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How Shall We Celebrate Christmas

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					                         How Shall We Celebrate Christmas?

                                   Stephen M. Crotts

                         “For God so loved the world that
                              He gave His only Son,
                   That whoever believes in Him should not perish
                              But have eternal life.”
                                     John 3:16

        While having lunch in a restaurant this month I overheard an interesting
conversation between the women at the table next to mine. The first woman said,
“You‟ve brought me out here to this restaurant to eat this lavish meal. What‟s the
occasion?” The second lady said, “Oh, we‟re celebrating the baby‟s birthday.” “But
where is the baby?‟ the first woman asked, for there was no child visible. “Oh,” said the
mother, “you didn‟t think I would bring him, did you? Why, he doesn‟t know anything
about it!”
        Have you ever celebrated Christmas like that---lots of food and festivities but no
Jesus? Where is the baby in your celebration this year?
        When Southern author Flannery O‟Connor was asked what her favorite book was
as a child, she replied rather sheepishly, “The Sears and Roebuck catalog.” And isn‟t that
the best seller among our children this time of year? “Dad, I want…you can see it right
here on page…” And how do we as parents help our children get beyond the toy catalog
to Christmas?
        Huxley, in his work “The Genius and the Goddess”, had one of his characters take
a friend by the arm as he was leaving his home. He opened the front door for him and
said, “Drive carefully, this is Christian country, and it is the Savior‟s birthday!
Practically everyone you meet will be drunk!”
        Such is our celebration! Where‟s the baby?
        I know a grandmother who took little Anne along on a Christmas shopping trip.
After watching her grandmom choose and buy gifts all morning, Anne was taken for her
promised visit to Santa Claus. Sitting in his lap, Anne made her requests politely, and as
she started to leave, the jolly St. Nick handed her a candy cane. “What do you say?”
prompted the grandmother. Little Anne furrowed her brow in thought, then smiled
brightly and announced, “Charge it!”
        To survey America this time of year you‟d think that we can charge, drink, eat,
want, fantasize and decorate our way to Christmas!
         Okay! Okay! I know I‟m being a hard nose! I‟m raising the subject of false
celebrations we preachers hit on every year about this time. And more often as not we
spend our time harping on a lot of how-not-to-celebrate Christmas. But this year I want
to dwell on some ways we can celebrate Christmas.
         If you don‟t mind, I‟ll set aside the whole realm of Santa Claus, and even skip
Christmas trees, wreathes, candles and eggnog. Just let me focus on the practice of gift-
giving today.
         So, we come to Christmas and the celebration of God‟s gift to mankind and our
gifts to God and to one another. The innkeeper gave his stable. Wisemen offered their
gold, frankincense and myrrh. And today we exchange ties, fruit cake, pajamas, sweaters
and sock to mark the day.
         What does scripture say about all of this?
         To find out, let‟s study a very famous passage of the Bible, John 3:16. Often it is
called The Golden Text or Everybody‟s Text. And, there, I believe, God forever sets the
standard of gift-giving, “For God so loved the world that He gave…” There it is, the
heart of God…giving… In the Greek the word “gave” is “didomi” meaning to bestow,
bring forth, offer, deliver, minister, grant or to adventure. To the text let‟s turn now to
see how God did this.
         The text begins, “For God so loved the world that He gave…” That‟s gift-giving
motivated by love.
         Have you ever heard someone about this time of the year lament, “Ugh! He gave
me a present. I guess I‟d better find him one too.” What is the motivation for that sort of
giving? Not wanting to be outdone, not wanting to look cheap, refusal to be indebted,
and trying to call it even, to look good---the simple word is pride. And aren‟t many of
our Christmas gifts offered in that spirit?
         Then, too, some of our gifts are motivated by pure guilt. How often these days
two working parents will ignore their children all year, then come Christmas salve their
consciences by buying their children video games, izods, sleds, Disney World trips, a
veritable avalanche of toys and goodies! It‟s an attempt to make up for some sin, an
advertisement they hope will read, “See how much I care!?”
         But God‟s giving to us is not motivated by pride or guilt, but by love. “For God
so loved the world that He gave…”
         Our family has grown so large, and gift giving is so expensive, that we decided to
start drawing names. I explained to my youngest grandson that if he drew my name out
of a hat, he would have to buy me a gift! He looked confused and upset. “I wouldn‟t
have to buy you a gift,” he said, “I would love to!” And such is how God gives.

