As we close our time together I want to briefly remind us about the true meaning of Christmas. Let me begin by telling the story of a little boy who was transition from Santa Claus to Jesus. Instead of writing a letter Santa Claus he penned his note this Christmas to Jesus.
He sat at his desk with pen and paper at hand. He began by writing, “Dear Jesus, this year I have been a very good boy…” He paused and thought for a second and then realized this was not totally true so he wadded up the paper and tossed in the trashcan by his desk. He started again and wrote, “Dear Jesus, this year I tried very hard to be a very good boy…” He paused again, and knew this was not true either, so again he wadded up the paper and started over. This time he wrote, “Dear Jesus, this year I really wasn’t all that bad…” He paused, and in frustration wadded the paper up and tossed into the trashcan. He jumped up from his desk and went into the living room where his mother had set up the nativity scene with Mary, Joseph, and the tiny little baby Jesus. He grabbed the figurine of Mary and returned to his desk. In bold strokes he wrote: “Dear Jesus if you ever want to see you mother again…”
I have to admit I could identify with that little boy a bit. When I was younger, Christmas was all about “getting.” I remember my brothers and I were members of the CIA—the “Christmas Intelligence Agency.” It was our mission to uncover the mystery hidden in the packages under the tree.
When mother was not looking we would sneaking into the living room and do our investigation. One by one we would pick up the packages. We had certain test that would help us identify the contents of the packages. Our first test was the weight test. Clothes don’t weigh much, but toys can. So we could tell the boxes with pajamas and new shirts from the boxes containing our toys. In addition to the weight test, we had the rattle test. We would shake the boxes to see if they rattled as if they had little parts. Toys often rattle. To my knowledge we did not break any presents, but they all got shook—hard at times. In addition, we had the “shape” test. For instance I remember my favorite Christmas present as a boy was when I got my electric football game. This was long before X-box, it was even before pong on Atari. It was an amazing game. It had at least 22 little football players and the box was a large rectangle.
For those of you who had one, you remember it had a large metal football field that when you turned it on would vibrate and the football players would move along the board on tiny little fibers that were attached to the bottom of their bases. Between plays you would set up your offense and defense and then turn on the board and watch it unfold. There was nothing quite as exciting as watching your Dallas Cowboy running back break into the open against the Green Bay Packers only to get in open fiend and then to go round and round in a circle!
I digress, back to the CIA, we spend all the days before Christmas trying to spoil the surprise, and often did to our parent’s sadness. It is interesting how the tables turn, when Robyn and I began parents it became our task to protect the Christmas surprises. Since we had a house full of girls we often gave clothes but we wanted to keep the mystery alive by using code names for the packages. This worked great until the year we forgot the code!
As most of us discover at one point or another, Christmas is not about getting but about giving. In fact, some believe the whole idea of Christmas presents goes back to the wise men or the Magi. The men made famous by the classic Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”
You may remember these words:
Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign
Matthew captured the moment with these words:
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.(G) Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts(H) of gold and of incense and of myrrh.
This simple profound statement has always inspired me. These men had probably traveled for two years chasing a star and a dream of worshipping at the feet of the king of the Jews only to find themselves walking into a tiny house with dirt floors, to see a toddlers in the rags of a peasant, but by faith realizing this little boy was truly the King of the Jews revealed by the stars of heaven.
As they worshipped him, I love the way Matthew described it, “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and incense and myrrh.” They opened their treasures. Christmas giving begins with worship and leads to us first opening our treasures to the LORD.
When you give your gifts tonight or in the morning you are carrying on a long tradition of opening your treasures for the ones you love, but the wise men opened their treasures to a stranger—to a stranger king.
One of the ways people know we are the children of God is when we give and give generously. Remember what James said, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above.”
Last December in Indianapolis a young father dressed in work clothes and dirty boots stepped up to the desk in the layaway section of Kmart. At his feet were three little children. He came to pay on his layaway bill for gifts for his little ones. As he reached for his billfold and woman stepped up and said, “No, I am going to pay for your bill.” He looked in amazement at this woman he had never seen before in his life. He looked back at the assistant manager Edna Deppe who nodded with a big smile on her face. The mysterious stranger reached into her purse and pulled out the money needed to pay his bill. Tears welled up in his eyes as he stood there in stunned amazement. Speechless he gave her a hug, and softly thank this woman he had never seen before in his life. She whispered, “Merry Christmas…and please remember Ben.”
You see Ben was her husband that had died earlier that year, so she decided to give Ben his Christmas present this year by blessing the lives of strangers struggling to make Christmas happen for their children. On that afternoon this nameless smiling stranger paid off over fifty layaway accounts and passed out $50 bills to parents getting last minute gifts for their children. I have to believe her actions caught the attention of heaven on that cold December afternoon. You see the world is not all bad. Christmas still lives in the hearts and lives of people.
However, I think even the wise men would agree with me, that Christmas giving did not really begin with them. You know where it began. It began with our Father in heaven. With words our children know by heart, Jesus told the Christmas story when He said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Yes, Christmas giving began when God fell in love with the world, and loved us so much he gave the greatest gift of all—when He gave Jesus for you and me.
I believe Paul nailed it when he declared in his second letter to the Corinthians in a section on the power and scope of generosity in the life of the followers of Jesus. He wrote:
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
Paul was so right. How could we put into words all that Jesus means to us. Some have translated this word of Paul as “unspeakable.” The root word was a compound word. It begins with a negative prefix, and the force of the following word is to “explain, to narrate wholly or in full, to declare.” In other words, Paul said, “No one can completely and fully put into words all that Jesus means to us.”
Do you remember the last words of the gospel of John? Let me remind you. He wrote:
25 Jesus did many other things as well.(AE) If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Yes, the whole world could not contain all the majesty and mystery of Jesus our LORD. This Christmas I pray each and every one of us will be struck by the wonder of Christmas in the face of Jesus.
Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! Merry Christmas!