Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ Fullness of Joy for Another New Year

          One of my most profound lessons of the I-wouldn’t-have-believed-it-if-God-hadn’t-said-it variety is the extent to which God has worked for his children to know the extent of joy we can have in him. Yes, JOY!
          As we cycle into another new year, the annual encouragement to evaluate life invites us to consider what God has done for our joy, and to examine our hearts to determine if our experience of joy is consistent with God’s gift of joy.
          The starting place in any consideration of joy is God. After all, he has so much influence over our world, and our lives, that we are bound to face many things this coming year where our paths will cross, so to speak. Is he the cosmic kill-joy that many imagine? Or is he joyfully different than the God-hating world could ever believe? Let’s consider some things God shows us in his word, and see if we can get to know him the way he reveals.
          “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[1]Here we learn that, in God’s presence there is “fullness of joy.” Wherever God is, there is joy as full as joy can be. The “pleasures” that are with God will last “forevermore.” God has the fullest measure of joy, and this joy will never end because he will never end.
          Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[1] We know that Jesus is the image of God.[2] Since God is glorious in joy, Jesus is the image of that radiant joy. He speaks to us, his brothers, with the distinct aim of giving us his joy so that our joy “may be full.”
          It is no accident that God’s presence is characterized by fullness of joy, and Jesus gives us his joy so that our joy can be full. “Joy-ful” certainly takes on a whole new meaning when we see it from God’s perspective!
          Jesus added, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”[3]Jesus did not tell us that we will receive what we ask for in prayer because of how important it is to get what we want. He identified that everything to do with asking and receive in prayer has to do with joy. Whatever God does in response to our prayers is because he is working to fill up our joy to the full.
          Paul wrote, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”[4]
          Paul identified that, if the people he was writing had “any” experience of the transforming work of Christ (and they did), then there was a way that they could complete his joy. It wasn’t by giving him what he wanted, or putting him first, or seeking to please his whims and wishes. Paul’s joy would be complete in their joy. He wanted them to have the same mind, the same love, the same unity, the same oneness of mind, so that the realities of joy could be fulfilled.
          John added his own encouragement in this regard when he wrote, “And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”[5]What he had written to complete our joy was, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”[6]
          Paul wanted fellowship with the believers that would complete their joy, and John wanted this same joy-completing fellowship. This makes sense that, if in God’s Triune presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand there is fullness of joy, and we were created in his image and likeness, that we would find our greatest joy in the fellowship between the Triune God and their many people.
          John expresses this very personally when he writes, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”[7]While John could write one letter to build up the completeness of joy in the church, he knew that in –person kind of joy was even better.
          Of course, God did not give us so many encouragements to joy just to stir us up at the start of another new year. Rather, he has brought us into his joy now, giving us the words that will fill us with joy in ever increasing and maturing measure, with that certain hope that we will one day be in his presence where “there is fullness of joy” forevermore.       
          This helps me understand even more of what it means that God will one day wipe away all the joy-stealers we have ever known, and make everything new.[8] This is described so beautifully in these God-breathed words:
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’”[9]
          If the dwelling place of God will be with his people, and in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore,”[10]then God is obligated to wipe away tears, bring an end to death, stop our mourning, crying, and pain, and make everything new. It all fits him, and his joy.
          What now? Peter says it like this: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”[11]
          According to God’s breathed-out words, we can “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” NOW! Why? Because we are ALREADY “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Our present experience of salvation has us “being transformed into the same image” as Jesus “from one degree of glory to another,”[12] while we wait for Jesus to return and take us to our forever home,[13] in fullness of joy, with pleasures forevermore.
          Lately I have become painfully conscious of the fact that, when something seems to be blocking my joy, it is because I have been trying to satisfy my God-sized need for joy in people or things. When God turns my attention back to him, I discover that his joy satisfies so fully that it encourages our joy in one another in the church in that love-covers-a-multitude-of-sins kind of way.[14]
          As I imagine what kind of life-experiences God’s children are in, I include those who are dealing with deep heartaches and pain that seem to deny any possibility of joy whatsoever. I am sympathetic. I am empathetic. I can weep with those who weep while striving to rejoice with those who rejoice.[15]
          What I encourage everyone is to seek God for the fullest experience of that fellowship between God, the apostolic writings that continue to speak to us for our joy, and the rest of the body of Christ, so that our joy can be complete on earth, while awaiting the unhindered perfection of our joy in heaven.
          “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul said, “And again I will say, rejoice!”[16] And, when he said this, he was talking to the church that was gathering together in Jesus’ name. It is in that fellowship of God, his people, and the timeless message of the Scriptures, that joy will flourish.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Psalm 16:11
[2] Colossians 1:15
[3] John 16:24
[4] Philippians 2:1-2
[5] I John 1:4
[6] I John 1:3
[7] II John 1:12
[8] Revelation 21:5
[9] Revelation 21:3-4
[10] Psalm 16:11
[11] I Peter 1:8-9
[12] II Corinthians 3:18
[13] John 14:1-3
[14] I Peter 4:8
[15] Romans 12:15
[16] Philippians 4:4