                                     “Giving Oneself”

        The text, then, teaches us to celebrate Christmas by giving---love motivated
giving. And, now, passing on, it teaches a second lesson: the giving of oneself. “For
God so loved the world that He gave…His Son.” He didn‟t send us cash or His
instructions in a book. Nor did He send us a song to lift our spirits or an oil painting to
inspire us. He sent us Himself, Jesus, God with a human face, the Word become flesh
and dwelling right here among us.
         Henry David Thoreau said, “Things are but poor substitutes for giving. The only
gift is a portion of thyself.”
         I confess I‟m weak at this point. Oh, I‟ve given my share of things…socks, ties,
powder, perfume, and candy. But I‟m beginning to learn that real giving is to live with
someone week after week and give them yourself each day.
         Probably the best gift I‟ve ever given was to my children one Christmas. With
$20 we bought some 2x4s, scrounged up some scrap lumber from packing crates and
spent two months building a tree house. The children not only got their play house, they
got to help (a real learning experience) and they got their father‟s companionship in the
process.
         Black preacher Jesse Jackson once said, “Kids need our presence more than they
need our presents.” They need our touch, our time, our discipline, our training, our
laughter, our songs, tears, tales, our hugs and compliments, our listening ears, our
example.
         When we boil it all down to basics, the gifts that matter most in life are usually
the gifts that cannot be counted. Remember the best gift in the history of the world was
wrapped in a manger. God gave Himself.
         Here in the community we call church, we are called to give of ourselves. It is
never enough just to fill up a seat, to listen, to give money. God-like giving is to so love
the brethren that you give relationships, yourself, your presence, your hugs, your prayers,
your common meals, listening ears, spiritual gifts and more day by day, week in and out,
through the years.
         I saw a cartoon about the Good Samaritan. The victim was by the roadside
hurting and a fellow happens by, sees the need, and says, “I can‟t stop now as I‟m on my
way to a charismatic renewal conference. But on my return I shall have some great tapes
to share with you.” It is never enough to shove books, tapes, and television broadcasts at
the world. We must give ourselves as God has given Himself. We must wrap our flesh
around the Gospel and go in person to be good news.
         In a small café two men huddled to talk. One was a broken fellow who needed a
listening ear, some think-time to sort his life out. A friend sat with him and for an hour
the two friends gave themselves to each other. When they rose to leave, one said, “Thank
you, Friend. I feel as if I‟ve just received a special gift!” And that is how it should be--to
give because of love and to give a portion of yourself.

                                    “Sacrificial Giving”

        Passing on, the text also teaches sacrificial giving. “For God so loved the world
that He gave His only Son…”
        The measure of a gift is not its cost in dollars and cents but in the sacrifice it takes
to give it.
        Have you ever been given a “gift” by someone who said in well-meaning love,
“Here! I want you to have this. I found it in my closet and was going to throw it away,
but then I thought of you. I figured you might want it, so here!” And, indeed, if we only
give away what we do not want then we use other peoples‟ lives as a trash can.
        The real celebration of Christmas is to give motivated by love, to give a portion of
yourself, and to give sacrificially, to give away what is very dear to you---Aye! That is
the measure of a worthy gift!
        Stuart, a missionary in New Guinea, was given a rare sea shell as a gift by a
national. It was simply breathtaking in its mother-of-pearl incandescence. He recognized
the fact that this man had walked fifty miles to the seashore, found the shell, and trekked
it another fifty miles home.
        “It‟s beautiful,” he exuded. “But you shouldn‟t have. You walked over 100 miles
to bring this to me.”
        “Long walk part of gift,” the national explained.
        And that‟s how God gives to us at Christmas. “His only Son…” and that‟s how
we can give to one another “our only life…” motivated by love…a portion of
ourselves…sacrificially.

                           “Giving That Gets One Involved”

         Now, this: Christmas giving as taught by Almighty God is giving that prompts a
response, that tugs us into a relationship. The text says, “For God so loved the world that
He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him…” God‟s gift received causes us to
give our belief. The Greek word for “believe” is in the present progressive tense. It
doesn‟t mean to believe once and be done with it. It means “to believe and keep on
believing.” So, the fact is that God‟s gift to us creates a reciprocal relationship, one of
initiative and response, one of confidence and faith. It is literally a gift that gives and
keeps on giving which causes us to respond and keep on responding.
         This is how your basis puppy Christmas gift works. “Now, Timmy, this is your
new dog „Spot‟. He‟s yours as a gift. But he is also yours as a responsibility. You must
feed him, water him, bathe him and love him. That goes with the gift.”
         And how God gives to us like that too! Why, you just pray God will bless your
marriage with a child, and if God so bestows the gift of children upon you, you are
immediately made aware of your responsibility. You‟re drawn into the most God-like act
of which humanity is capable---Christian parenthood.
         Gifts that can be held, enjoyed and lightly tossed aside are cheap, frivolous! But a
gift that makes me think, work, grow, live, become responsible---Aye! That‟s a real gift.
         O‟Henry has a short story called “The Gifts of the Magi.” It‟s about a young
married couple just starting out in life and too poor in money to buy one another a
Christmas gift. So, she secretly sells her long hair to a wig maker to get money to buy
him a chain for his gold watch his father gave him. And he secretly sells his prized gold
watch to buy her some expensive combs for her long hair. It is an exchange of love never
to be forgotten, one that called forth a response of endless love. And it is Christmas
giving at its best.
         Stop and evaluate your gift-giving plans this season. Perhaps you should sweep
aside the candy, the umbrella and socks and buy a book, an extraordinary recording, a
season ticket, a work of art, riding lessons, materials to build a tree house or even a
puppy!
         I know of a husband who gave his wife a season ticket to the symphony and the
promise to accompany her. That‟s twelve dates for the new year.
        Of how about the 23 year old daughter who put her mother through hell as a
rebellious teenager. She gave her mom a homemade coupon book for suppers to be
cooked, housecleaning, shopping trips and long talks to be used at her mother‟s whim.
“This is to make up for all the years we lost,” she explained.
        Or how about the grandchild that took the pile of family photographs and
arranged them in an orderly scrap book f or an 80 year old grandparent.

