given on Sunday, November 25, 2012
Scripture reference: John 3:1-21, CEB
Have you ever wondered why we have Christmas? Every year we witness the masses go a little insane as soon as the Thanksgiving dinner table is cleaned off. The crazy push to have the latest toys, the hottest gifts, and the best Black Friday bargain begins. Why you may not have even had that afternoon nap to sleep off that last bite of pumpkin pie!
Why do we put ourselves into this crazy frenzy when the ultimate gift was given well over 2,000 years ago? Is it because we received God’s gift of John 3:16:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (CEB)
and now we want to demonstrate the significance of that gift by giving ourselves?
Today is that in-between-time when one holiday is over and the next is about to begin. We have one extra Sunday before Advent begins, but that has not stopped the 21st century masses of Christmas gift shoppers. The crowds revealed by the news or by personal experience raced out of the Thanksgiving feast right into the Christmas gift-giving season. No week of down time between the two, only a maddening pace of consumerism.
Still, I found myself slowing down and thinking about why we go through this annual ritual of celebrating Christmas. Do we understand why we do it? Do we just follow the masses blindly into the stores? Do we acknowledge that Christmas is the representation of God’s greatest gift to his children?
Grace is the basis for God’s gift giving, are we doing the same? If God cared enough for his children that he decided to send the very best, HIS SON, is our 21st century gift giving the same idea—caring enough to send the best?
I struggle with this every year. You know–wondering if the gift giving is that important or why it has to be so expensive or why should we even do it. Why has Christmas become so materialistic? Does our gift giving reflect God’s gift giving?
Remember the purpose of God’s decision to send His Son to walk this earth with the people. The purpose was not because his children were being so nice, it was because they were being so naughty. Repeatedly God had sent them warning after warning that the ancient Jews were ignoring his teachings. He had demonstrated all the different methods he could use—plagues of locust, frogs, parting the Red Sea, and the list could go on and on. The Old Testament is filled with stories of pestilence, and words of caution from messengers and prophets. And did the people hear the warnings? Did all the methods seemingly go unnoticed?
God decided to send Jesus Christ rather than destroy everything on earth. He showed grace. He sent Jesus, and Jesus patiently grew into the man who demonstrated grace in concrete ways so we, even today, could transform the world.
Grace, as an entry into a dictionary, begins as a noun, an idea from the Greek language meaning “that which brings delight, joy, happiness, or good fortune.” [The Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, p. 366]
God’s gift of His Son was intended to do just that—bring delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune—to all the faithful followers. God saw that the original intent of providing a Garden of Eden to his children so they could simply live in grace had reached such a chaotic mess he had to do something drastic to get everybody back to that original plan.
God loved us. He offers us that love freely, without any expectations other than to love one another. That is grace in action—a verb. Looking through the entry in the Bible dictionary, the concept of grace is traced from the beginning of the time as recorded in the Old Testament, through the apocrypha, and into the New Testament. Not once does the basic premise change.
Added to the concept of grace is “divine grace” which is at times is referred to as “divine mercy.” Divine grace is understood simply as God’s presence in the form of Jesus Christ or in the examples of other faithful leaders “who subsequently grow in grace, speaks gracious words, and like a divine man, passes unharmed through a hostile mob.” This is how the Bible dictionary has analyzed the verses from Luke (Luke 2:40, 52, 4:22 and 30):
Luke 2: 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him. . . . 52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.
Luke 4: 22 Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?” . . . 30 But he passed through the crowd and went on his way.
God’s Christmas gift was delivered through the birth of Jesus Christ. And that gift took almost 30 years to be opened by the very people who received it. Have you opened your gift? Have you received God’s grace? Have you learned how to use the gift?
Maybe the answers lie in why we celebrate Christmas in such a materialistic manner. Maybe we feel gift giving, holiday parties, and glorious decorations are ways to share grace with others. Such traditions do “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune.”
But are those gifts bringing God’s grace and peace into the recipients of those gifts? Are those gifts making a difference in people’s lives, transforming them into Christians who will open up their own gifts to “bring delight, joy, happiness, and/or good fortune” to others, too?
God’s gift giving was intended to transform the world. The world was in disarray, much like our world today could be described. Greed continues to be a problem. Greed comes with dollar signs attached, but it also is demonstrated in power struggles, in territorial disputes, and even in materialistic goods.
And greed is just one form of today’s problems. There are so many more that can be listed: racism, abusive relationships and behaviors, all forms of social injustices, no value for human life, addictions, and the list just keeps growing. Does the 21st century need grace? Certainly.
The New Testament carefully preserves the history of God’s gift giving, and it demonstrates or outlines all the acts that we are to follow in order to transform the world into one that “brings delight, joy, happiness, and good fortune” to all who follow Jesus. Has that first Christmas gift worked?
Maybe that is another reason we have Christmas: to try once more to give gifts that will create grace in the lives of others. Maybe our Advent season is like the introduction to an operator’s manual. We need this season to refocus our lives around God. We need to look at the gifts God has given to us personally and then look at how well we have used them to give grace to others.
The insanity of gift giving today has developed as we wandered away from the very foundation of Christmas. We are given grace by God each and every day, but are friends, strangers, or ourselves able to give grace to others whether family or not?
This Advent season, stop and review the gifts in your life that bring you delight, joy, happiness and/or good fortune. The gift of Advent may be the gift of renewal, reaffirmation, or resolve to accept God’s gift of His Son as he tries to transform the world into a grace-filled Garden of Eden. We, as his followers, are to accept the gift, and then learn how to use it to provide grace and peace to others. Such gift giving will surely transform the world into one filled with delight, joy, happiness and good fortune.
Why Christmas? Why not Christmas! Each year we need to renew the story so we never forget. Each year we need to open up the gift of God’s grace and figure out how to give the same gift to others. That is why we have Christmas.
Holy Father, giver of gifts,
Prepare us for Christmas once again.
Guide us in our own gift giving
as we try to follow your example.
Use this Advent season to share the story
of Your greatest gift, Your only Son.
Help us open your gift so others may receive
the grace and peace given to them.
Teach us how to give your gift to others
so they too may be transformed. –Amen