Friday, December 26, 2014

Pastoral Pings (Plus) ~ The Who That Listens to Whom

They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.[1]
          This stood out to me this morning as a very important lesson regarding how God’s children feel about their communication of hope in Jesus Christ. The internet gives many opportunities to discuss differences of belief with others, sometimes with people we don’t even know. Viewpoints and opinions abound.
          One of the struggles for those who want to share with others the good news of God’s loving gift to the world is to know how much or how little to say. It is easy to get lured into arguments that amount to nothing more than word-games. It is just as easy to play the peacekeeper and never speak up at all.
          The wonderful letter of I John is filled with clarifications that will help anyone know whose side they are on. The two sides are the world, and the people of God. We are either alive in Christ, or dead in our sins.[2] From both sides, people speak, and others listen.
          The way we recognize that it is the world speaking, and Worldlings listening, is that both speakers and hearers are “from the world.” What the teachers teach is worldly, and what the Worldlings hear and practice is worldly.
          On the other hand, the way we recognize that we are on God’s side is that those who laid the foundation for God’s church, the apostles and prophets,[3] “are from God,” and, “whoever knows God listens” to those who are from God.
          In summary, Worldlings listen to the false prophets of the world, while God’s dear children listen to his servants. As Jesus said much earlier, “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”[4] Jesus is the Shepherd, he speaks to his sheep, his sheep know his voice, and he is the one they follow.
          At the same time, when it comes to the false teachers, Jesus spoke of his sheep in this way, “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”[5] This is an interesting characteristic. Jesus’ sheep do not always know how to explain what is wrong with something, but they know that it is not Jesus’ voice that is speaking. This is true of those who heard Jesus teach in his day, and those who hear Jesus’ apostles and prophets as they laid the foundation for the church.
          On the other hand, Jesus described his enemies in this way, “Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.’”[6] Even Jesus, the living Word of God,[7] “full of grace and truth,”[8] could not get some people to believe in him simply because they were not his sheep.
          To another group Jesus said, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here.”[9] The apostle John speaks of this in many ways in I John as he identifies that loving God, and loving one another, is a chief evidence that God is our Father.
          Jesus went on to tell this group, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires.”[10]There is the problem. The devil is the thief who tries to steal Jesus’ sheep, but he cannot do it because Jesus’ sheep only follow Jesus’ voice. On the other hand, even the most religious of people will hate Jesus, and speak against him, simply because they do not know God as Father, and the one who is their Father is a hateful, deceiving, destroyer.
          So, Jesus gives these people every opportunity to hear and turn when he concludes, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”[11] There is it clear that, the way to know someone is “of God” is that they hear “the words of God,” whether spoken directly by God himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, or preached from the God-breathed words of God in Scripture.
          What this does for God’s children is encourage us to talk about Jesus. Share his word with people. Tell people the latest thing you have learned from God’s word. Share whatever gift God ministered to you through your Pastor’s sermon, or through your group Bible study, or the Christ-exalting book you are reading. In whatever opportunities you have, introduce people to thoughts from the word of God.[12]
          Then stand back and watch how people respond. Those who are Jesus’ sheep will hear Jesus’ voice in our proclaiming of his word, while those who are of their father the devil will be just as angry with us as they were with Jesus.
          It is very easy to berate ourselves because someone’s lack of response suggests that maybe we didn’t say the right thing, or to get caught up trying to prove a point in some online argument. However, when we understand that Jesus’ sheep hear his voice, and that this is now seen in the way that people listen to the word of God as spoken through his holy apostles and prophets, we will simply continue preaching the word in season and out of season,[13] fulfilling our place in either sowing or harvesting, knowing that it is God himself who gives the increase by bringing his sheep to hear Jesus’ voice.[14]
          While we always need the fellowship of God’s people to help and encourage us to know when to speak-up and when to shut-up, the encouragement in these Scriptures calls us to rest in the glory of God’s work that he saves anyone at all. Since Jesus has not yet returned, he still has more sheep to bring into his fold. Let us join his work by talking about the words of God in as many ways as we can find. People are listening. Their response to Jesus will tell us whose side they are on.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I John 4:5-6
[2] Ephesians 2:1-10
[3] Ephesians 2:19-22
[4] John 10:4
[5] John 10:5
[6] John 10:25-26
[7] John 1:1-3
[8] John 1:14
[9] John 8:42
[10] John 8:43-44
[11] John 8:47
[12] Seeking to maintain a distinction between God’s Word, and a teacher’s thoughts about God’s word. Paul dealt with this in I Corinthians, with a specifc warning in I Corinthians 4:6 that no one was to go “beyond what is written.”
[13] II Timothy 4:1-2
[14] I Corinthians 3:5-9

