Have you ever gotten someone the wrong gift for Christmas? A woman was overheard talking to her grandson just after Christmas a few years ago. In a very apologetic way she said, “I’m sorry you don’t like my Christmas gift, but I asked if you preferred a small check or a large check.” His head was hung in disappointment, and her grandson replied, “Yes, I know, but I didn’t think you were talking about button down shirts.”
What kind of Christmas gifts did you get for the people on your list? According to the Amazon the world’s largest retailer, water infusion bottles are very popular as gifts this year as are the ultra-bright tactical flashlights. Compression socks for fatigue are in and bedside touch lamps with Bluetooth controls also are selling well. Of course there might be the inner struggle of getting someone what they might want as opposed to what someone might need or the struggle of getting someone what they might want as opposed to what one can afford. Gift giving can be difficult. As we age there are fewer and fewer things we really need and frankly fewer things that we want that can be purchased from a store.
That is one of the pitfalls of Christmas gift giving isn’t it? We try to make others happy through things that we purchase. And things that we purchase many times are really unable to make us happy. If just things could make us happy then all those people who are very wealthy would be very happy and they are not. Happiness, satisfaction, contentment, inner peace, all these come from within and these cannot be purchased at a store. As St. Nick just told us, “It is God who began this business of gift giving during Christmas.” What kind of gift did God give his people?
If we were to ask the first century Jews what they wanted and what they felt they needed they would quickly answer that they needed freedom from the Romans. They needed the Messiah to come, raise an army and drive out their oppressors; and they expected this Messiah to usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity. And as in any third world country there was much sickness and ill-health and they wanted God to heal them. And we are not much different than they are. We run into problems in our lives and that is often when we turn to God for help. We turn to God in times of health crisis; we turn to God in times of economic crisis; we turn to God in times personal and national despair. And there is nothing wrong with turning to God in those times. He expects us to do so. It is proper and right.
You may have heard of the man in Wales who had tried for 42 years to win the affection of a certain woman. He had started wooing this woman in 1943 and finally, in 1985, the forty-third year of his courtship, she said, “Yes.” By then they were both 74 years old.
Every week for more than 40 years, this rather shy man slipped a weekly love letter under his neighbor’s door. After writing 2,184 love letters without ever getting a response, this persistent and now older man finally summoned up enough courage to present himself in person. He knocked on the door of his reluctant lady-love and asked for her hand in marriage. To his surprise and delight, she accepted. There is something about a personal visit isn’t there? More than 2,000 years ago God made a personal visit to us here on this planet. He came in response to our needs and wants.
St. Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you, O God.” He was right. When God made humanity he made us to be in relationship with him. He made us with a God-sized hole in our beings, in our hearts that only He can fill. We have problems and needs that only God can fix. And that is why Jesus came to earth. Sometimes I hear people say that Jesus wasn’t much of a Messiah. After all, he didn’t lead the Jews to victory over the Romans—Jesus submitted to dying on a Roman cross. He didn’t lead Israel into a golden age of peace and prosperity either. Although he healed many, there were many who were still sick after he had gone. There was still hunger and war and poverty. So what did God give us through Jesus? How has humanity been helped? God through Jesus helped us in many ways. But there were three main problems from which Jesus freed us that I want to consider tonight.
The first problem we as humans have is our sin and our guilt. People do bad things and they rightfully feel bad about what they have done and they need a Savior who will save them from their guilt and sins. We can tell people that we forgive them if they have sinned against us. We can offer them understanding for why they may have just messed up. But sometimes we have done things that we don’t just feel guilty about, sometimes we have done things we feel ashamed about. Shame goes deeper than just guilt. Shame stains our very being. And you and I cannot help others with that only God can. People need to know that God will forgive them of even those things about which they are ashamed and that God will love them and accept them. People need a Savior who died to pay for their shameful sins. And that is why God made a personal visit to earth more than 2,000 years ago. He did it to save people from sin and guilt.
The second problem people have is loneliness. Henry David Thoreau once famously wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” People really need to know God. People need to have a relationship with God. We can have friendship with those around us but nobody can fill that void every human feels within. No one other than God can fill the space of that loneliness that every human feels particularly in times of distress. We cannot fill it; people need to have a relationship with God so that they feel and know his presence even in those darkest of times. They need to be able to turn to him and know his presence when no one else can be there. Jesus came to earth and through knowing Jesus we can know God and we can know what he is like. God through Jesus became a human and is now able to relate to us in every way. And that is another reason why God made a personal visit to earth more than 2,000 years ago. He did it so we do not have to be lonely.
And the third problem people have is death. Scripture tells us that God has made us with eternity in our hearts. We talk bravely about death and that death is just part of the natural course of things, but it is only talk; nobody looks forward to death. People want to live. Death is abhorrent to us. People really need a way to find life. We all know that nobody gets out of here alive. We all know that all of us are going to die. And then what happens? We know what happens to our bodies, but what happens to our souls, our spirits? People need to know the way to eternal life. People need to know who is able to give eternal life. People need to know what Jesus taught us on how to have eternal life. And that is also why God made a personal visit to earth more than 2,000 years ago. He came to bring us life; he came to bring us eternal life.
It is true that Jesus did not fulfill the expectations of the Jews of the first century. But that first Christmas long ago, the gift God gave his people was not so much what they were hoping for, but what they really needed. The need is still the same isn’t it?
Giving Christmas gifts can be chancy sometimes. Sometimes the gift we give to others is really appreciated and sometimes like the button down large-checked shirt not so much. But to be saved from our guilt and sin, our loneliness and death God’s gifts go beyond mere things and these gifts from God can bring us real joy, peace and contentment. So let us turn to him as we remember his personal visit to us more than 2,000 years ago. Amen