Presents carefully chosen weeks or even months ago, presents quickly bought at the last minute before the shops closed on Christmas Eve, presents searched for that will be just right for a loved one, presents hastily bought for the person who surprised you with a gift, presents hidden away in cupboards, presents wrapped and sitting under the Christmas Tree,
We associate Christmas with gifts and giving. These gifts can be a great cause of joy but also tension “Did I buy the right thing?” “Will they like it?” “Has someone else bought them the same thing?” (One year, Sarah and I bought each other the same CD). In order to avoid loss of face, one of the morning TV shows even brought in a facial coach to teach viewers how to show appropriate surprise and joy whilst hiding disappointment.
Why do we give gifts at Christmas? The tradition seems to be linked with the wise men coming to Bethlehem with gold, frankincense and myrrh. It’s also a reminder that God was giving something incredible and special.
What do I deserve?
Come with me back to Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Over the past few weeks we’ve been meeting people from the Christmas story. There was Mary. An angel appeared to her and said:
“Don’t be afraid, Mary…for you have found favour with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel[f] forever; his Kingdom will never end!”
God shows favour to Mary, not because she deserves it. He chooses to love her and show grace to her. The promise here is of a son who will be an eternal king. Later the angel appears to Joseph her fiancé in a dream:
“do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
The son’s name is explained. Jesus means “God saves.” Jesus is the one who will bring forgiveness from the guilt of sin. Jesus is the one who will remove our shame.
After the baby has been born and laid in a manger, the angel appears to Shepherds and tells them:
“The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Notice again, that statement that Jesus is the saviour. In the wider reading about he shepherds you will notice the repeat of the idea seen when Gabriel appeared to Mary. These are people God favours. This is important because
- People often take the description of “peace and goodwill to all men” and turn it into a sweet and sentimental wish. Why can’t we all just get along during this season of peace and goodwill.
- Others have picked up on the rest of the verse “to those he is pleased with” or “to those on whom his favour rests.” That sounds very restrictive. God will choose those who deserve peace.
This sentiment of “peace and goodwill” suddenly seems to be snuffed out by the small-print. It’s a bit like Santa with his naughty and nice list. There are presents but only for those who deserve them. So I’m left wondering “How do I get on the good list.” If God
“sees you when you’re sleeping
and knows when you’re awake
If he knows if you’ve been bad or good”
Then he’s probably got quite a bit on me, just from the last week, never mind the last year. The whole idea of his favour and pleasure towards me suggests that I’ve given something back to him through the year. That I’ve lived for him, that I’ve put him first, that I’ve loved him whole-heartedly.
You see the problem? Our selfishness, greed, grumpiness, spiteful thoughts and hurtful words, our tight-fistedness in the face of need, our tendency to try and hide the truth and hide from the truth mean that we don’t deserve his favour. If this peace and goodwill is only for those who God favours then most, if not all of us are going to be missing out.
That’s why it’s so important to see what the gift is. Actually, the peace and goodwill are not the gift, as great a gift as that sounds. No, the gift is “the saviour.” The angel says that Jesus is our saviour because he saves his people from their sin. It is our sin that means we don’t deserve God’s favour, it makes us his enemies because we choose to live as though he isn’t real and isn’t present in our lives. We need reconciliation. We need God to forgive us and bring us close to him again.
What is the Greatest gift?
This is the message of Christmas: God in Christ has made his home with us, so that we can have a home with him.
It’s summed up in the words of that carol: He has:
“come to turn me a stranger into a child of God.”
It’s also summed up in the wonderful words of John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The gift is not peace and goodwill, in fact the gift is not just salvation and eternal life. The gift is Jesus himself. Imagine the scene, it’s Christmas Day, dinner has been eaten and everyone is sitting round opening presents but something is not quite right, one of the family is missing. They were driven out years ago over a petty quarrel, it wasn’t even their fault, lies were told and angry words said. They have actually tried to get in touch, they’ve sent letters, emails, cards, made phone calls but every time, they’ve been rejected. But no-one feels right with this, there’s an emptiness, a coldness and we all want the feud to stop but we don’t know how. We wonder if they have given up on us by now. Then there is a knock at the door and it’s him and every one is hugging and kissing and crying and half opened presents are left forgotten on the floor. This is a far greater gift.
God in Jesus has come in person Himself to make peace with us, to forgive us, to reconcile us to him and to tell us that he chooses to favour us.
What is your response to Jesus this Christmas time? How do you respond to this gift?
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
hen the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me.
 Luke 1:30-34
 Matthew 1:20-21.
 Luke 2:11-12.
 Santa Claus is coming to Town.
 Keith and Krysten Getty, Jesus Joy of the Highest Heaven.
 Emily E Elliot, There is Room in my heart for thee (1864).