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Card 2014

Dear Children ~ The Very First Christmas Gift

Dear Children,
        If you could travel back in time two thousand years to the very first Christmas, what would you like to know? Would you wonder what it was like for the Christ-child to be born in a stable? Do you wish you could know which animals were in the little barn? How about what the stable smelled like with all those animals in there, or how much noise the animals made as they watched these people making themselves at home?
        Today we think that Christmas has a lot to do with Christmas presents under the tree. I’m sure you can think of the things you have asked for this year. But do you ever wonder what was the very first Christmas gift?
        This year there will be millions of Christmas presents opened all around the world. It will be impossible to find out which child was the very first one to open his or her present. We will never know which toy was the first one to appear from under all that wrapping paper.
        However, we can know what was the very first Christmas gift ever. What do you think it was?
        We know that the first people to visit the Christ-child were the shepherds who had been out in the fields watching over the flocks during the long cold night. God had interrupted their sleepy guard-duty by sending an angel to tell them the wonderful news that the Christ-child had finally been born. After they got over their terrified feeling of surprise, they rushed off to find this little baby and see what God had done for them.
        Do you think that we could say that the shepherds were the first to give a Christmas gift to the Christ child? They didn’t really bring any gifts, but maybe we could say that the feeling of wonder in their hearts was like a gift to Jesus. Or, perhaps we could say that, when they went away and told everyone what they had seen and heard, that they were giving a gift by letting everyone know what God had done.
        A little while after that first night, some men came from a faraway country. They had seen a star appear in the night sky that was different from any other star they had ever seen. God told them that this unusual star was his way of announcing the birth of a great king, his one and only Son. They traveled a long distance just to see this child who had been born. And, they came bringing some very expensive gifts with them. When they saw the little child who was the Christ, they bowed down and worshiped him because they knew that, even though he was still just a little baby, he would one day show himself to be the greatest King the world had ever known.
        Now, while we might think the shepherds and the wise men were the first ones to give gifts to the Christ-child, and that this meant one of those gifts had to be the very first Christmas present, there was actually one gift that came before anything else.
        The first Christmas gift was not the ones that were given to the newborn Christ-child. The very first Christmas gift of all was the Christ-child. The newborn baby, born in a stable and lying in a manger, was the very first Christmas present.
        One day, after Jesus had grown up, he was explaining to someone why he came, and what he was doing. During this conversation, he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[1] Jesus was explaining far more than what Christmas was about, but it included the answer to our question about what was the very first Christmas gift. The first Christmas gift ever given was Jesus.
        On Christmas day, after all the presents are opened, children could say something like this, “because our parents love us so much, they gave us these toys and games so that we could have a lot of fun playing, and doing things together as a family.” That is kind of what Jesus was explaining when he described the gift that God had given to the world.
        Jesus was telling us that both he and his Father loved the world so much, and they cared so deeply about what the world was going through, that they gave the world the very best gift ever. They gave Jesus to the world as the one person who could finally save God’s people from their sins.
        In fact, did you know that, when God’s angel was telling Jesus’ earthly father-figure why his fiancĂ©e was pregnant, he said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”[2] Did you notice that? Joseph was told that his wife was going to have a baby boy, and that Joseph was to give the baby the name “Jesus.” The reason Joseph was to name the baby Jesus was that Jesus would save his people from their sins, from all the wrong things they had done against God.
        So, the first Christmas gift was not the shepherds telling everyone about the wonderful gift of God that had been born in a stable and laid in a manger. Neither was it the wise men bringing their treasures to Jesus. The first Christmas gift was God giving us his Son, because that was the only way he could save us from our sins.
        What should we do with this gift? Why, open it of course! How do you open this Christmas gift? Jesus said that, whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[3] The way to open the gift God gave us at Christmas is to believe in Jesus. When we do believe in him, at least the way God’s book describes, he gives us the eternal life he wants us to have, complete with the forgiveness of all the bad things we have ever done against him.
        Do you remember why God gave us this very first Christmas gift of his Son? Jesus said it was because God so loved the world. When people say that Christmas is about love, they are partly right. The truth is that Christmas is about God’s love, and God’s gift. When we receive his gift, we also come to know his love.
        Have a blessed and joyful Christmas by welcoming Jesus, the Christ who came and showed God’s love to the world.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 3:16
[2] Matthew 1:21
[3] John 3:16

