Date: 04 Dec 2016
Text: Ephesians 2:1-10 & James 1:2-18
I had planned to talk about hope this morning; that is, the hope that Jesus brings into our lives. However, after struggling with it I temporarily gave up on that idea and decided to talk about something else, which is why this morning I’m going to talk about the Gift that we receive from God at Christmas.
Christmas shopping is one of those things that has to be done isn’t it. It’s never easy as there is so much to think about. What to buy a particular person? How much money do I have available? Will I be able to carry it home? What if they don’t like it? I’m sure that all of us have at some time bought a present that has been ignored the moment we leave; and I’m equally sure that we’ve all received a present that we simply put in a cupboard or drawer and forget about. Be honest, it happens; doesn’t it?
Some people of course absolutely love Christmas shopping. My third daughter, Lindsay, will have bought her presents and wrapped them ready and waiting well before the end of October, possibly even earlier. My son Bruce has also enjoyed it this year and managed to get everything sorted by the middle of November. As to their father, well, there’s plenty of time yet!
Christmas is all about gifts and everyone has grown accustomed to receiving something however large or small. Children especially expect something special and generally expensive. God also loves Christmas which is why He sent each of us a very special gift in the shape of His Son Jesus. Last week we thought about how special Jesus’ Mum Mary was and this week I want us to think about Jesus as the special gift given by God.
The Personal Gift
Many people see God as out of reach, impersonal and not interested in them personally, as an individual. So out of reach is He that there are many who can’t conceive of the idea of Him giving them any sort of gift at all. Anyone who does think that is the case couldn’t be further from the truth. God loves each and every one of us as individuals. Just listen to what Jesus told His disciples: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:6-7). That doesn’t sound to me like a God Who doesn’t care for us, Who isn’t interested in our welfare and Who wouldn’t even contemplate giving us anything. Quite the opposite; God really cares for us and cares so much that He sent His Son as a baby born at Christmas to live among His people and to share their daily problems.
God loves for us is so great that He sent His Son into the world for each one of us. That love is confirmed by that famous verse in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Surely that word “gave” makes it very clear that Jesus was a gift to us. He may have been born as an ordinary human being, albeit in supernatural circumstances, but He was born to be a gift to everyone in the world if only they would accept Him. This amazing present that God gives us at Christmas is a personal gift.
The Practical Gift
The gift that God gives us is also practical. Paul tells us in Romans 6:23a that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”. It is that gift that means we receive God’s forgiveness through the death of His Son Jesus at Calvary. It may seem strange to us, but Jesus, that wonderful baby born at Christmas, was born to die for us. He came to earth to be with us and then to die an horrendous death for us. It is as a result of His death that we have that most practical of gifts, eternal life. If we continue to follow the life of sin we will only receive the payment of death. If we accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour then as The Message puts Romans 6:23: “God’s gift is real life, eternal life delivered by Jesus”.
Advent is a time of preparation, the time when we get ready for Christmas. We buy, wrap and label the presents; buy and prepare the food; and tidy the house for all those who may visit. All the preparation that we do though is external; we attend to those the things that everyone can see. God is more concerned about what people can’t see; He is concerned at what is going on inside us, in our hearts. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said in Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” And so another practical gift from God is to cleanse our hearts. A pure heart is all part of the transformation in our attitudes and behaviour that comes from knowing Jesus. Paul spoke of our being transformed by the renewing of our minds in Romans 12:2, and that goes along with being transformed in our hearts. However, this mustn’t be an unwanted gift; we must want to have pure hearts and we must ask God to help us in that. The Psalmist also knew that since he prayed “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10). We need to join David in that prayer.
As we think about practical gifts, we may also think about food; an important component of the modern Christmas! With that in mind it is interesting to see the connection between Bethlehem and Jesus, apart, that is, from the fact that Bethlehem was where Jesus was born! Bethlehem literally means “the house of bread” or “food”. You may recall that Jesus told us “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35). I like that connection and it means that if we come to Jesus we will never go hungry and never go thirsty; He will always be there to feed us, quite a practical gift when you think about it.
