Friday, December 19, 2014

On the seventh day of Christmas: the “that” that changes everything

“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]

          When we think of the reasons we give particular gifts to children, it is usually that we expect them to have fun playing with their new toys. As they get older, the expectation might become more specific. We give a child a bike so that he can learn to ride. Although there is still much play involved, it also serves a practical purpose in getting around, and teaches a skill that lasts a lifetime.
          The older we get, the more reasons there are for the gifts given. A husband and wife may give each other gifts with the aim of making the other feel loved, or to build romance to keep the love alive. Men often receive tools that have the aim of making their Do-It-Yourself projects easier to complete (hint, hint). Women may similarly be given kitchen appliances and gadgets because it would shorten the time given to the preparation of meals and give more family time.[2]
          I could go on with the aim of giving TV’s, video games, cameras, or computers. It is easy to think about what purpose the gift would serve, and how the gift-giver hopes that the gift fulfills the intention. Even if all we think about is that we hope a gift will make the recipient happy, there is still an aim in mind when purchasing the gift.
          Now, imagine if we added to the backside of our Christmas labels the purpose in giving each gift. After the “to” and “from” is clearly identified, there would be a statement that said something like, “I am giving you this gift so that…” and the explanation of the gift’s purpose would be stated.
          Keep in mind that Jesus’ description of God’s Christmas gift began with telling Nicodemus that God wants people to know him in that born-again kind of way.[3] Jesus then explained how God so loved the world, that he gave us his only Son, and how this gift did something to bring about the opportunity to know God in the born-again way God desires.
          This means that the reality of God loving the whole world (not just one solitary nation), and giving a gift to the whole world (the gift of his Son), has an aim.
          Hold it a minute, if Christmas is about this gift that God gave to the world, and this gift God gave to the world has an aim, then it means that Christmas itself has an aim. We know what it is like that Christmas has the aim of giving each other gifts, and each gift has a distinctive aim in doing something good for the recipient, and likely having a noticeable benefit to the relationship between giver and receiver.
          In the same way, we can say that, because the first Christmas gift had an aim associated with it, an aim that was for the whole world, then our observance of Christmas must have the aim of putting this gift into our hands to fulfill the aim of the gift. Which is what brings us to the “that” of Jesus’ description.
          The word “that” means that we must look at this whole gift as something with a purpose. However, it is not just a purpose of making us happy, or making life fun, or bringing peace on earth and goodwill toward men.[4] Even before we consider exactly what the purpose is, and what Christmas is supposed to do to us, we must back up a bit and consider that it is GOD who has a purpose to his gift.
          This is hugely significant. The person giving the gift determines what we can expect in both understanding the purpose of the gift, and in settling the certainty of the gift accomplishing its purpose. Sometimes someone gives a gift that has everything in it to make the person feel special, or happy, and the recipient just doesn’t get it. Someone might give a gift hoping that it wins someone’s approval, or wins his or her affection, only to see that the person simply doesn’t care.
          There is a built-in characteristic of material gifts that they have only a limited effect anyway. That’s why we do the gift-giving thing over and over again. Whatever we hoped a gift would do last time, we hope it will do something similar again. If the last gift didn’t work, maybe this one will. The excitement of last year’s gifts wore off by the end of the Christmas holidays, so now we have eleven-and-a-half months to build up the excitement all over again.
          But, what about when it is God who gives the gift, and God who knows his purpose in so giving? If the gift is God-sized, and the love behind the gift is God-sized, and the purpose of the gift is God-sized, there must be some expectation of a God-sized fulfillment.
          What this does for me is change the focus from my childish thoughts about gift-giving, or gift-receiving, thinking only of myself and my pleasures and benefits, to consider why God would give a gift.
          Perhaps it would be helpful to create a larger context. Let’s say that we are celebrating a Christmas where we already know that Christmas itself has a purpose, and the purpose is not to give and receive gifts. What if we already knew the gift giving side is smaller than retailers would like us to think, and really is about something that should happen? What if there is a greater purpose to the whole thing and all the gifts were designed to bring about that purpose.
          What I’m getting at is this: do you think of Christmas celebrations through this viewpoint that God is up there, out there, all around us, seeking to DO SOMETHING in our lives? We know that Jesus is explaining to us how it is that God wants us to know him in this born-again kind of way. We know that Jesus is telling us what God did to bring about this experience. He so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, and he did this so that something would happen to bring about that purpose.
          Earlier in God’s book, we find this description of the purposes of God:

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.[5]

          Now, what could God’s only Son do in your life this Christmas that would accomplish God’s loving purpose of bringing you to know him in that born-again kind of way? While you’re thinking about that, don’t forget 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] These are only examples, not a statement of who can use the tools or kitchen appliances. I happen to be quite good at using both!
[4] While this is a familiar expression of the Christmas Season, it is a misquote of what God’s book has written, which is, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
[5] Isaiah 55:10-11

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