The Gift

What CAN you get a wookie for Christmas when he already owns a comb?

That is indeed the question of the season isn’t it?  That song is one of my favorites.  I used to own it on 45 back in the day. It came out in 1980 right when The Empire Strikes Back, the second of the Star Wars movies had just been in theater.  I’ve always been a huge Star Wars fan so this Christmas song really hit the spot.  It actually made the Billboard top 100, topping out at number 69, behind “Lady” by Kenny Rogers so it’s in good company.  But besides the snappy tune and the connection to Star Wars the reason I like the song so much is because it delivers the heart of the Christmas message.  That when all is said and done, Christmas is about love. Love is the greatest gift.  And that gift of love was personified in the birth of the baby Jesus whom God gave to the world.  Jesus truly was Immanuel, “God with us.”  God came down to Earth, lived amongst us, felt how we felt, lived like we lived, offered us grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and died for us that we might restore our relationship with him.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

When it comes to Christmas, God was the FIRST gift-giver.

God was the first gift-giver.  In this season, we often think of gift-giving as having started with the Magi, with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, but it was GOD who gave us the first gift – his Son, Jesus Christ.  And that gift was the most amazing and loving gift ever given because it was the gift of LIFE!  Before Christ we were constantly separated from God through our sins, and yet, when Christ came and died for us, we were given new life in him.  And that’s the message in our reading this evening.  In this letter, Paul talks a lot about faith – about God’s faithfulness, about our faithfulness, about being justified in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus Christ and in the passage we are about to hear, Paul wants to make clear how precious this gift is.  Partly it’s because we are so undeserving of it.  It’s all the more amazing because Christ was willing to give his life for us, and only someone with such great love would die for those who didn’t deserve it.  But Paul says it like this in verse 7, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Christ died for us.  While we were sinners, while we continued to sin, Christ died for us.

2014-12-13 - Gotta have the nativity
The nativity scene is always one of the most iconic and powerful symbols of Christmas – maybe because most of all, it is the confluence of different faiths, different classes, and different people all coming together to recognize Christ as King

12-14You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in— first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses. So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape from Adam to Moses. Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God. But Adam, who got us into this, also points ahead to the One who will get us out of it.

 15-17Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

 18-19Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right.

 20-21All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.- Romans 5:12-21 (MSG version)

God gave us this amazing gift.

This wonderful, fantastic, amazing gift!  He gave us forgiveness for our sins.  He gave us the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us in this life so that we might know God.  And He gave us the ultimate gift – everlasting life through Jesus Christ.  He gave us this great gift out of the abundance of love he has for each and every one of us.  But it’s up to you to accept it.  It’s up to YOU to accept it.  In Paul’s letter, he even says, “can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes…in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift…that…Jesus Christ provides?”  While God offers it, you still have to accept it, because God won’t make you.  He’ll keep pursuing you and pursuing you, but it will always be your choice to take this gift and let it into your heart – to wear it, to put it on, to really make it your own.  It’s your choice what you’re going to do with this gift.  Because God wants you to realize for yourself just how amazing, life-changing, and wonderful a life in Christ truly is.  Because only when we realize for ourselves the value of God’s gift to us, can it transform us and shape us into the people God hopes we become.

When I was about 7 years old, I used to love watching anime.

Except it wasn’t called anime back then.  They were just “Japanese cartoons with big robots.”  My favorites were Raideen, Daiapporon, and Getta Robo G.  They were the best!  Every year for Christmas and my birthday, I’d get one of these imported Japanese die-cast metal toys from one of these shows.  I had all the major ones and was starting to collect the minor ones, too.  They were awesome toys for the seventies.  They would fire missiles, have interchangeable hands, and they would change into different robots, but this was before Transformers so nobody called them that.  I had a bunch of them, probably about ten or twelve in all.  And when I got to be 13 years old, I threw them all away.  I pronounced to my mother that I was too old for kiddie toys and it was time to grow up.  I even remember walking them out to the trashcan in this big shoe box that I kept them in and throwing the whole thing in there.  Did you ever do that?  Did you “mark your independence” by throwing away things that were “baby toys?”  Probably not.  I’m probably the only foolish one here.  My sister, Karen, even pleaded with my mom to let her have them, but stubbornly I said, “No, they’re mine and I can do with them what I want.”  Now, I don’t believe generally in living a life of regrets, but that was one of the dumbest things I’d ever done.  Today, those die-cast toys are worth hundreds of dollars apiece, not to mention the sentimental value they had.  As I’ve grown up, I remember with fondness how much I enjoyed those gifts and I’ve started to collect them again slowly reassembling my collection.  Because I realize now, how valuable these gifts truly were in so many different ways.

2017-01-01 - Just me, my sisters, and my parents
My sisters Nicole (far left top) and Karen (middle top) with me and my parents in 2017

God’s gift of love is like that.

It’s a gift that we don’t always appreciate.  It’s a gift we don’t always realize how valuable or how significant it is.  And we ignore it.  We put it on a shelf, or we throw it away, or we abandon it.  On the other hand, some people go the other way.  They think it’s TOO valuable or TOO extravagant and can’t accept it.  They feel unworthy.  Like that scene in The Karate Kid, when Mr. Miyagi is giving Daniel his birthday gifts and offers him a car.  Daniel is like, “No, no, no.  This is too much, I can’t accept this.”  And Mr. Miyagi says, (shaking head) “Ah, hurt old man’s feelings. Choose.”  Sometimes, some of us feel like we’re not worthy of God’s abundant love.  That we’ve messed up too much.  That our sins are too great to be forgiven, and I can only imagine God up in Heaven like Mr. Miyagi, saying, “Ah, hurt old man’s feelings.”  He wants you to accept this gift.  It’s meant for everyone.  It’s meant to be opened and enjoyed and shared.  And when we accept God’s gift, we should be filled with gratitude so abundantly that we live our lives trying to show our appreciation.  This gift is so ginormous that we should be overwhelmed with the love in which it is given.  And in being overwhelmed seek to go out into the world and share it with others so they can feel and understand God’s love, too.

The birth of Christ was God’s great gift to us.

If you have already accepted this gift, if you’ve already accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, if you’ve already allowed the Holy Spirit to fill your heart, I want to encourage you to invite someone who doesn’t know Christ to church.  Maybe it’s your Buddhist brother or your daughter who used to come to church, but stopped for whatever reason. Maybe it’s your Muslim friend that you have lunch with at work once in a while.  Maybe it’s your mother or father who have been hurt deeply and are having trouble in their relationship with God.  Invite them to come with you and share with us some of God’s love.  Invite them into this fellowship of God’s children and let them share in this gift of God’s love with you.  With the New Year coming up, lots of people will be making resolutions to renew their faith.  Help them in that journey to find a place where they can come and worship the living God.  And if you’ve never accepted God’s gift before and you’re ready to, or you have always felt unworthy but realize tonight that God wants this for you, or you once did have Christ in your heart, but walked away from him for whatever reason and you’re here tonight, I want to invite you to say a prayer and invite Christ into (or back into) your life.  I want you to pray for God’s love to enter into you abundantly and fill you so overwhelmingly that it transforms you into the disciple he hopes you will become.

Here is that prayer:

Gracious God, you are the first gift-giver of Christmas.  Through your Son, Jesus, we have been given new life and a fresh start.  And no matter what I have done before, no matter how far I have strayed, you have always kept the door open for me to come in and accept your gift of love in Jesus Christ.  Come into my heart Lord, through your Holy Spirit.  Forgive me for all those things that have kept me from you, and guide me into new life with you.  Renew me this day and everyday that I may live my life with the abundance of your love.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

 

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