The practical gifts don’t stop there. When we come to faith in Jesus we subsequently receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift that helps us in a new life, a life of love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, self-control and humility.
The Permanent Gift
How many of the gifts that we receive are permanent? We receive boxes and boxes of chocolates and biscuits that soon go; especially if we have help from tiny hands! They are nice while they last but unfortunately they don’t last very long. If a lady receives perfume that also soon runs out, especially if she likes it. Those gifts may be lovely and very welcome but they don’t last too long. On a different note there are those who give a present to someone and enclose the receipt “just in case”! That is, just in case it is the wrong gift or the wrong size or the wrong colour or any one of a number of other reasons. Such a gift is not permanent and can easily be changed on a whim.
Whilst thinking about these less-than-permanent presents, earlier this week I came across this item in The Times TMS Diary column:
“It is the time of year when MPs send whisky by the caseload to their party leader. Not as a present or a bribe but so that he or she will sign the bottles to be dispensed to constituency donors for Christmas. Theresa May, one hears, has a well-drilled assembly line going for this. Jeremy Corbyn, however, does things in his own unique way. He has been offering apples from his garden instead. What a very Corbyn thing to do: so different and thoughtful and yet by scribbling on the peel it instantly renders the gift unusable until, having turned brown and rotten over Christmas, it is thrown away like so many duff policy ideas. I suppose he thinks it will appeal to his core voters.”
Depending on your tastes, the apple may last longer than the whisky!
The gifts that God gives aren’t like that, they aren’t transient: they are permanent. His gifts won’t wear out, run out, need servicing or need replacing. That great gift of eternal life spent with Jesus in paradise does what it says on the tin: it lasts for eternity. You can’t get much better than that! God’s gift includes forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. Would you really want to exchange that for a lesser gift? I hope not! Eternal life, forgiveness and reconciliation; all gifts from God that we cannot purchase anywhere - only God can give them.
The Purchased Gift
It follows of course that all the gifts that we buy at Christmas have to be bought and paid for; they have to be purchased. I doubt that any of us are wealthy enough to be able to buy presents without worrying about the cost; we all have to budget very carefully, especially if we have a large family or lots of presents to buy. Many start saving to buy their presents early in the year or buy them in the January sales; if only I could be that organised! All too often presents are bought on credit of some description and far too many people find that they are still paying for them by the time next Christmas comes along. Not a good situation to be in.
God’s gift to us of eternal life in and with Jesus is free to us; the price has already been paid by Jesus dying on the cross of Calvary meaning that we don’t have to die or pay any price to receive that gift. I’ll say it again; the gift of eternal life in and with Jesus is free since Jesus Himself has paid the price on our behalf.
Sin always has to be paid for and involves the shedding of blood of a sacrifice. However, after hundreds of years of animals being sacrificed and having very little effect on the people’s behaviour, God decided that His only Son Jesus would be born to die. Jesus was to be the once and for all final sacrifice; the One Who would shed His blood as the ultimate sacrifice to pay for the sins of all who would accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. Everyone accepting Jesus would receive that great gift of eternal life without cost.
We all like to receive gifts don’t we? We all like gifts that are personal, practical, permanent and purchased and yet it is very rare that anyone gives those sorts of gifts. God does; He is the only One Who gives a gift that fits all those categories since His gift is new life in Jesus Christ. No one, not even John Lewis, can provide anything that comes close to that very special gift.
I truly hope that you all enjoy buying and wrapping presents for loved ones and friends. I truly hope that the gifts that you give are appreciated; but most of all I hope that you will all appreciate that the greatest gift ever given at Christmas was Jesus Christ, born to be our Saviour. Enjoy your presents.
 TMS Diary, The Times, 30 Nov 2016, page 11