The Greatest Gift, the Greatest Giver

Posted: December 27, 2012 in Sermon Manuscripts

[Author’s note: Any sermon manuscript found on this blog is written pre-preaching, which means that invariably the content is slightly different than what is actually heard in the sermon. If you’d like to listen to the audio of this sermon, please visit our website here.]
We’re here this morning to celebrate another year, another Christmas season. Another time of celebration, of festivity, of holiday cheer. Another year to observe how our understanding of Christmas has changed over the course of the last year. Another year to see how differently our children respond to the holiday.

It’s kind of neat to see how the older I become, the more different Christmas becomes- or at least, the meaning of Christmas. When I was a kid, take a wild guess at what the most important part of Christmas was for me….the gifts! It was all about the gifts! The thought of waking up- or, staying up all night- to open the mountains of loot with my name on it…man, it’d rob my sleep for countless days before Christmas even got there! I mean, how much more exciting did it get to shake a gift and try to guess what it was? My brother, though…my older brother Jerry has an uncanny ability to guess what a gift is. I was never much good at it.

I remember one year me and my older siblings took and wrapped blocks of wood in some newspaper, just so that we could open blocks of wood wrapped in newspaper. It’s all fun and games when we knew that’s what we were opening- I don’t think it’d have been so fun had all the gifts under the tree been blocks of wood!

One of my favorite Christmases was the year my parents got me my first mountain bike. I mean, we’re talking about a legit 24-inch tire, 10-speed mountain bike. And yeah, I know some of our kids are thinking right now “Big deal, it’s a bike,” but you don’t understand. In the dark ages before internet, smartphones, and ipods, boys like me did one of two things- build forts and ride bikes.

But it was great, ‘cause the first part of the gift was a box, with a penny and a piece of paper with it, directing me elsewhere in the house. The purpose of the penny was to make us think that something was in the box. The second gift also came with directions- this time with a plastic-coated chain with a lock on it. The pieces clicked when the last bit of instructions sent me to the back porch where my shiny brand-new 24-inch tire, 10-speed mountain bike was waiting for me! It was awesome. There was no denying the love my parents had for my brother and me- they got us mountain bikes!

But Christmas for me has changed as I’ve gotten older. The focus is different, and the joy isn’t found so much in the receiving of a gift as with the giving of one. And this year as Uriah opens presents under the tree, I hope what he leaves with isn’t how cool his toys are, but rather how much his mom and dad love him.

Gifts say a lot. They really do. In their reception they tell us a lot about the one who receives it. I’m not a Jimmy Kimmel advocate, but last year he did something quite amusing. He has parents film their kids unwrapping a horrible gift- and I mean a bad gift. Like half-eaten sandwiches bad. Or getting boys clothing for girls. Stuff like that. And some of the reactions are priceless. There were some who didn’t seem bothered by getting bad gifts, but other kids blew up in anger. Often they would throw the present back at mom and dad, or sulk, or storm off. I don’t suppose the depravity of the human heart should ever be viewed with amusement, but you couldn’t help but laugh in shock at some of the reactions of these kids.

But gifts also tell us something about the gift giver, and that’s what I want to talk about this morning. We’re here this morning to celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s gift to the world. And my goal in the time we have left before we eat, and talk, and laugh, is to hopefully this morning shine some light on this gift we’ve been given, because there is nothing like it. But I also want to shine some light on the gift giver, because a gift speaks only as loudly as the one who gives it.

Typically the Christmas story is read as beginning in Luke chapter two, where Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to be registered, or counted in a census. We know the story- she goes into labor while there and ends up delivering Jesus and placing Him into a feeding trough, a manger, because there wasn’t room for them in the inn.

For those starting earlier, Matthew chapter one gives us Joseph’s turmoil over staying in a relationship with his soon-to-be wife who is now found to be pregnant. He knows it isn’t his…but rather than shame her publicly he decides to end their relationship quietly. However, an angel in a dream clued him in to what was going on, and he stays with Mary.

If you want to go back earlier than that, Luke chapter one has the initial encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel, who tells her that she had found favor with God, that she’s about to supernaturally become pregnant, and that her child will be the Son of God who would save His people from their sins.

We could go back another 700 years to Isaiah 7:14 where we first see that “a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and call his name Immanuel.”

We could take it back to the Garden of Eden where we see that Satan will harm a descendent of Adam and Eve who would ultimately crush him in exchange.

But I want to go even further back this morning, because our cause for celebration began in eternity past.

