I recently came upon a list of bad gifts and Christmas fails on twitter. Sometimes gift giving does not go as well as we hope.
“Last year my dad had me wrap a coffee maker for my mom and my mom had me wrap a coffee maker for my dad. I said nothing”
“My name is ‘Erik’, I had an aunt I’d never met send me a dress once … addressed to ‘Erika’.”
One of my family’s best Christmases was the year when my ten year old brother was set free to do his own shopping in the mall. Everyone got gag gifts – mine was an ice cream scoop that popped off the cone to hit me in the face. Our whole family laughed a lot that year on Christmas day and turned out to be one of our most memorable Christmases.
Someone shared on Twitter that last year, their sister asked mom and dad, “I’m not complaining or anything, but is this it?”
People often lose sight of why we celebrate Christmas and as a result, for many the holiday has just become a marketing ploy of capitalism. I’d like us to consider that first Christmas night, a night to give, and consider what Luke tells us was given on that night when the angels appeared to the shepherds.
I. The Gift of Great Joy
Imagine being a shepherd, lying out among the stars with your sheep. The night air is cool. The stars cover the sky and besides the light that they put out the evening is dark.
Several years ago, I was traveling through Arkansas and Oklahoma during an ice storm and the group I was with stopped in a small town where we could take shelter off the road. It was a cold, dark night and as we were walking from a store to our vehicle, a bright arc of light shown on the horizon about the radius of a medium-sized rainbow. The flash of light was iridescent green and it lit up half the sky with an eerie glow. The contrast from dark to light to dark again left us in a few moments of fear. We later learned that the ice had caused an electrical transformer to overload and explode.
Even more spectacular was the appearance of this angel to the shepherds on that cold night. Not only was it an angel that appeared, but also the brilliance of God’s shekinah glory shone around the shepherds. Understandably, they were afraid. This was a common response when God’s glory or his messengers appeared before men. Luke doesn't just say that they were afraid, but these shepherds were filled with great fear.
But the first gift that God gave on that first Christmas night was an exchange of “great fear” for “great joy.”
When God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, he sent a Savior, Messiah the Lord, who was born that day in Bethlehem. The Messiah was the anticipation of every believing Jew who awaited God’s provision for our salvation. Without him we have every reason to be afraid. We have reason to be afraid of God’s glory. We have reason to be afraid of standing before him because we fall so abundantly short of his righteous standards. The brightness of the glory that shone around the shepherds not only startled them in the dark, but it also would have shown them a brief glimpse of their Creator and without a Savior, they had every reason to be afraid.
But one of God’s gifts to us is the exchange of great fear for great joy, because a Savior was born. That Savior would grow into a man who lived without sin and this God/man sacrificed his own life for ours, paying the penalty for our sins.
It is also important to note that this announcement was not given in the palace of Jerusalem. It was not made to the religious elite. It was announced to commoners, ordinary men like you and me. God’s Son did not come only to seek and save the rich or to make provision for the “good” people in society. He came to seek and to save the lost. He came for all of us.
It was those commoners who were given the privilege of being the first to visit and see the baby lying in a feeding trough for cattle. And so they were given this sign. This unusual sign would confirm to them that the Messiah had come and that it was indeed good news of great joy.
II. The Gift of Peace on Earth
But God also gave the gift of Peace on Earth. After the angel made his announcement, he was accompanied by a choir of angels who gave glory to God and made announcement of the peace that is offered because God became a man.
Heaven came down to earth. God took on flesh. When Jesus died on the cross, he not only made provision that would bring great joy to us, but he provided forgiveness to those with whom God is pleased, forgiveness that brings peace, and end of war and enmity with God.
It is important that we recognize that those with whom God is pleased are not good people. They are not church-goers or those that you would look at and say, “There goes someone that deserves God’s peace; there goes someone with whom God certainly is pleased.”
The Bible makes it clear that not one of us is righteous. Not one man or woman is good enough to please God. We are all sinners that fall short of God’s great glory. We were all at war with God until peace was made. The only means by which a man or a woman, a boy or a girl may find favor with God is through his Son, Jesus Christ. Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, something good for which we cannot earn enough credit to receive. God is not pleased with our good works because ultimately we have none to offer him that can make payment for our sins.
God is pleased with those who trust in him and the provision which he provided on the cross when Jesus, the Messiah, sacrificed his own life for ours. You cannot earn a right relationship with God. You cannot earn peace. It is a gift and you may only receive this “peace on earth” by placing your faith in Jesus, and Jesus alone. Believe in Jesus and you will receive the gift of peace with God that he gives to those who have faith.
This is the joy and the peace that God gave to us on that first Christmas and which he still gives to us today in abundance. If you are here today and you do not know that joy and you do not know that peace, you can receive the greatest Christmas present of all right now in the seat in which you sit by placing your trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin.
III. The Gift of the Shepherds
There was another gift given that night. It was the gift given by the shepherds. I would suggest that we must not miss the response that these lowly shepherds made on that first Christmas night. First, they responded with haste after saying, “Let us go and see …” You and I also need to respond with such enthusiasm to the message that God has made known to us. If you have not become a Christian by placing your faith in Christ, God cherishes a heart that would run to him because of his announcement of such good news. If you are a believer, you also need to continue to seek him with such enthusiasm. Let this Christmas be no exception.
Secondly, the shepherds made known what had been told to them. Like the shepherds who received good news of great joy and the announcement of God’s peace on earth, we also have a responsibility to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem and who died in our place on a cross. Do not neglect your role in proclaiming this good news.
Reflecting His Magnificence
And third, the shepherds returned to their field glorifying and praising God. God has given you the incredible gift of his grace that comes through his Son. This gift brings great joy and peace. As you and I go our way, may we never neglect to give him praise for all he has done for us.
That first Christmas was a “night to give.” God gave his Son, Jesus the Messiah, to us that we might have great joy, that we might have peace with him even while living on earth, and that we might proclaim and praise him who has been so good to us all.