Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
II Corinthians 9:15
It is popular this time of year to say that Christmas is about giving. But those who were at the first Christmas would have said otherwise. They would have said that Christmas was about receiving. Christmas as told by the angels, shepherds, and wise men, was all about receiving. All they could do was receive God wrapped up in love for them and sent earthbound. The gift sent for receiving was God’s “indescribable gift” come down in human flesh. It was the greatest of all possible gifts!
Religions of the world talk about doing for God rather than God doing for us. They imagine us reaching up to God, rather than God reaching down to us. People often fancy getting themselves right with God, or getting God on their side, by giving Him their money, time, talents, and worship. But God’s “indescribable gift” at Christmas reveals God as the one doing the giving.
As earthly parents delight in giving to their children, so the heavenly Father delights in giving to you and me. As the sovereign God of heaven and earth He needs nothing that we might give Him. He gives to us for His sheer joy in giving. The eternal, self-giving love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit overflowed onto our broken world that Christmas night. God so loved the world that He gave, and He goes on giving to us today with no thought for Himself. He longs for us to receive like little children unspoiled by any thought of earning, deserving, or paying back.
In the apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Christians he is bursting with thanks to God for His “indescribable gift”. Paul struggles trying to find the right word to express the incomprehensible greatness of God’s gift. Greek scholars suggest that He probably coins the Greek word, anekdiegestos, as this is the first time the word is found in Greek literature. Paul’s word is translated as “indescribable” and conveys the idea of “not fully declared”. It is something “too wonderful for words”, “inexpressible”, and “unspeakable”.
The usually fluent and verbal apostle doesn’t have words to adequately express the enormity of what God gives us in His “indescribable gift”. Paul pushes his words hard to encompass “a gift whose wonder can never be exhausted and whose story can never be fully told.” (William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians: The Daily Study Bible Series) When we could not make our way to God, God made His way to us, imparting His very own life and glory. No angel nor mortal can describe God’s gift too wonderful for words.
The apostle John was one of the first to receive God’s “indescribable gift”, and he helped spread the Good News: “all who received Jesus, who believed on his name, God gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). Everyone who receives God’s “indescribable gift” experiences life powerfully changed.
Saint Irenaeus was one of the first Christian thinkers to grapple with the richness of God’s gift, and he concluded: “Our beloved Lord Jesus Christ became what we are that He might bring us to be what He is in Himself.” The great Saint Athanasius declared, “The Son of God became Son of man to make us sons of God.”
For these weeks of Advent we ask the Holy Spirit to guide us as we daily reflect on the “indescribable gift” God wants us to receive. We will see how at the manger God bent low, not for His sake, but for ours. He gave Himself so that we might receive, and as we receive we find that God then makes us givers like Him. We discover that by first receiving from God He empowers us to give. We cannot pour from our empty pitchers until God first fills us.
I was a young man driving through New Mexico when my car ran out of gas. I grabbed for an empty gas can from my car’s trunk and set off on foot in search of a gallon. Soon I came to a crossroad where I happened upon another man on foot, also carrying a gas can, and also empty. We smiled at each other and then laughed, as we had nothing to give to the other. We were empty. I often think of that incident as an illustration of needing to be filled up by God before we have something to give. I cannot give unconditional love until I receive unconditional love, or give grace until I have received it.
Our Scriptural focus for these days of Advent will be the apostle Paul’s writings on the overflow of God’s grace set forth in II Corinthians 8-9. Through these daily Scripture reflections we will explore receiving and giving, and how in receiving God’s grace generously, His grace can overflow through us to enrich other lives.
Each day’s Scripture reflection will conclude with praying the Daily Receiving Prayer. Since Christmas begins with receiving, it is important that we take time each day to receive from our heavenly Father. The Daily Receiving Prayer is rooted in the recognition that God created us to live reliantly on Him. We are to live in the awareness that “every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). It is in God that “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is fitting that we make time each day for receiving from Him.
Praying the Daily Receiving Prayer begins with being still in God’s presence with one hand or both hands cupped upward towards God. This prayer gesture signals our desire to receive from God. A hand cupped upward towards God in prayer goes back to Biblical times (Exodus 8:29; I Kings 8:22; Psalm 141:2; I Timothy 2:8). This was a favorite way of praying by the first Christians and can be seen depicted on catacomb walls and numerous early Christian art. A cupped hand lifted upward is natural body language from deep within voicing our longing to receive. Much like a little child lifts pleading hands to a parent, so we lift our hands to the Father. People often find lifting hands upward to God so expressive that few if any words are needed for communicating with Him. He understands.
On other days a spoken or silent prayer might arise as we lift hands to God: “Father I receive from you.” “I receive your blessing.” “I receive your wisdom.” “I receive your power.” “I receive your fresh forgiveness.” “I receive your grace”, and so forth. Cupped hands lifted to God provide a visual promise for the day as we live expectantly and ready to receive. While the Daily Receiving Prayer might be new to you, you will find it powerful as you make time for opening hands and heart to receive from God.
Why not begin your Advent celebration right now by opening your hands to the Father and receiving what is needed for your day!