Wednesday, December 17, 2014

On the fifth day of Christmas: the gift “that he gave”

“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]

          Now this is very interesting. The song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” begins with the line, “On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…” This is almost close to the original that tells us that on the day people often refer to as the original Christmas, the true love of the world gave to us.
          This seems to be the starting place, that there is a givingness to love. There is a way that God has given us so much through his love; in fact, far more than the gifts the twelve days of Christmas song suggests.
          When we know God, and we know love, it makes perfect sense that “God so loved the world, that he gave…” We are quite familiar with this concept in our own lives. Because we love people, we give them things. I love my wife, so I give her things for her birthday, our anniversary, for Christmas, and for special little occasions that are just between us. Because she is my beloved, I love to give to her.
          What we learn from God is that love is far more than a warm, tingly feeling within us. It is more than a rush of excitement when that special someone walks into a room. It is greater than the selfish thoughts and feelings we have for someone we think we just can’t live without. In fact, all our worldly loves are tainted by the problem that God has graciously done something to address.
          What we see from God is that he loved the world, and so he gave something. Christmas as an expression of giving gifts to our loved ones is a tiny reflection of this much greater part of Christmas, that God so loved that he gave.
          One of the things that come up here is that we humans are often like spoiled little children who think we can tell God what his giving should look like. I can still remember one of my most special and disappointing christmases ever. I was a child growing up on the Queen Charlotte Island (now Haida Gwaii). That Christmas my grandmother was visiting, so my bedroom became the guest suite. The only place left for me to sleep was the living room couch. However, the good thing about this demotion was that this put me in the same room as the Christmas tree. You know, where all the presents would be Christmas morning.
          In my childhood belief that Santa was the one who brought Christmas presents, I was thrilled with my new bedroom. Not only that, but our island home had a large living room window that overlooked the wintry waters of Shingle Bay. I could picture Santa’s sleigh rounding the spit, flying straight towards our house, with me having a front-row seat to the whole thing.
          My first disappointment to this wonderful opportunity was waking up Christmas morning to the discovery that I had fallen asleep and missed Santa’s visit. The tree was loaded with presents, and Santa had somehow come and gone without my delighted participation.
          The second disappointment was that, after a fun time of opening presents with our family, we got to the end of the whole experience with my selfish little heart feeling like there wasn’t enough stuff. I can still remember hearing myself say, “Is this all?” I don’t know why I felt that way.[2] I can picture a floor covered with presents and wrapping paper galore, but as soon as the unwrapping of gifts finished, and there was nothing more to open, I felt a huge disappointment that we could not keep the fun going.
          The third disappointment was the effect that my complaint had on my parents. As a parent myself, often seeing the self-centered view of little children who love the thrill of gift opening so much that there can never be enough gifts, I realize how hurtful it was for me to receive so many presents, and end the whole thing with a complaint that it was simply not sufficient.
          The point of the story is that we can be so ungrateful for the gift that we miss seeing the gift. Or we can be so addicted to the brain chemistry that takes place when we are opening presents that we cannot be happy when the gift opening stops, and have to go looking for some other gift to give us that temporary thrill.
          What must be spoken into our world is that the God who so loved the world “gave” something to the world. He didn’t just stay up in his heavenly throne and feel love for people he was unwilling to help.
          I know there are many people who think of God this way. They think that there is a possibility that he is up there, or out there, or even everywhere, but they do not see him as caring about our world. They don’t see him doing anything about the environment, or even about these awful things that are perpetrated against those who believe in him, and they decide that this means he just doesn't care.
          However, what God gives us in his book is a very clear revelation of what his love has compelled him to do. It begins with us acknowledging that God so loved that he gave. God so loved the world that he responded to the messed-up condition of the world with the very best thing. A God-sized, God-chosen, gift that is exactly what we need.
          While reading the verse tells us what this gift is, and we will unwrap these things even further in the coming days, there is an element of Christmas that we would not do without, and that is the anticipation of what we know for certain is going to take place.
          I remember the thrill of my childhood, knowing that there would be presents under the tree. While waiting for Christmas dad, it didn’t matter what the presents were (although my mind certainly knew what I wanted), there was still this delightful anticipation. There were gifts. They were waiting to be opened. The paper chain was getting shorter. Christmas day would soon be here.
          So too, we must stop for a moment and consider this wonderful reality, that God so loved that he gave. If he gave, there is a gift. If there is a gift, it is waiting to be opened. If it is waiting to be opened, it is inviting us to prepare ourselves for the opening.
          No matter what any of us have ever thought of God, and how he feels about our world, he has written his own thoughts for us in his book. He so loved the world that he gave. Allow your heart to enjoy the anticipation of the gift. If it is God in heaven who gave something to us Worldlings on Earth, this must be the most significant act of giving the world, and history, have ever known. As the old Christmas Carol invites, “Let every heart prepare…”[3]
          Now, while the gift of God’s love can be opened all year round, and we ought to prepare to open that gift right now if we know we do not yet have it, there is also a sense in which the arrival of Christmas day helps us to celebrate the givingness of God’s love.
          So, enjoy the anticipation, and get ready to have a blessed “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 guess I could say something about the way we become addicted to the good-feeling chemicals our brains secrete when we’re involved in exciting experiences, but that’s not what my childish mind could understand at the time.
[3] From “Joy to the World,” Author: Isaac Watts (1719); tune ANTIOCH, Composer: George Frideric Handel,
Adapter:                Lowell Mason

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