The Present of Presence
December 25, 2005 | Randy Smith
The Present of PresenceLuke 2:11
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Pastor Randy Smith
This week I allowed my three daughters to talk me into a trip to the mall. A gutsy move for a guy like me, stepping into a domain like that just days before Christmas!
If you can bear the crowds it's rather comical, or maybe I should say, sad, to watch the frantic Christmas shoppers jump from store to store in search of that perfect present. The atmosphere shouts with consumerism. The nativity scene has been replaced with Santa Claus. The holiday joy and good will toward all men is absent. Even the word "Christmas" nowadays is considered offensive and is barred from the lips of most sales clerks. But very few lose a beat when it comes time to purchase and receive presents. Gift giving has pushed and shoved its way into the spotlight once again this time of the year.
Retailers seeking to make more money have forever promoted this spirit. This year, I understand, they have accommodated the spirit as well. For the low price of $599.95 you can purchase your very own Upside-down Christmas Tree. Standing at 7-feet tall and pre-lit with over 800 commercial grade lights, this technological wonder is promised to brighten your holidays. You ask, "Why would anyone want an upside-down Christmas tree?" According to their own website (Hammacher Schlemmer), "The inverted shape makes it easier to see ornaments, which hang away from the dense needles," while "allowing more room for the accumulation of presents underneath." Is anyone buying an Upside-down Christmas Tree? Below the ad I read, "Due to the popularity of this item, we are unexpectedly sold out."
So we are led to believe that gift giving is the true meaning of the season. And if so we should all be searching, like the folks in the mall, for that perfect Christmas gift.
This week I typed those three words in an Internet search and received over 9 million hits. I guess there must be more than one perfect Christmas gift! I became more suspicious when my top three hits were: Christmas throw blankets, Peenie Wallie TSA Action Figures and Smokin' Joe's Smoked Salmon.
Possibly you would like to get something a little more festive? The popular holiday song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" offers a vast selection of potential presents. It's been calculated that that special person in your life can receive gifts that represent the whole song for just a biscuit over $18,000 - a 6.1% increase over last year due to soaring gold prices and the bird flu.
Wow, they say gift giving is the reason for the season, but finding that perfect gift without exasperating yourself and breaking your wallet is becoming increasingly difficult.
Maybe we have gone wrong somewhere? Maybe there is more to the season than what advertisers and secularists have led us to believe. Maybe there is a reason we have lost our joy especially this time of the year. Maybe we have missed the true meaning of Christmas altogether. Maybe there is even a higher purpose than giving. Maybe, just maybe, the real reason for the season is not giving, and this may surprise you, but receiving!
So where do we go in our search of the true meaning of Christmas? Since the Christmas story originates in the Bible I believe that would be the logical place to turn. And in the Gospel of Luke we see the angel provide us with the answer we need.
In verse 10 of chapter 2 he says it is a message of "good news" and "great joy." He says it will be available "for all the people" regardless of their nationality, age, wealth, education, appearance or gender. Even the lowly shepherds, second to last on social lists in the first century who first received this Christmas message were not to be excluded from this opportunity for joy.
The specific content delivered to the shepherds and all of us this morning is spelled out in verse 11: "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." In other words, the Creator has given His creation a present that we would be foolish to reject. Christmas is about receiving the greatest gift imaginable: Jesus Christ.
This Christmas morning, as we celebrate the true meaning of this wonderful day together, let's remember the gift sent to us from heaven. It is the gift specially chosen by God, flowing from divine love and wisdom. It is a reflection of His perfection tailored perfectly to meet the deepest needs of the human heart.
1. A PROPHETIC GIFT
Let us take a deeper look at verse 11. We first learn that the arrival of Christ was a prophetic gift. It begins by saying, "Today in the city of David."
Two thousand years ago a band of Magi came from the east having been led by a star (Mt. 2:2b). Once they arrived in Jerusalem they needed specific directions to find the one they called "King of the Jews" (Mt. 2:2a). The scribes and chief priests were questioned as to where the Messiah would be born (Mt. 2:4).
Their response without hesitation was a quotation from the Old Testament. Reciting Micah 5:2 they said, "And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel" (Mt. 2:6). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem also known as the "city of David" (1 Sam. 20:6).
