Everyone likes to get gifts, free stuff, huge discounts, or even win the lottery. But the thing we find with most such gifts is that they are short lived. Many gifts get put aside, free stuff is not all that useful, and many big lottery winners have found the money more of a curse than a blessing. The writer of the Book of James tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”(James 1:17) We often seek after toys and baubles in life ignoring the One from whom our true treasure comes. It is the Lord who is the source of life. It is He who has given us life in Jesus Christ. God shows us in His Word the path to the best life possible. It is He who loves us with an everlasting love that never changes. Everything else we have in this world can be seen as a gift of God, and received with thankfulness and praise. Sure, getting gifts is nice, but we live daily in the joy of having already received the greatest gift possible, a relationship with Almighty God through faith in Jesus Christ. Everything else flows from this.
On Tuesday I wrote about seeing life as a gift from God. That doesn’t mean that everything is exactly as God wants it. In a world full of sin many things are wrong, and not God’s desire for us. Why was there another tragic shooting yesterday? This is only one more in a long list of “why” question that have no satisfactory answer. Yet there is a truth that remains beyond all the questions. God has not and does not abandon His creation. We’ve just entered the Lenten Season, a season of humbling one’s self before God in repentance. It is a season that culminates with the truth of the atoning death and glorious resurrection of God’s only begotten Son. This is a gift, an act of the greatest love and extreme grace from Almighty God for mankind. It is an act assuring us that in spite of all our unanswered questions, things will be set right. God can be trusted to bring all things to their right conclusion. And in the midst of the day to day struggles He is there. His grace is sufficient for all our needs.
In John chapter four Jesus met a Samaritan woman coming to draw water from the town well. After asking her for a drink He said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”(vs.17) “If you knew the gift of God…” A number of times the Apostle speak of God giving gifts to people, and James says that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,…”(1:17) God is our Father with the greatest love for each of us, and a desire that we have the best of His gifts. The first and greatest of those gifts is the living water of life in Jesus Christ. Further, He has given us Himself in the presence of the Holy Spirit to daily guide and call us into an ever deepening relationship. The more we see the content of our life as a gift from God the more we are brought to rejoice and worship before Him.
This is the gift giving season, and many make lists of what they would like to have for Christmas. One can put their list of desired items up on Amazon Lists so others can see it and buy directly from Amazon. Even have it gift wrapped and mailed. Smart business move! But beyond the wish list of items what do you really want for Christmas? The New Testament writer James tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”(1:17) Our greatest gift is that of our life in the Child of Bethlehem. That gift allows us to come and stand in righteousness before our Father in Heaven. We have been given the gift of the greatest love. All other gifts flow from this. All of the items on the Amazon List are nice, and some may even be necessary, but the love that has come to us, and then flows through us to other, is a gift of immeasurable value. So what do we really want for Christmas? To come even more deeply into that love, and for that love to heal hurts and bind us to all those we care about.
Only five more shopping days left till Christmas! Our local paper has three times the volume of advertising copy as news and community information. We are kept apprised on the radio that Walmart is 0.8% ahead of last years sales pace, and that the average family spends X number of dollars per person on Christmas. The season give us a stark look at how we have become a consumer society without which the economy would collapse. And yet in the midst of it all our Lord seeks to say “I am giving to you the most valuable gift you could ever possibly receive. It is a gift that changes your life now and for eternity. It is a gift that will never grow old or wear out. And it is absolutely free of all cost to you. I have paid the price in full.” Forget all the slogans about keeping Christ in Christmas. He can never be removed in any event. Go buy your gifts. Try not to go into debt, or spend more than you can afford. But above all focus your heart on the only gift that really matters, The gift you have received that was wrapped in a straw filled Bethlehem manger.
We admire men and women who have made it to the top of their profession, especially if they came from a poor background and worked their way up. They are sometimes referred to as self-made individuals, but there really is no such thing. Yes, they had to put forth great effort, endure hardship, and have patience as they moved forward, but where did all that come from? It is God who has made us, and we are His. He has given us personality traits, A, B, C types, or whatever. It is He who has given us gifts and abilities in certain areas. It is He who has open or closed doors of opportunity. Self-made? Not a chance. And this is true for each of us. God has given you gifts just as He has with corporate climbers, and your gifts are no less important. Your accomplishments don’t need to be compared to anyone. We are responsible before God to recognize the gifts He has given, and use them to the fullest for His glory. Whether one is the best industry president, able to preach a great sermon, skilled in making a solid brick wall, or able to give comfort and care to others, it is our gift from God and use to bring Him honor. (Mark12:41-44)
We wrote about gift giving yesterday. There is another aspect of this that we might consider, that of being a thankful receiver. It often happen with receiving a gift, or even a favor from someone, that one feels the obligation to give something in return. We are given a gift. We must give a gift in return. We are invited to dinner. We must return the favor. Sometimes this is fine, and we like to “exchange” gifts, but we also need to learn how to be a grateful receiver. This begins with our Lord. There is nothing we can return to Him for the grace He has and continues to give us. We can only give him humble thanks and praise. With other, if we have the opportunity to return a kindness, that’s fine, but learning to be a gracious receive is important. It is not that we “expect” to receive, or feel that we are “owed” a gift. It is not that we are obligated and beholding to the giver. We are not selfishly looking for all we can get. We can simply say a grateful “thank you” for the love that has been shown. Sometimes the best return to the giver is a warm hug, or a firm handshake.
It’s interesting to watch one or two year old children with birthday or Christmas presents. Once the package is open they often set the toy aside and are more interested in playing with the paper wrapping or crawling inside the box the gift came in. They don’t realizes the cost of the toy, all that it might allow them to do, or the fun they can have with it. A lot of times people are like those children. Jesus told the parable of a king giving a wedding banquet for his son. It was magnificent. Everything was prepared, and servants were sent to call the invited guests.(Luke 14:15f) One by one the guests began to make excuses. They were too busy, they had important business to attend to, and so on. Jesus extends to all people the greatest invitation possible. In His own life He has done everything necessary to share His joy now and eternally. Yet far too often people are more interested in playing with the boxes and wrapping than the gift itself. Let that not be so among us, and let us show the joy of Jesus’ life to others.
As families gather around to open Christmas presents there are varying degrees of excitement with each gift, especially with the kids. A shirt or new jacket will elicit mild appreciation, while a desired toy or video game brings real expressions of glee. Of course, this has to do with the age of the recipient, but also with the short or long term view one takes of the gift. A new toy brings pleasure immediately, but is often set aside in a few weeks. A warm jacket isn’t needed in a cozy house, but is sure good on many cold mornings. Do we not sometimes treat our Lord that way? We refer to Him as the greatest gift we receive at Christmas. Yet in the short term there are many other people and activities that seem more important, more fun. Growing in Christ means that we see our walk with the Lord as the most valuable aspect of life for today, and for all of our days into eternity. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.”(John 10:10) There really is great joy and holy fun in walking with Jesus daily, but it is the grace of eternal life God has given us through Him that is our value beyond measure.
“What do you want for Christmas?” That’s the question we often ask young children at this time of year. They usually give us a list of toys or games. Our wants change as we grow older, and generally the toys grow more expensive. But hopefully our desires also grow more mature. We have acquired a lot of things, and while enjoyable and useful, they really are not where life’s satisfaction rests. We look more to the deeper things of a good marriage, valuable friends, health, useful work and activities, and a deepening faith that sustains us in all times. God knows that we need a certain amount of things – probably a lot less that we think we do – but the greatest gift is our personal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the gift that He has already given, and it is truly satisfying.