Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Gift to Bring?

Volume 1, Number 28
November 26, 2006

If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand? (Job 35:7[1])
Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:11)
They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh; but He did not take it. (Mk 15:23)

The turkey has been sacrificed to be dissected, dismembered, divided and devoured, and Macy’s has officially christened the Christmas (or should I say “Holiday?”) season. I always enter this season with mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is my least favorite time of the year and on the other hand, it is one of the most joyful times of the year.

The commercialism of Christmas saddens me especially when I see Christmas displays along side Halloween items at the store. It would be na├»ve to imagine that the merchants are just premature in fostering the “Christmas spirit.” The fact is that they want us to get into the Christmas spirit early for their profit. There is nothing noble in their cause. For the merchants to value Christmas in terms of dollars and cents is understandable since profit is the sole purpose of their existence. Their goal is not to help mankind or to make the world a better place; it is to increase revenue at our expense, and it makes no difference to them if we pay with cash or with money we do not have. No, that is not what saddens me because I understand their mindset.

What saddens me is how easily we fall prey to the devices of devious marketers. Earlier today I was fueling up at a neighborhood self-serve gas station when I was assaulted by an electronic salesman strategically placed on the gas pump trying to talk me into something for which I had no need. I have put myself on the National Do-Not-Call list to protect myself from telemarketers, I have installed a “pop-up” blocker on my computer to protect me from unwanted advertising on the internet and installed spam blockers for my E-mail, and yet they manage to worm their way in. I am sure that this is no revelation to you. We are inundated with messages urging us to purchase things we cannot afford and do not need with money we do not have. The message during this season changes only slightly from “you deserve this, you are worth it” or “you owe it to yourself,” to “she’ll really love you for this.” As far as targeting children the message remains, “it’s all about me.” I am tickled by the latest Burger King ™ commercial that reverses the roles of parent and child and portrays the dad and mom throwing a tantrum in order to get taken to Burger King ™. While that may be funny to watch, it is not so funny to think that we often treat God the same way – “But You promised.”

On the other hand, my joy returns when I consider that the God, the Creator, the Sovereign Lord of the universe humbled Himself[2] to the point of implanting Himself in the womb of a virgin peasant girl to grow as a human embryo and pass through the birth canal as a helpless baby boy. Incomprehensible! The thought that the creature gave birth to the Creator! What earthly king would give up his throne to help the refuse of his realm? The concept is inconceivable, and yet, that is exactly what Jesus did for us.

The Christmas lights are going up all over our neighborhood. Our yard decorations are quite simple compared to some. The central point of focus is a rough-built wooden cross. At the ends of the cross beam are large red bows representing the nail-pierced hands. At the top of the vertical beam hangs a dry wreath adorned with a red bow representing the crown of thorns. At the foot of the cross an unattractive little manger stands dressed with a red bow symbolizing the gift that was given. Next to the manger a gift tag attached with a red ribbon reads: “God so loved … that He gave.”[3] God’s incomprehensible, incalculable gift to us is a source of perpetual joy – no matter what the season.

In his Christmas sermons, my father often used an absurd illustration of someone giving a birthday party for their son and when the guests arrive, they all exchange gifts with each other and the birthday boy gets nothing. Christmas can get that way. We become so consumed in the exchanging of gifts that we forget whose birthday we are celebrating. Of course, we can make light of the whole thing by noting that, after all, the celebration is really based on pagan festivals and that it is really not Jesus’ birthday – no one (except for God alone) knows the real date of Jesus’ birth. Whereas that is all too true, the fact remains that Christianity sanctified (set apart) that date to celebrate the birth of Christ, and it is fitting that we do so, but let us celebrate His birth without the trappings of paganism.

Does that mean we should not exchange gifts? I cannot answer that for you. Just how important is that to you? As we celebrate His birth, who should be the recipient of the gifts? Elihu made a valid point, If you are righteous, what do you give to Him, or what does He receive from your hand? (Job 35:7) What can we possibly offer the titleholder of the universe? Like it or not, He even owns us. The wise men opened their treasures and offered their gifts to Him, but He went empty handed to the cross and the myrrh that was offered to Him, He rejected. The only gift we can give Him is only what He has first given us – our lives. That is all He desires. In exchange, He offers us eternal life to share with Him in heaven. Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt 16:26) When you consider the alternative, you really can’t beat this deal! What gift can you bring? Why not give Him your life?

O come, desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease,
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. [4]

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are taken from THE NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE UPDATE. Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995, by The Lockman Foundation.
[2] Philippians 2: 5-11
[3] John 3:16
[4] “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” 4th stanza of a Latin hymn translated by Henry Sloane Coffin (1877-1954), The Baptist Hymnal (Convention Press, Nashville, 1991), hymn 76.

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