Gifts aren’t always what they seem

I love giving gifts. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. I don’t like to shop, really, but looking for just the right Christmas present is one of the highlights of my year. And the only thing better is wrapping it up and giving it away, anticipating how much joy the receiver will experience, the way their eyes light up and their faces lift.

In the past, I’ve always been able to find exactly what I wanted to give, mostly because I could afford it. But this year is a little different. This year, finances are much tighter than they have been in the past, and that’s to be expected. When you cut your income by more than 50%, you tighten the belt. And that includes Christmas presents.

The gifts I’m giving away this year are a far cry from what I gave away in past years. They’re certainly more personal because there’s so many more homemade gifts rather than purchased ones. But I always hear that niggling little voice in the back of my head that tells me they aren’t good enough. I mean, how could a cheap little hand-made present communicate how much I love someone?

But as I was arguing with my stupid inner-self a few days ago, I had a thought. Or maybe the Lord gave me a thought. See, Christmas is the time we celebrate that Jesus came to earth, and when He was born, shepherds and wise men and all sorts brought presents and had a great big party. And that party continued for like 30 years, because everyone was so excited that God had sent someone to save them from Rome.

Yeah. That’s the gift people were celebrating. But that wasn’t the gift God gave.

gift-present-christmas-xmasToday’s verses are Isaiah 9:6-7.

For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

See, the people of Israel believed that God had sent them a political Messiah. Someone who would toss the Romans out of the land and restore freedom to their people. But that wasn’t the reason Jesus came. Jesus came with salvation, yes, but salvation for our souls. Not salvation from a government people didn’t like.

We had to be saved from our own selves. That was the gift God gave us when Jesus came to Earth. But nobody saw that. Jesus came and that’s worth celebrating, but the most precious gift He brought wasn’t what everyone expected.

Don’t make the mistake of seeing a gift at face value. Don’t assume you know its worth. God gave His most precious gift to us when He gave us Jesus, but that gift isn’t what people wanted right at that moment. They wanted salvation from Rome immediately. They wanted a ruler to look impressive, sound impressive, be impressive, but God knew what they needed, just like He knows what we need now.

 

We should always be thankful for the gifts we receive, but even if you get a gift that you don’t understand or don’t know how to use, don’t automatically discount it in your mind. A gift isn’t always what it seems at first. After all, Israel thought Jesus had come to rescue them from Rome, but Jesus actually came to rescue them from sin. Which do you think is worth more?

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The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Christmas isn’t what we do, it’s what Jesus did

I was listening to a Christian station on the way to work yesterday morning and heard them say that Christmas is smiling at someone on the street. They must really believe it too because it was an ad that played a few more times before the day was out. And I stopped for a minute to think about that.

But honestly, no matter how I slice it, I don’t see how Christmas can be defined as smiling at someone. That’s how the world sees Christmas, smiling at someone you don’t know, offering kindness to a stranger. And I’m not saying that those things are bad. Heavens, no, smile at people. Do kind things for people. Yes! But those are things we should do all the time as Christ-followers. Not just during the Christmas season.

Christmas is so much more than that.

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

The fancy Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Colossians 1:12-14.

He [God] has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Okay, Christ-followers, let’s get real here for a minute. I love Christmas. It’s my favorite time of year, hands down. I’m the crazy one who buys all the silly, superfluous gifts that serve no practical purpose other than making people smile. I just LOVE to give gifts. But Christmas isn’t about gifts.

I also love serving. I love being able to give my time and my talent and my resources to other people. I love making meals for people. I love hosting parties at my house. I love helping people. But Christmas isn’t about serving others or helping others.

It’s not about the songs or the decorations or the festivities. It’s not about any of that.

Christmas is the time we stop everything and remember that Jesus gave up His throne, His life in heaven, to come here, knowing full well that He would die a horrible death. The manger scene we’re all familiar with is cute and filled with precious moments figurines. But if you know anything about farms and barns and livestock, you know there was nothing cute happening in that stable where Christ was born.

Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home to come down here to be part of a quaint little manger scene. He gave up heaven itself to live in the squalor and the dirt and the cruelty of our broken world, and He did it for one reason: Me. And you. And your neighbor. And your best friend. And that really annoying guy you work with.

Before Jesus, I was lost. Before Jesus, I had no hope. I was wandering around in darkness with no security, no future, no reason to keep going. But because Jesus came to rescue us, we have hope. Jesus rescued us from the darkness, and through Him, God has brought us into the light. Jesus purchased our freedom with His own blood, and because of Him we are made right with God. And that’s what Christmas is about.

Not the cuteness and the presents and the Black Friday shopping and the decorations. Christmas was a rescue mission where the hero would lose His life to save the enemy.

You get that, right? We were God’s enemies. We were Christ’s enemies because we had fallen short of God’s glorious standard. There’s no gray with God. You’re either righteous or you’re not, and our first parents screwed that up for us. But God loved us anyway–so much He sent His Only Son to Earth to die so we could live.

Christmas is about Jesus. Our hero. Our savior. Our rescuer.

Because of Him, I am free, I have a future, and I have hope.  That’s what we celebrate. Don’t forget, Christ-follower. No matter how nice smiling at someone or helping someone may sound, that’s not Christmas.

So, sure, smile at people all you want. And serve people all day long. Those are wonderful, admirable things. And doing those things, especially for the unlovable, does make God happy. But don’t make the mistake of calling them Christmas, because Christmas goes beyond just what we do for other people. It’s about remember what Christ did for us.