Centuries passed. Prophecies accumulated. Hopes were set on the great Deliverer. But now the fullness of time had come (Gal. 4:4). The promised Messiah had finally arrived. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior" (Lk. 2:11, emphasis added).
A young teenage couple both from the house and lineage of King David (Mt. 1:6, 16; Lk. 1:32, 69): Joseph a carpenter betrothed (Lk. 2:5, married - Mt. 1:24-25) to Mary who was great with child. The census required them to return to their hometown of Bethlehem. Together they made the rough 90-mile trek from Nazareth to the city of David (Lk. 2:4). Together they would see prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes. For they were already told, "(Mary) will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). Together this obscure couple would witness and actually participate in the birth of the much-anticipated Messiah.
2. A PRECIOUS GIFT
The couple was insignificant. The circumstances were ignoble. But the child was invaluable. We move to the second point, a precious gift. And few things are more precious than the birth of a baby.
When God wanted to give His very best gift to the world, He did everything within His power to ensure the surroundings would not surpass the present. The spotlight that first Christmas was on the birth of the child. Because the gift was so precious, the birth of Jesus was sovereignly designed to prevent any distractions. Nothing would conceal or obscure God's gift. Jesus was, and always should be, the center of attention.
I suppose we all dream of finding a magical lamp and having our three greatest wishes granted. Well, many have approached God on the same basis. They view Him as the big genie up in the sky. Such a conception is blasphemous. Not because God doesn't care to meet our needs, for He does, but because our perceived needs fall short of our greatest need.
You see God loves us too much to always cater to our temporary circumstances. Eternal happiness is not contingent on a better job or more money or improved health. We have greater needs at a much deeper level. Satisfaction in life is never attained until we have a right relationship with our Creator. God knows our greatest needs better than we do ourselves. Therefore that first Christmas He gave us the greatest and most thoughtful gift. He gave us the gift that is most precious both to Him and us.
The Bible tells us, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" (Jn. 3:16). According to verse 11 the present was "born." It was the almighty second Person in the Holy Trinity who took on human flesh (Jn. 1:14, 18). God knew our greatest need so He wrapped up Himself. We call it the incarnation. God's gift to the world was Jesus Christ.
As we sing this time of the year, "Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing" and "True God of true God, Light from Light eternal, lo, He shuns not the virgin's womb" in O Come, All Ye Faithful (John Wade). Or as Charles Wesley so aptly put it in his classic, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel." Emmanuel meaning, "God with us" (Isa. 7:14; Mt. 1:23).
Could any gift be more precious? Could any gift better express the love and humility of God?
John Donne said, "Twas much, that man was made like God before, but that God should be like man much more."
According to J. B. Phillips, "The modern intelligent mind, which has had its horizons widened in dozens of different ways, has got to be shocked afresh by the audacious central fact that as a sober matter of history, God become one of us".
Henry Law remarked, "What self denial! What self abasement! What self emptying! He, whom no infinitudes can hold, is contained within infant's age, and infant's form. Can it be, that the great 'I AM THAT I AM' shrinks into our flesh?"
There born to a simple Hebrew woman, lying in a filthy stable, enclosed in lowly human flesh was God, a precious gift to humanity that first Christmas.
3. A PERSONAL GIFT
And, as we move to the third point we must not forget the fact that the Christ child was not only a precious gift, but also He was a personal gift. Countless admire baby Jesus this time of the year through Christmas cards, nativity scenes and traditional carols, but few receive Him as a personal gift.
Let's pretend you gave me a new scarf this Christmas. The greatest way I can honor and appreciate you is to cherish the gift and use it as it is intended. But how would you feel if you heard me speak negatively of the scarf? Or never saw me wear the scarf? Or found the scarf in my home used to tie together some loose pipes in the basement? No doubt you would be offended, right? Because my love for you should be reflected in my love for the gift. Honor the gift and I honor you. Reject the gift and I reject you.
Jesus Christ is God's most personal gift to you. It came at the greatest expense to Himself. It seeks to meet your deepest needs. It is the final and unanswerable proof that God cares. Therefore God, for the sake of His glory takes it very seriously what we do with Jesus. So seriously that we get eternal life if we receive Him, but eternal damnation of our souls in hell if we reject Him.
Put yourself in God's shoes. Someone is lost in sin without any hope of saving himself. You send your only Son to suffer and die to be his Savior. But the person rejects your love offering and ascribes to you a vote of no confidence. How would you feel?
