Christmas tree was born. Some say it has something to do with the pagan worship of a tree stump… but I don’t know how you go from a tree stump to an evergreen decorated in your living room. And let’s face it, that story is just… not as cool.
But there is another experience that we simply cannot comprehend. To give the greatest gift… how can we know that? To be a perfect father, to know a perfect love, to have a perfect son! But it’s not to the son that the gift is given. The son is the gift, and incredibly, the gift given to the most offensive and rebellious people. Would we find joy in that?
That is something I cannot comprehend, and it’s one I cannot experience. Even so, I’m often awestruck by the magnificence of it all, and that’s exactly what God the Father did. At Christmastime, we all know that there is far greater joy in giving than receiving. But giving a Son to die as a redemptive sacrifice for a people who don’t want to be redeemed? Did the Father find joy in that?
This is what strikes me, and something I am often reminded of during this time of year, when we celebrate the birth of a child who was born to die. It was in this that the Father found the greatest joy – in giving His perfect Son so that by faith, we can be reconciled to Him having received the perfect righteous of Christ credited to our account. For this reason, one of my favorite passages that comes to mind during the holiday season is Isaiah 53, the passage that foretells of the sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb that was the greatest gift of all.
Vs. 10 especially strikes me. “But the Lord was pleased to crush Him.”
That verse comes after a graphic description of Christ’s death – the innocent lamb that was led silently to be slaughtered. He was “crushed.” This would be the same word used to describe corn being ground between two great millstones.
And the Lord was pleased. This word is used often in the Old Testament, and it is this word that really shows us the greatness of God’s love. It’s used just a few chapters later in Isa. 62:4 to speak of His love for Israel, His bride. They are “married,” for He “delights” in her. So the same word to describe the delight of a bridegroom for his new wife is used to describe God’s delight in giving His innocent Son. The best gift ever given.
Christmas is a time of gifts and family, eating, and laughter, but my hope is that you will take the time today to reflect on incomprehensibility of the greatest gift.
Who has believed our message?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
2 For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot,
And like a root out of parched ground;
He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.
3 He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He did not open His mouth;
Like a lamb that is led to slaughter,
And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers,
So He did not open His mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away;
And as for His generation, who considered
That He was cut off out of the land of the [k]living
For the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?
9 His grave was assigned with wicked men,
Yet He was with a rich man in His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.
10 But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.