Friday, 17 December 2010

The world's greatest gift

Christmas carol service 2010

I wonder what your worst ever Christmas present was? One woman writes that the worst gift she ever received was from a disapproving mother-in-law: “it was a musical loo roll holder. The trick is letting someone know that their gift is most ungratefully received, without appearing to do so. I settled on – "A musical loo roll holder? I'm so glad you took me at my word and didn't go to too much trouble!"

There are three things that we want to know about any gift.

1.  How much did it cost the giver?

And I'm not necessarily talking about its financial value. Sometimes an expensive gift is a sign that it did not cost the giver much: for instance the proverbial boss who sends out the secretary to buy an iPad for her husband, because she can afford it, and is too busy to try and think of something else.

2. Is it personal?

The best gifts are the most personal. It could be a very simple necklace which is just right for the person. Because it tells them, "I think about you; I know you and you matter to me."

3. Is it any use? A musical loo roll holder ... I’m not sure. And if it's a new outfit, will it look good? If it’s a Kinect, will it work? If it's a screwdriver has it got the right head? If it's a perfume, will I smell nice!

The story is told of a three year old girl who gave her dad a gift. She wrapped it up in expensive paper, which she had taken from mum’s special drawer. He opened it and found a very small box. He opened the box, and inside – it was empty.

He was about to get angry with her; he was about to tell her that she should not use this sort of paper on empty gifts, but he stopped himself. And then she said to him, when she saw his face, "But Daddy, it is not empty. I blew kisses into it for you. It is full of kisses."

Some of you may love that story; others may find it a bit hard to stomach. But it would take a very hardhearted father not to be moved by that.

1. It did cost her. It cost her the things that matter: time and thought.

2. It was personal, incredibly personal.

3. It even had some use. When he went away, he used to take it as a reminder of his three-year-old daughter.

At Christmas, we recall the gift that God gave us 2000 years ago. It was not wrapped up in expensive paper; in fact it was wrapped in a linen cloth and was found lying in a barn in a cattle trough.

It was the gift of a baby

Now I know that every baby that is born is a unique and precious gift – but this baby was astonishingly special

He was the son of God, come to live on as one of us, among us.

1. How much did it cost God?

Everything! This was his unique Son, who had been with him from eternity. He gave him to us, even though he knew that we would reject him, and kill him.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son"

2. This gift is incredibly personal.

Even though Jesus came for everyone (those who have lived, those who are living and those who will live), it is still immensely personal.

Jesus is God’s invitation to you – to you personally - to come into an intimate relationship with God. In giving us Jesus, He offers us himself.

Without Jesus we are enemies of God
With Jesus we become friends of God

The gift of Jesus is God saying to us: "I haven't given up on you. Despite the fact that I have given you everything, and you have still rejected me; despite the fact that you have lived life and go on living life without me, that you have sought your own glory and not mine; despite the fact that you love the things I have given you more than me the one who, in love, gave them to you; despite the fact that you have cut yourself off from me, the source of life and love, and so you are effectively dead. Despite all this, I still love you.

And he invites you to receive this gift of Jesus; to become his friend, to begin to get to know him.

Story of Christmas eve: ‘Do you know Jesus?’

But do you know him? We know about him in our head, at least I hope we do. We may even know some of his promises and try to live putting our trust in them. But do you know him at a level that is other than the head? If you know him, then prayer will not be simply hopeful thinking, nor just a reminding God of his promises, nor just "saying our prayers", nor even just a cry of desperation. Prayer will be a real intimate conversation with our heavenly Father.

"To all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, God gave them the right to become children of God"

3. Is this gift any use?

This is the most life changing gift. It is far more life changing than winning the X factor, or being given a £1 million cheque.

Because God gave us Jesus, and because Jesus lived, died and rose from the dead, he changes our lives and goes on changing our lives in the most dramatic way.

He gives us the conviction that we are beloved.
He offers us forgiveness for the past, which means we can face up to the past, particularly those bits in the past when we have hurt others.
He gives us a new identity as a son or daughter of God.
He gives us a new power for living; the Bible tells us that God will put his Spirit in us –so that the Spirit that is in us, longs for him, desires him and calls out to him.
He gives us a new direction for living, a new purpose, seeking his glory and not mine; seeking his kingdom and not mine.
He gives us a new hope: a personal hope, that death is not the end, and that because of Jesus when we die we will meet with him, and be fully transformed, and become citizens of the new heaven and earth. And a cosmic hope, that one day this whole cosmos will be transformed into what it was meant to become.

No wonder Paul describes this as "God's inexpressible gift"

The father could have so easily rejected his daughters’ gift.
From one perspective it was worthless, foolish and empty.
But when he listened to her, he discovered something very different: he discovered a gift that was full of love.

And we can so easily reject the gift of our Father God to us at Christmas. After all, it's very easy to miss one more baby, especially one born in the middle of nowhere to one who was a nobody.

But if, in the middle of the frantic rush of Christmas, we're prepared to stop and listen then we might see something very different.

- if we are prepared to listen to the men and women of old, who foretold that God would send into this world one who was to be for us a Saviour and Ruler.
- if we are prepared to listen to the ones who were there and saw him, who lived with him, went where he went, heard him teach, saw the miracles, and watched him as he gave up his life; and who were there when he came back from the dead.
- if we prepared to listen to the people in the last 2000 years who have trusted him: who have given him their everything because he has given them everything.
- if we are prepared to listen to that voice within us, which tells you that Jesus is special; which draws you to him; which prompts you to cry out to him, to desire him and to ask him to be your Friend, your Saviour and your Lord.

And if we listen (and the fact you are here tonight suggests that you are prepared to take time out to listen), we discover that this gift – given 2000 years ago, which might seem so foolish and empty is, in fact, full of God's wisdom to save us; full of God's power to change us; and full of God's love as he offers himself to walk with us, to embrace us and to fill us. 

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