Saturday, December 21, 2013

That Disappointing Gift

While the world and its Christians are clamoring over the controversy du jour*, I've decided to take a break, and a different tack. This will probably come as a disappointment to those who would rather spend their time engaging in culture wars.  But that's okay, because it's almost Christmas, and that feels like the perfect time to talk about disappointment.

Christmas is a time for gifts, for giving and receiving them. This is as it should be. We do this in rememberance of the great gift that God gave to humanity on the night that Jesus Christ was born, or at least that was the original intent. Two thousand years later, the gift-giving has taken on a life of its own as part of our commercial culture and has left its roots in the dust. Which, I think, is a macro-reflection of our disappointment with God's gift to us.

Think of all the effort and resources you have invested this Christmas season into making or purchasing just the right gift for the ones you love most dearly. Your hope is to meet their needs, to see them smile, to let them know how much you care and how precious they are to you, and to bless them.

God, the greatest giver, planned from the beginning of time to give the people he would create the greatest gift imaginable.  He gave them life and relationship with him, and they did not value it.  We know this because God told them there was only one thing they could do to forfeit it. There was just one prohibition, no other rules but this one simple command, this single marker of God's authority over them and the life he'd given them. They had everything, yet they were willing to risk it all for a taste of the one thing in their world they were told they could not have.

Even so, none of this came as a surprise to God.  He knew the limits of the creatures he had made. Life itself was not the greatest gift, but the first step to it. There was something more God wanted give.  He planned from the beginning to do something so astonishing as to be almost unthinkable.  He would give a gift that would demonstrate once and for all the nature and extent of his love, and those who would recognize it and value it would have the greatest treasure of all:  God himself.

What greater gift can anyone give than himself?

And so God sent his own Son to sacrifice his life for the ones who had rejected his original gift of life. His Son died our death so that we can enter into His life. Through His Son God offers peace and reconciliation - and sonship.  Through Christ, the Son of God, we, too, can become God's sons.
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..." John 1:12
Christians, "He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:13-14)  Our sins are forgiven!  We have peace with God and a place in the kingdom of his dearly loved Son.  It doesn't get any better than this! What more could we dream of or hope for than this one thing?

So let me ask this question today:  is this the gift you really wanted? Or are you disappointed? Does it bore you? Have you set it down to go look under the tree for something else, something more? I have to admit that there have been times, yes, even as a Christian, when I have grown weary of Jesus and begun moving on to secondary interests and new experiences.

I listened the other day to an old sermon by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  In it he told the story of an African pastor who had made a previous trip to England to tell the churches there about the revivals going on in his native country. When he came back the second time he decided not to tell the people about Africa.  He decided to preach about Jesus.  He told Lloyd-Jones that the people were not happy about it.  These Christians didn't want to hear about Jesus.  They wanted to hear about African revivals.  They were disappointed.

And so I ask again: are you disappointed in the gift of God? Would you rather fill your mind and heart with the latest "Christian" controversy, the latest doctrinal hubbub, the latest Christian political movement, movie, or fad or whatever it might be than with Christ?

On the November before my mother died, not knowing she wouldn't live until Christmas, she decided to buy me an early Christmas present.  She didn't want to wait to give it to me either.  She wanted me to have it right away, because she knew I really needed it.  It wasn't a beautiful gift, I suppose, or a very sentimental one even.  It was a vacuum cleaner.  She knew I'd had nothing but trouble with vacuum cleaners over the years prior, and that it was an ongoing source of frustration for me, a professional house-cleaner. She was not a wealthy woman, but she bought me a really good one, one that I would not have been able to afford on my own, one that would last.  And now that my mother is gone, that vaccuum means more to me than I know how to express.  It filled a need, a real need, and it also showed how much she cared about my life and its little hardships. Four years later, I still use it, and I still think of her with gratitude every time I do.

Christmas in our country and in our hearts has stopped being about Christ because we have lost interest in God's gift.  But why? I believe it is because we have forgotten, or never realized at all, how much we really need it. The best gifts, whether we recognize it or not, are those that meet the greatest needs.  Sadly, though our greatest needs are so often overshadowed in our minds by our greatest desires.

This is why Jesus was rejected from the very beginning.  He was not the kind of Messiah the Jews hoped he would be.  They had been hoping for a military conquerer.  They were disappointed because they did not understand that their land and the Roman occupation were not their real problem. They had had full reign over Palestine and their temple before, more than once. But each time they had sinned, and God had taken it away. The problem was not the land, it was their sin. The real enemy was not Rome, but themselves.  Sin was the great oppressor that God's Messiah came to conquer.  But, like all of us, they enjoyed their sin. That was not the Messiah they wanted. 

So God's gift seemed to them, as it so often does to us, like a booby prize.

May God grant us this Christmas, and every day after, to recognize the greatness of God's gift, and to experience the joy that it is meant to bring.


*For anyone reading this six weeks or six months or six years from today, I'll remind you that the current controversy is over the statements of the star of a "reality" TV program called Duck Dynasty.  By now you will likely need to Google the reference just to recall what this particular fuss was about.  But there's no need to bother.  By the time you are reading this the broohaha will likely have been replaced by another much like it. (Will we ever learn?)

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