As verse 11 teaches, "There is born for you a Savior" (emphasis added). What are you doing with this personal gift from almighty God?
4. A PRACTICAL GIFT
Not only is the gift personal, Luke 2 tells us that it is a practical gift as well. In verse 11 we read that the present is a "Savior."
Few things are worse than receiving a gift that has no purpose. Possibly an article of clothing that is out of style or in the wrong size. Possibly a food item that doesn't whet your appetite like the dreaded fruitcake. Possibly a toy that you already possess or is broken when you take it out of the box. Unfortunately, many Christmas gifts are unused or returned. Others lose their luster or no longer work within a few years.
God's gift in His son in unlike all of these. He is very practical. Everybody, everyday, needs Him. And everyday with Him is better than the day before. He comes with the name Jesus, which means "Savior."
Now if God sent you a Savior, it naturally implies that you are lost. Lost in what? The Bible emphatically declares that you and I are lost in our sins.
Isaiah 53:6 -"All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way." Psalm 53:1 - "They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; there is no one who does good." Proverbs 20:9 - "Who can say, 'I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin.'"
Since we are sinners by divine declaration and personal choice we need a Savior. As the angel told Mary, "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). We need someone to remove our sin and make us right with God.
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior (author unknown).
And Jesus saved us by coming to earth and taking on human flesh. He became our representative or substitute. He lived the perfect life without sin and then willingly went to the cross to die in our place. Our sin was placed upon Him and He received the wrath of God we deserve. In return we received His perfect righteousness, which now removes the enmity and reconciles us to God (2 Cor. 5:21). The unknown author commented, "He came to pay a debt He did not owe, because we owed a debt we could not pay."
"But why is this wonder of wonders," as one theologian asked? Why is eternity's Lord a child of time? He thus stoops, that He may save poor wretched sinners such as we are. He must die, as man, that lost souls may live. To rescue from the stain of sin, the Eternal must take the sinner's place, and bear sin's curse and pay sin's debt, and suffer sin's penalty, and wash out sin's filth, and atone for sin's malignity. Jesus alone could do this. Jesus alone has done it" (Henry Law, The Gospel in Exodus).
James Boice said, "If the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; and that therefore all who believe in Him can look forward to heaven."
This is the good news that God Himself would give us the most practical gift that first Christmas. He Himself would bring a cure to our greatest disease called sin. He would bring forgiveness (Lk. 1:77). He would send us a Savior (cf. Lk. 1:47; Jn. 4:42).
5. A POWERFUL GIFT
Finally, verse 11 concludes by identifying the Savior as "Christ the Lord." From the practical gift I take you to the powerful gift. Let's look at these two descriptive titles.
"Christ" is derived from the Greek word Christos. It means "Anointed One." Messiah is the transliteration of the Hebrew term with a similar meaning. Surpassing all the other anointed figures of the Old Testament; Jesus is anointed as the final and greatest, Prophet, Priest and King.
"Lord" is a word to speak of Christ's deity. Two verses earlier the same word was used to speak of God. Here it speaks of Jesus. He is Lord. He is God. He is worthy to be obeyed and worshipped.
Jesus is a powerful gift. He demonstrated that power by coming back from the dead and He works that resurrection power daily in us to accomplish abundantly beyond all we ask or think.
Christmas is a time to exchange gifts. As long as we keep things in the right perspective, there is nothing wrong with that tradition. As a matter of fact, our spirit of giving is a wonderful way we can remember and model the greatest gift given to us by God that first Christmas. Giving is important, but it is only secondary to receiving God's gift to humanity in the Person of Jesus.
What more could we ask for? It's a prophetic gift, a precious gift, a personal gift, a practical gift and a powerful gift.
Have you received God's greatest gift this Christmas? To work for a gift is a contradiction and insult to the giver. So God extends this wonderful gift to you at no charge. The Bible calls salvation a "free gift" (Rom. 5:15-16; 6:23). But like any gift you can reject it or you can accept it. And you accept God's gift no different than you would any other gift. You receive it on the basis of faith - true faith that delights in Him and turns from sin.
May we praise God this Christmas and everyday for the gift He has given us in Christ Jesus. But our celebration does not end with the birth of Jesus. Whenever you think of that baby in the wooden manger, remember the One who would die on the wooden cross to save the world from sin.