The Forsaken Gift
nTomorrow night we begin to celebrate Christmas. For many of us we will carry on traditions and do something unique, something special to us. Perhaps we will go to the homes of friends or family and party, perhaps we decorate our tree, perhaps we visit with some friends that are down on their luck this year, or maybe we call that relative that lives clear across the country. What ever it is we do, we usually do it year after year. Our Christmas day follows the same pattern- breakfast, unwrapping gifts, dinner, and for some of us a nice well deserved nap!
nHere’s the problem. These wonderful traditions we have are great for a few years, but then we change. These traditions that we are so fond of become stale and we just don’t have the joy that we used to have in doing whatever it is we’re doing. I remember growing up being so exited about Christmas. I wanted to know what Santa was bringing me so bad. I don’t know how, but it seemed like those hours before Christmas morning were the longest hours of my life. I could have sworn that at least a month passed in those few hours. And then, to make matters worse, my parents insisted that when we got up at six or seven that we had to eat breakfast first. Then when we were all done, we could go in and open presents.
nIt was so exciting opening those presents and seeing everything that I got. Wow! I must have been really good kid all those years. But then I would open my last present and there would be no more. There I was in a sea of wrapping paper with nothing left to unwrap. All the excitement was gone, and my joy diminished. I was thankful for what I got, but I missed the expectation. I searched through the sea of paper in hopes that perhaps I missed one, perhaps there were more gifts to receive.
nOur daily lives are just like when I was opening my presents. I was always looking for the next one, and not noticing the gift I had already received. How many tomorrows do we look forward too, only to be dismayed when they are past? How much have we forgotten? How much have we taken for granted?
nThere is a gift given by God the Father, given to us before we were even born. It is a gift which for those who have accepted it, it is a person’s most treasured possession. It is also a gift which has been ignored by many making it a forsaken gift. Beloved, the gift is Jesus Christ. It is written in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
nWhen we gather here tomorrow night, we will be celebrating the gift that God gave to us. It is interesting to note that in the original Greek the word used to describe how much God loves us is Agape. It is interesting because in Greek, there are three words for love. We would equate these three forms of love in English as liking, sensual love, and sacrificial love. God so loved the world. This translates as God having a sacrificial love for all of us. You know, I’m glad God does more than just like us. It is also important
nTo realize that this love is more than just an emotion. It is an action. God didn’t just have some feelings for us, he acted - he gave his only begotten son.
nNow, here’s the part where we can forsake this gift. In continuing in John 3:16 we read that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. What John is saying here is that anyone who believes, anyone that puts their trust in Jesus will never fail. Our modern translations use the word perish but a more literal translation of the Greek would be to destroy. Imagine, having been offered a gift that is so wonderful that if you just accept it then you will never be destroyed, you will instead receive eternal life.
nWow! What a gift. We often remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. We remember who Christmas is about, and we remember the events of that first Christmas from over two thousand years ago. As the Church we have built up traditions where we focus on the events of Christmas. We hold events, we sing songs, we do works to keep us mindful of everyone and everything involved in that first Christmas. We experience some joy in this but that joy seems to quickly fade. The presents are all open, where’s the next one? You see we loose our joy because we don’t fully explore the gift that we are given. We realize that it is a gift, but we don’t realize it’s importance.
nWe forget about the why of Christmas. Yes, Jesus is the who of Christmas but why did he come? Was he looking for a vacation from heaven and decided one day to stop by to a little town of Bethlehem? No. Jesus knew before the sin of Adam and before the sin of Eve, that he would have to be born as a man. He knew that he would give himself up to the death on the cross to pay the payment for all mankind’s sin. In Isaiah 53:4-6 it says Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows… But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.
nJesus wasn’t born in a manger just for something to do, no, Jesus was born in a manger just to do something. Because of sin, all mankind has been separated from God. Jesus bridged that gap. He set aside his life for our sins. You see, God gave us Jesus. Jesus gave us the ability to have fellowship with God once again. Jesus was born in a manger so that he could teach us how to believe. As a result when he sacrificed himself upon that cross we know that in his death we can have eternal life. If we choose it. Jesus was born in a manger not for his gain but for ours. Jesus was born in a manger for us.
nJesus, the gift of God, gave us a wonderful gift. He gave us his word, his counsel. He gave us his life. What was his counsel? Verse three of ‘O Holy Night’ sums it up best. “Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love and his Gospel is peace.” He also taught us that we are bound by sin. In John 8:34 Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” In essence we all make choices in life whether it is to do God’s will and be free from sin, or to do the works of Satan and be a slave to sin. It is worthy to note that sin comes with a consequence. In Romans 6:23 Paul states that “the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
nWhat is it that Jesus does? In O Holy Night we read that “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease”. Jesus has broken the chains that keep us bound to sin. We are “free from the law of sin and death.” according to Romans 8:2 if we accept the Gift that Jesus gave.
nGod’s greatest gift, the gift that so many forsake is called salvation. God gave this gift by his Grace, by his undeserved favor towards us. We often sit there in our sea of sin, surrounded by this gift. And what do we do? We look for other gifts, perhaps we seek a more technical outlook on life, one that is all sewed up nice and neat in science. Perhaps we believe that everything we need in life can be found through raising one’s self awareness in some sort of self centered belief system. Let me tell you. The last part of O Holy Night sums it up best. “Christ is the Lord, O praise his name forever.”
nNote that it doesn’t say that Jesus is a lord, neigh it says that Jesus is the Lord. There is none higher. He is the King of kings and the Lord of Lords. What greater gift is there than to know the one who has the highest position in the land. His authority extends beyond science, and self glorification. Jesus is the only way to God. It is written in John 14:6 “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
nThe question you now need to ask yourselves is have you accepted this gift of salvation? Have you called upon the name of Jesus to save you from your sins? Are you grateful for what this child in a manger grew up to do for you?
nDo you find yourselves asking the questions of the last verse of our hymn this morning-In the Bleak Midwinter? “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him-Give my heart.”
nYou have the option of either accepting this gift and letting it be your most treasured possession or you can turn away and keep looking for the next present. But as I discovered all those Christmas mornings long ago, there are no more presents hidden in the sea of wrapping paper, just as there are no more gifts in the sea of sin that you may be sailing on.