Have you ever wondered what motivates God? What motivates God? What causes Him to act? What makes Him tick? What brought about His desire to create humanity?

Some would say “to give God company,” but this is not exactly right. It’s not much different from saying that God was lonely without us, and therefore created us to complete Him. It’s like saying there’s a human-sized hole in God’s heart that only we could fill. Yeah…not quite.

I can assure you that prior to creation, God was perfectly happy within the relationship of the Godhead. Father-Spirit-Son; no loneliness, no insufficiency.

So why create us? To reveal Himself to us so that we would worship Him. Think about it this way- if we as people put anything before God in terms of worth, we’re now worshipping idols. Because of who God is, nothing deserves more praise, adoration, and service than He does. To put anything before Him is wrong, and likewise for God to put anything before Himself is wrong! Everything God does is designed to point to God’s glory, because He as God deserves nothing less.

And so God, out of love for Himself, created for Himself a people. And the most loving thing that God could do, because God is love, was reveal Himself to this people, to allow them to see Him, to talk with Him, to walk with Him. And so creating the universe, the heavens, the earth, land, plants, and animals, God created Adam.

Though Adam was able to share a relationship with God, he wasn’t able to share unity and community with God, and so God created Eve to complement him. Their role was to populate the earth, tend the garden, and enjoy the revealed presence of God. There is no greater gift than that of God Himself.

And as a people we rejected that gift. Worse- we threw it in God’s face and said we’d rather not, thanks. I gotta be honest with you- had I offered you a gift this morning that you took and tossed into the trash can, I’d be pretty peeved at you. Thankfully God is more loving and patient than that, huh?

Though the human race had categorically rejected God, God still chose to create for Himself a people whom He would bless beyond measure. He would give them land of their own, watch their back, pour out His blessing- as long as they were willing to worship Him as He deserved, the blessings would keep coming.

But we know it didn’t happen like that. Israel, God’s chosen people, the nation He had created for Himself, time and time and time again turned their backs on Him. Though the terms and conditions of this Covenant between God and Israel were great- Israel as a whole was simply too sinful and stubborn to love God as He deserved.

Again, God had offered Himself to His people. What greater gift could there be? None. And yet His people rejected it.

Now, God could have, perhaps should have simply let His people abandon Him, leaving them in their darkened desperation. But God knew that in doing so the pagan nations around Israel would have simply then have claimed that their God was no different their own pagan gods.

I know we covered this passage a couple weeks ago, but this bears repeating. God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.” And then God speaks of the beautiful New Covenant within which God would remove His peoples lifeless hearts and create within them a heart throbbing with spiritual life and vitality, a Covenant in which God would place His own Spirit within His people, now enabling them to respond to Him as they should.

All of this, to protect His name as their God. All of this so that His people could know Him as God. All of this, that He could rightfully be known as God over everything. And so all throughout the Old Testament, as God’s people strayed, repented, strayed, repented- God demonstrated ceaseless mercy- unfailing love and devotion. And through it all His people awaited their Messiah, the one who would rescue them and restore their long-shattered kingdom.

And then, after the prophet Malachi delivers a final message to the nation of Israel, a year passes with silence from God. And then a decade. A century. Another century. Another one.

Four hundred years of silence from God, four hundred years of upheaval, four hundred years with no cohesive identity as God’s people…four hundred years pass when a young woman named Mary was encountered by an angel who said “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

So as we celebrate Christmas this year, as we think about the birth of our Lord and Savior, we have got to wrap our minds around two things. One, Jesus didn’t come to this earth to be placed in a manger simply to die for the sins of His people. Oh no- it’s so much more than that!

Paul says in Galatians 4:4 that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” And then Paul says that because we are sons, because we are daughters, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father’.” We can call Him daddy.

The second thing to think about is this: the forgiveness of your sins was not the greatest thing God could ever do for you. Jesus dying for your sins is not the greatest gift we have been given. No, knowing God is, and we can only know God through what His Son did for us. He doesn’t simply forgive our sins and leave us on our merry way. He invites us into a relationship with Him. God stands before us this morning with arms outstretched, and He says, “Come know me.”

Will you come this morning? As our band comes and we prepare to sing our last song this morning, can we celebrate Christmas together in worship to God for reconciling us to Him through His son? Can we celebrate the birth of our Savior, the One who died that we may know Him? As we stand to our feet this morning, let’s express our thankfulness, reverence, and worship to Him who is worthy, the Gift-giver of the greatest gift there ever was, God Himself.

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