Gold, Frankincense… But Wait – There’s Myrrh!
We made it! It’s here! It’s Christmas!
Have you received a gift that, after unwrapping it, you thought, hopefully to yourself, “not even close…”? Or how about a present that was just downright rib-tickling? You might even get one today!
I remember when I was eight years old – the year was 1980-something and my dear, sweet grandparents sent me the following book for Christmas:
Now, I may be a little foggy on what exactly pesticides are now, but I guarantee I was without a homeschooled clue when I was eight. The 25-cent garage sale sticker in the corner made the gift extra befuddling. But I loved my grandparents immensely – and I loved my quirky, odd gift.
As a country – we love gifts. Last year – Americans spent an average of $781 per person on Christmas gifts; over $600 billion dollars as a nation overall. At some level – I think that most of us are cognizant that giving is an integral component of the Christmas celebration. But I also sense that a lot of people have a growing, sneaky suspicion that this all has got to be about more than just gifts. Not just the giving of things, but ourselves as well.
There is a passage of Scripture that is one of the most recognized verses in the whole Bible, but also tends to be one of the most overlooked during this season. It’s John 3:16, which reads:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s giving, I believe, is why each of us has an intrinsic desire to give. When we give, we are modeling our Creator. We’re reflecting, as image bearers, an aspect of his character. At Christmas, we’re remembering a God who emptied himself, stepped down from glory, and gave.
Mythology is filled with stories of various gods stepping down from the heavens and interacting with humanity in some way. Eastern religions have written vast amounts of literature telling the stories of gods visiting Earth and sending emissaries on their behalf.
There really isn’t anything too terribly special about a god coming to Earth – but the Apostle John is not talking about a member of the pantheon coming over to chat. He’s speaking of the God, the one who spoke the universe into existence, coming to earth in the form of Jesus Christ as Immanuel – God with us.
God is not just looking after us.
He doesn’t just have His hand on us
His very presence has come to dwell among us!
As C.S. Lewis said,
“In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend; He comes down, down to the very roots and seabed of the nature he has created. But he goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with him.” – C. S. Lewis
At Christmas we celebrate a God who stepped down, down from luxury to poverty, from a throne to a manger. His mom – a junior higher, his dad – a humble construction worker. His home – the size of a parking lot.
And lets not forget the nativity scene.
We tend to think of that first Christmas as a squeaky-clean Disney set where the llamas bob their heads in rhythm while the donkeys snap and scat. But the truth is that scene was messy and disordered.
We have to be careful not to sanitize the Christmas story.
Joseph and Mary – fearing for their lives, had to have wondered how their lives got to where they were. There must have been doubt and fear that inundated their thoughts. And in the middle of this chaos – God shows up. In the middle of complexity and heartache, he’s still showing up today.
My guess is that a lot of people may feel out of sorts today. Perhaps life didn’t turn out the way you thought it would, perhaps life feels like it’s unraveling in front of you, or perhaps you’re simply feeling numb to it all. Regardless – I hope that today you overwhelmed by the reality that there is a God who does not run away from the messes, but engaged and pursues us amidst clutter and turmoil. And thank God he does!
While John 3:16 may be the verse that gets all the action when it comes to watercolor prints and needle-stitched pillows, I think it’s John 3:17 that packs the real punch;
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
This is the subversive, upside-down economics of a God who, instead of sending a rulebook, a kit, a blueprint, or a pill, he sends himself – into the complexities, into the difficulties, and into the messiness of life. Our lives. He is a God who gives – even and especially when it is most difficult.
This Christmas, after the mountains of wrapping paper are dealt with the tinsel looses it sheen – may we be a people who also give, and give fully, deeply, and with unquenchable grace. May we step into the darkness with a light not our own, remember the God who enters in and dwells among us.