                                   “Giving for Eternity”

        So, the text gives us a pattern for giving that is motivated by love, marked by
sacrifice, seasoned by a portion of ourselves, and calling for a response, some
involvement, a reciprocal relationship. Now, a final point: According to the text God
gives with an eye toward eternity. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only
Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” In other
words, God gave us what we needed. He gave us that which would last forever!
        If in Christ‟s day you‟d have asked a Jew what gift he desired God to give, he‟d
have told you he wanted the Messiah to come. But for the Jew a Messiah meant God
coming as a conquering hero to re-establish the power of King David‟s throne. For the
Jew, the Savior would come and share earthly riches with Israel, give death to all infidels,
oust the Romans, and give political, military and economic clout to all Hebrew people.
        And Jesus, no doubt, knew what Jews wanted. And He pushed it all aside and
gave them, instead, what they needed.
        Instead of a conquering hero He came as a Suffering Servant. He came poor,
weak, humble, wise, and merciful. He came and was often overlooked, misunderstood,
discounted, rejected. But, nonetheless, He came giving Himself sacrificially, with love,
calling for a response, and with eternity in mind.
        Once, Hector, the Greek warrior, dressed for battle. And, before leaving, he
stooped down and called his four-year old son to come kiss him goodbye. But with the
sunshine glinting off his helmet, he looked fearsome, and his son drew back in fright. So,
Hector removed his war helmet and called again, and this time his boy ran to kiss his
neck! And that is how Jesus came. He knew if He met our wants and came as a warring
judge it would be so utterly terrorizing that people would draw back from Him. So He
set our wants for war and getting even and getting rich aside and came as a meek servant
to love us all. And that is the Christ whom so many millions have run to and kissed in
faith down through twenty centuries.
        Evaluate your giving in light of eternity. Are you sharing the best you have? Are
you satisfying wants and desire or meeting real needs? Do your gifts bring life or death?
Do they obscure Christ or exalt Him? I tell you, it takes hard work to give a meaningful
gift these days!
        This week I watched Carl give a gift to a waitress. We‟d lingered a little longer
over supper. He tipped her handsomely, but also pressed a salvation tract into her hands.
“Here is an extra gift for you. It tells the way to heaven. I trust you‟ll read it and respond
before you go to bed tonight.”
        I have also seen a school teacher give a gift. No one wanted to sponsor the early
morning Bible club. So it was going to be cancelled. But he stepped in and sacrificed
sleep and personal time to do it.
       And as a church God is calling us to give our prayers and money, perhaps even
ourselves to reach the people in Mexico, Wales and Pakistan. It‟ll mean we won‟t be
dressing as fashionably. That we vacation fewer times. That TV time becomes prayer
time. That some of us choose to move to the field and live among them in order to
preach Christ.

                                     “Conclusion”

        Ten days before his death in 1546, church reformer Martin Luther spoke of John
3:16 saying, “What spartan saying can be compared with this wonderful brevity? It is a
Bible in itself.” Two dozen words. Perhaps the most famous sentence ever uttered in the
Bible. It is a brief definition of the meaning of Christmas given by the Messiah Himself.
And, I believe, it is a pattern for gift-giving for all time, directions for a Christmas
celebration entire of itself!
        Perhaps there is a one of you here today who has never known the love of God as
He offers Himself at Christmas for your salvation. Wherever you are, reach out in prayer
and faith and receive Him into your life.
        And what of the rest of us? What does this text have for us? Just this: It is a
reminder for all our Christmases that the best celebration is to give as God has given.

                                   Suggested Prayer

                    God, I accept your gift of eternal life by faith.
               Somehow, make me your child and make your child mine.
                        Teach me to give as you have given.
                               For Jesus‟ sake. Amen

				
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