A few years ago, the TV programme “Good Morning, America,” featured some extraordinary Christmas gifts. The first was a car, the Jaguar 220, which at that time cost $587,000. The second was the ultimate car wax which retailed at $3,400 for an 8 ounce can. The third was a $300,000 gold and silver toilet seat inlaid with precious stones. The final gift was a $28,000 dummy (what Americans call a ‘pacifier’) for loving grandparents to give to their grandchild.
Such gifts may stagger our imagination, but they are not indescribable. Yet God’s Christmas gift of his Son is beyond all words. The Apostle Paul, as he comes to the end of his instructions on giving, declares: “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9.15 NRSV; also NIV).
The underlying Greek word used by the Apostle is found nowhere else in the Bible – indeed, it is found nowhere else in classical literature. Some have speculated that it is a word created by Paul. Anekdiektetos: literally it means ‘not able (an) to be described (diektetotos) exhaustively (ek)’. Translators have sought in various ways to bring out the meaning: “unspeakable gift” (AV); “inexpressible gift” (RSV); “priceless gift” (GNB); “his gift.. is beyond all praise” (REB); “no language can praise it enough” (The Message).
Mark Seifrid in his 2014 commentary, The Second Letter to the Corinthians writes: “The term that he (Paul) uses signifies that this gift cannot be recounted, narrated, or told. It implies a story that is beyond all telling, a story that again and again calls forth amazement, wonder and praise.”
Parallels are sometimes drawn to the beginning of Paul’s doxology in Romans 11: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways” (Rom 11.33 NRSV). God’s amazing love for us in Jesus is truly beyond all understanding. Words fail us to adequately describe the mystery of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And yet, although human words can never do justice to the wonder of God’s coming to us in Jesus, we cannot nor should we remain silent. So just as Paul praises God for his gift beyond words, so on Christmas Day we shall again sing:
True God of true God,
Light of light eternal,
Lo, He abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Son of the Father,
Begotten not created
Here we seek to express the inexpressible, which in turn causes us to sing from the very depths of our being: “O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord”.
“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”