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On the twelfth day of Christmas: the lasting gift of “eternal life.”

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have ETERNAL LIFE.”[1]

          A fuzzy pink bunny advertises a battery brand that supposedly goes on forever, at least figuratively speaking. It doesn’t really go on forever, but the thought has been planted. Good marketing.
          There is an inherent characteristic of life that we want it to go on forever. Life just does that. It is why we grieve when people die. We know it is coming. We know it can come unexpectedly. We just don’t want it to show up.
          And yet all people die. My grandmother made it to her one hundredth birthday, only to have a bad fall shortly after, and pass away in the hospital. The interesting thing was that, for most of our visits her last few years, she was not wishing she could live longer, but that she could go home sooner than later. She had received God’s Christmas gift long before I was born, and she knew that she had eternal life.
          While the world that God so loved believes it can make up any belief it would like about what happens when people die, the God who so loved the world tells us in his book that there are only two possibilities. Not only do those possibilities divide people after death, they also give two distinct kinds of experience in this earthly lifetime.
          When Jesus told us why we needed to know God in the born-again kind of way, he explained that the love God expressed in giving us his only Son was for the distinctive purpose that people could have “eternal life.” “Life” is the opposite of “perish.” Perishing is the cessation of this present earthly life in condemnation for our sin; life is the never-ending experience of God in the perfection of his holiness.
          When God introduces his Son to us at the beginning of this part of his book, he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”[2]This leads into our consideration of the contrast between perishing and living. The source of perishing is outside of him; the source of life is in him.
          The wonderful gift of Christmas is that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to give the perishing world the hope of life. The world was dead. The world was perishing. Everyone was “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”[3] It was all hopeless.
          Except for the fact that God loved the world. The “prince of the power of the air,” has no capacity to love, and so everything he does is “only to steal and kill and destroy.”[4] He wants people dead. He wants people cut off from God who is the Life that created our life. He is “the god of this world” who “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”[5]
          Do you see that? On one side we have Satan, “the god of this world,” working to blind our minds so that we cannot see the wonderful “light” of the glory of God, which is Jesus Christ. On the other side we have God so loving the world that he sent his only Son into the world to save us from perishing, and to restore us to the life he created us for in the very beginning.
          Satan, the thief, blinds people in order to steal away their understanding of Christmas, and of the Christ, and the love of God for his creation. God sends his Son into the world to defeat Satan’s evil work. While Satan strategizes to “steal and kill and destroy,” Jesus says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”[6]
          You see, God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son so that we could believe in Jesus and not perish but have eternal life. Jesus expressed his own personal participation in this by declaring that he came for the purpose of giving us life. We were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,”[7]because of our participation in Satan’s evil deeds. Jesus came into the world to give us life. Eternal life.
          Jesus clarifies that he came so that people could have life, but with the qualification of “abundantly.”[8] This is God’s love, and his will. It is a fact that in Jesus is life, and so Jesus can only desire this for us, that our experience of life would be to the measure of the nature of life. His life is our light, so he came into the world and shone brightly. As the brightness of a single angel transcending the divide between heaven and earth was so glorious that the shepherds trembled in fear,[9] the even greater light of our Lord Jesus Christ comes into the world and literally scares death to death.
          The issue at stake for the whole world is that we either continue down the deadly road to destruction where we perish under the condemnation of God against our sin; or we take hold of the life that is in Jesus Christ by receiving him, believing in his name, becoming the children of God, and so experiencing this gift of eternal life.
          One of the most encouraging and helpful descriptions of eternal life comes from a prayer that Jesus expressed to his Father just hours prior to his crucifixion. He prayerfully declared, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”[10] By this Jesus made it clear that there was a qualitative element to eternal life, meaning that this life is all about knowing God.
          When people perish, they cannot know God as he is. Even in this lifetime, when people are living in their dead spiritual condition, they cannot know God as he is. This is why there are so many “versions” of God. It is not because we are so intelligent that we are able to create a kazillion manmade ways to find God. It is because we are dead to God, and cannot see him or know him as he is, that we cannot even agree on who he is and what he is like.
          However, when people receive eternal life, they receive the right to become children of God,[11] and as children of God, they are now able to know God as Father. Knowing God as Father is so superior to knowing him as Judge, that the joy of Christmas is a constant testimony that God sent his Son into the world to give us this life of joy.
          Eternal life both lasts forever, and gives us everything that life is. Life is to know God as the Triune relate to one another in love. They know one another, and have created us to know them. We cannot know them while we are still living in sin, but we can know them by believing in God’s Son.
          We began this series by identifying that Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus about how people could come to know God in that born-again kind of way. The new birth, receiving the right to become children of God, brings us into the eternal life that is eternally knowing God. The life is in Jesus who came, and in all who come into him by faith.
          With God’s Christmas gift of life still offered to the world, make sure you fully open the package so that you can experience a truly blessed “About Christ” Day, and a truly blessed “About Christ” life.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 3:16
[2] John 1:4
[3] Ephesians 2:1-2
[4] John 10:10
[5] II Corinthians 4:4
[6] John 10:10
[7] Ephesians 2:1
[8] John 10:10
[9] Luke 2:9
[10] John 17:3
[11] John 1:12-13

