Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - The Often Forgotten Gift

As I was doing my weekend grocery shopping, I wandered through the Christmas clearance sections of the retail store. I saw signs posted everywhere reading, “50% off All Christmas Items”. Decorations, wrapping paper, bows, cards, gift bags, candy and so many other items were on sale. After seeing the signs, I realized that Christmas 2018 was over and things were slowly changing to New Year decorations and Valentine’s Day. Even at our home, our Christmas tree, once a home for gift-wrapped presents, stands quietly in the corner of our living room waiting to be taken down and put back into its box. It is yet another sign that Christmas 2018 is over. All of the gifts have been given and the stockings are empty. All of the wrapping paper and boxes have been thrown to the curb.

Many people, before New Year’s Eve, will take down their Christmas trees and decorations. Children will begin to dread the day that they return to school. These events happen every year. Christmas decorations go up during the Thanksgiving weekend and soon come down after Christmas. Many feel a certain emptiness after Christmas. Each looks so forward to the day of celebration and then it goes as quickly as it came.

I cannot help but think about the one gift that was not given. If you think about the Wise Men, they visited Jesus after he was born. They were not present at his birth. According to some Bible scholars, Jesus may have been at least two years old when the three kings arrived to worship him. Matthew writes, in chapter 2 of his gospel, about the three kings, “11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Did you notice the word “house”? It does not say “stable”, or mention anything about a manger, shepherds or stable animals. The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh did not come until later. So, what did Jesus receive on the night he was born? Mary and Joseph were not registered at Tiffany’s or Neiman Marcus. Mary’s friends did not give her a baby shower. No one gave her a layette for her new son. She did not have much of anything other than a manger, some straw as a bed and cloth to swaddle him. There were no boxes of diapers, formula, car seats or anything else for Jesus. He came into the world humbly. Nowhere in the scripture does it say that the women of Bethlehem brought clothes, even used ones, for the child. The shepherds did not stand in line at the nearest big-box retailer to buy gifts. No one had anything in their hands to give to the small child who would one day bear the sins of the world on his shoulders and die a criminal’s death in order to provide salvation to all who freely accept it.

However, if you think about it, each person at Jesus’ birth did have a gift for him. Each possessed something that Jesus valued enough to lay down his life for as well as for those who were never present at his birth. That gift is often forgotten and sometimes we forget to give that wonderful gift to our Savior and Lord. It is the gift of ourselves. That is the one gift that Jesus valued enough to die on a cross for and to give us the gift of life everlasting with the Father. It is the most precious of all gifts and is the one that truly is priceless.

While we post, twit and text to others descriptions and pictures of expensive gifts of cars, diamonds, precious stones and metals and expensive trips, we sometimes forget the often forgotten gift. We do not give of ourselves and we do not give Jesus the gift of ourselves. We do not present ourselves just as we are. We are individuals who often walk in fear, uncertainty and doubt. We let those things distract us from the one who gave us a peace that the world cannot give. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah. He writes in chapter 53 of his book about the Messiah that was to come, “5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

As I had discussed in my last message, “Salvation in Christ Jesus”, Jesus gave us this wonderful gift freely and fulfilled the prophecies by being our sin and atonement sacrifice for once and for all. Even as a baby, Jesus was already providing us with gifts. Gifts more precious than gold, frankincense, and myrrh. His gift is never on a clearance shelf or marked down. 

Just as Jesus gave of himself, we have our gift to give him. We give ourselves to him and it is only through him that we can draw near to our Heavenly Father. James writes in chapter 4 of his epistle, “7 So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world.” 

By accepting Jesus’ precious gift, we each give him, in return, a very precious gift. We give him our lives. When we do that, we draw near to God and God draws near to us. As sinners, we allow our loyalties and worldly desires to divide us from the Father. When we, however, accept the greatest of all gifts, salvation, we become children of God. James later writes in chapter 4, “10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

God blesses us each and every day of our lives. We have nothing to fear or dread. Uncertainty gives way to the surety of eternal life with our Father. All of this happened because of a simple gift exchange. Jesus gave us the path to the Father through the freely given gift of salvation and we gave ourselves to him. It is only through him that we are able to draw near to the Father and He to us. As we humble ourselves before Him, God will lift us up in honor and give us victory over sin and death. We receive the gift of eternal life.

As you and your family begin to take down your Christmas decorations and close the chapter on Christmas 2018, I ask you to open a new chapter that starts with a simple sentence, “Today and every day I give myself to God and follow His son, Christ Jesus.”

That new chapter starts not only with that simple sentence but it also starts with giving that often forgotten gift of ourselves. It does not require a bow, wrapping paper or a gift bag. It is a simple gift that is more precious than the gifts he received from the wise men. It is a gift that Jesus cherishes every day. Peter, in his first epistle, writes, “6 So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

By giving and humbling ourselves to the Lord, He will lift us up in honor and call us holy. When we accept this gift, we no longer walk in darkness and fear. We can stand firm in His grace. 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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