The giving of gifts whether we like it or not are an integral part of the Christmas Holidays. I think children know more about this than adults. We need to think back and try to remember Christmas when we were young enough to enjoy it.
It's curious that in almost 60 years of being a minister I can't remember anyone but children coming to me and saying "I want to give a special Christmas gift to Jesus." For all too many people Jesus is not on their gift list.
Yet his gift to us was the greatest gift the world could have possibly received. For most people the day after Christmas is a crowded mess - taking back all the unwanted things we received. The mad scramble by retailers to sell us everything imaginable has now been replaced with trying to take back the unwanted stuff.
The first bible verse most children learn describes God's greatest gift to us. It's (John 3:16 NIV) "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."
John explains this magnificent gift in John 1:9: "The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will but born of God. The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
We desperately needed this great gift of God's son. When Christ came to earth as God's greatest gift it was a sad unhappy world much like today. There was grinding poverty for most people and only the patricians, kings and nobility had money for luxuries. No one had the answer for the horrible problems that plagued mankind".
Men were ruled by force; there were no inherent rights of man; the bill of rights had not been created yet and men lived or died by the up or down position of an emperor's thumb. There were no court of appeals or justice.
There was little concern about justice, people were chattel, bought and sold; hospitals were for the rich, and there were no old folks homes. To make matters totally repulsive - all too often church was a haven for oppressive, self-righteous, religious rogues.
A GIFT MUST BE RECEIVED FROM THE GIVER
In Matthew 2:11 the Magi brought gifts to Jesus. Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Consider the three stages in this story - Vision, Submission, and Expensive Consecration.
To accept the gift you must accept the giver. Clearly we must make a commitment to heed the teaching of Jesus. Millions will tell us that decision changed their lives.
Obviously during the birth, earthly ministry and death of Jesus Christ there were many people who fell into three categories.
There were those who heard the evidence, saw it with their own eyes and believed. Their belief was in the form of a definite commitment to become his follower, and knowing the opposition by the religious leaders, they were accepting the risk of persecution and death. They accepted the hard commands of his teachings.
There were others who decided to stand aside, to take no position at all. They were the onlookers and the bystanders who were interested, thought his unorthodox teaching and preaching was interesting, even perhaps true, but decided to do nothing.
The innkeeper was one of these. His life was full and busy..and so he missed the gift because he didn't know God was knocking on his door. All he saw was a pregnant mother and a man with a donkey. "Oh, Lord," he probably thought. "Another problem. Go away, I don't have any room for you."
Then there were those who because of what he taught rejected him. It was in direct conflict with what they wanted to do, or were doing, so they decided to become his enemy. They were the active unbelievers who put him to death.
They cloaked their monstrous sin with the respectability of the letter of the law while all the time tearing the spirit of the law to bits. They didn't crucify him, the others did. They only sat by and watched him die. But they were glad in their heart that he was gone. He had made them feel uncomfortable and disturbed their pleasant life.
So they missed the greatest gift on earth and didn't receive it.
Years ago as the moving truck was ready to leave Marion Indiana and bring our furniture to Atlanta, a wonderful friend walked up and returned a book to me. He had been a friend for four years and has remained a great friend for over 45 years.
He said: "I'm returning the book you loaned to me and frankly I didn't get much out of it. However, you may get something out of page 58." When he left I put the book in a box and we drove to Atlanta.
A few weeks later I was sweating over money, wondering how in the world we would buy groceries, where I could find some work and I thought about Harold.
I remembered his parting words to me. Out of curiosity I looked for the books and finally found it. I turned to page 58 and found a check for $500.00. To say that I was overjoyed is to put it mildly. It was the answer to my prayers. I was blessed because I finally received the gift.
To accept the gift of God you must accept the giver, and you must make a commitment to heed the teaching of the Savior. Wouldn't it be a great time to do that when we celebrate his birth?
THE MESSAGE OF CHRISTMAS
A minister was struggling to prepare a Christmas sermon and was interrupted by a crisis at the church home for emotionally disturbed children. Most of the children had gone home for an overnight visit and the few left reacted poorly to the empty beds and changed routines.
Tommy was upstairs under a bed and refused to come out. First the minister tried talking to the cowboys on the bedspread. No response. Then fretting at the time this was costing, he dropped to his knees and lifted the bedspread. Tommy's big 8-year-old eyes looked sadly moist.
It would have been easy to pull him out from under the bed, but what Tommy needed was a reason that made sense to his lonely 8 year old heart. So the minister got down on the floor and wiggled in beside Tommy, talked for a few minutes and then laid his head on the floor in silence.
As he waited a small cold hand reached over and took his hand. After a bit the minister said: "Tommy, let's you and me go out where we can stand up..." And so they did, but slowly and in no hurry...because the preacher had his Christmas sermon.
God called us from far above...with stars, mountains, creation and his spirit. He drew closer through the prophets and lawgivers...but finally nothing would do but direct contact with us in our desperate need.
Jesus came to live among us to share our sorrow and lead us to a direct contact with God that would give us eternal life. That means that we will live forever in the Magnificent place Jesus went to prepare for us.
Now it's your turn. You must decide whether to accept the gift and the giver or reject both of them. Choose carefully. The clock is ticking and the offer is limited to this life only.