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On the eleventh day of Christmas: the “but have” that has the gift

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish BUT HAVE eternal life.”[1]

          What we call the Christmas story is surrounded with the contrast between the Haves and the Have-nots. When Nicodemus came for his late-night visit with Jesus, he was a Have-not wondering what Jesus had. When Jesus described the necessity of knowing God in the born-again kind of way, it was clear that everyone was a Have-not in need of having this gift.
          One way this makes sense to me is in the difference between a menu and a meal. A menu describes and pictures things we don’t have. It shows that any of those menu items is a possibility, something we could have, but with the knowledge that we do not have any of those items while only holding the menu.
          Once we have placed our order, and the server brings out our choices, everything changes from what we don’t have, to what we do have. Having the food that was pictured and described is far better than having a menu full of options.
          There is no doubt that we know the difference between having and not having. While we see presents appearing under the Christmas tree, we do not actually have the gifts that are labeled for us. They are like the menu. In fact, they are like a menu with no descriptions or pictures. It is like a menu that says, “Gift 1” and then specifies the dimensions of the package. It is waiting for us, but it is not yet ours in the way of “having,” and we can’t even be sure that we know what it is.
          The gift that is under consideration determines much of what it means that we have the gift. To have that pair of socks we have been dreaming about all Christmas season is to add some comfort to our feet. To finally have that young lady some young man has been dreaming of marrying forever (it seems) means something far more wonderful than a mere item of clothing.[2]
          It is not only that the value of the gift adds something special to the experience of having that gift, but so does the nature of the gift. A young lady may place great value on her beautiful engagement ring, but the difference in nature between a glittering stone and the beau that offers it affects how she feels about what she has. To have a ring is the promise of having something better than the ring. She can delight in the experience of having the ring, wearing it, enjoying what it looks like on her finger, but with greater anticipation of what she will have when the one who gave her the ring also gives her himself.[3]
          It is distinctive to me that Jesus said there was something God gave that we can have. In the same way as children don’t think it is Christmas until they have what has been given to them, we don’t really appreciate the first gift of Christmas until we truly have it. Reading about it doesn’t mean we have it. Singing songs about it doesn’t mean it is ours. Giving credence to the Christmas story, and accepting the details of history, may bring people together in some inexplicable feeling of Christmas cheer, but we really have nothing until we have everything. There is a gift given, and it only means something to us when we have it.
          Another way God’s book describes having the Christmas gift God has offered us begins with two examples of have-not-ism, meaning, ways that people did not and do not have this gift. God wrote: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”[4]
          Here Jesus is called “the true light,” because he is the image and expression of God shining into our darkness. This light in Jesus “gives light to everyone,” because “God so loved the world,” and “whoever” believes in Jesus sees this light. He was “coming into the world,” during  that thirty-plus years because God gave his Son to the world he loved.
          However, even though Jesus “was in the world,” the baby born in a manger, “the Word” that “became flesh and dwelt among us,”[5]and even though “the world was made through him,” there was this terrible, strange, experience of have-not-ism. The world that Jesus created, “did not know him.” Even though “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made,”[6] and “by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth,”[7]the very world Jesus had made did know that it was him.
          In fact, the world still does not know that it was him who came. The world does not know that the answer to the question of our origins is not in Darwin’s book, but in God’s book. The world does not know that Jesus answered the question of where we are from when he came into his world, expressing his Father’s love for the world they had created. They do not have the gift because they do not know him who came, their Creator, their Savior, and their God.
          A second expression of this have-not-ism was seen when Jesus “came to his own,” the Jewish people, the ones who had been told by prophets that God would send the Messiah into the world, born of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, the light shining in a dark place. God’s word says that “his own people did not receive him.”
          After all the centuries the nation of Israel had waited for Messiah (the Christ) to come, they did not welcome him when he arrived. They did not come to him in Bethlehem. They did not welcome his message during his few years of public ministry. The leaders of the nation called for his crucifixion, thinking by this they would rid the world of him. Instead, the fulfilled God’s plan that his Son would die so that his people could live, and so many people have come to have the gift of God through a nation that would not have what was so lovingly given.
          Now, while God’s book describes two ways that people would not have this gift, here is how it describes the wonderful way that people would have it. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”[8]
          Remember that Jesus said that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”? Here it elaborates that “all who did receive him,” meaning, all “who believed in his name,” were given the gift that God offered in his Son. What they received, or what they came to have, was “the right to become children of God.”
          Now, notice the way God clarifies this. He says that, when people are given the right to become children of God, this does not mean they were born of “blood,” “flesh,” or the “will of man.” Those phrases summarize everything to do with natural birth.
          What God was saying was that people come to have the right to become “children of God,” by being born “of God.” This is what Jesus was telling Nicodemus; that people had to come to know God in that born-again kind of way because, only through the new birth where we are born of God can we become the children of God who know God.
          All of this is to emphasize that Christmas is not about simply knowing something happened two thousand years ago, but knowing God today. It is not a matter of singing about Jesus, but singing to Jesus. It is not about celebrating something from the past, but something from the past that changes the present into a wonderful hope for the future.
          By now we know very clearly that there are the Haves and the Have-nots. This is given to encourage us to take the gift of God by faith until we know we have it, because then we can know the true blessing of this wonderful “About Christ” Day.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 3:16
[2] I mean this in relation to God’s design of a young couple living as two single-people until their wedding day. God has written much about the differences between singleness and marriage in his book, so I will let the illustration stand with its emphasis on the contrast between not-having the person we long to live with for the rest of our lives, and the wedding ceremony as the beginning of the “to have and to hold” experience.
[3] My idealism-by-the-Book thinks of the way God teaches husbands to give themselves to their wives in the same way that Jesus loved the church and gave himself for her. While a young husband may be very immature in his ability to express such love, this is the grandest hope a young lady could have, that her husband would seek to love her the way Jesus has loved his church, a central part of the Christmas story.
[4] John 1:9-11
[5] John 1:14
[6] John 1:3
[7] Colossians 1:16
[8] John 1:12-13