The story that follows the birth of Jesus is his circumcision and presentation in the temple. Two venerable old folks, Anna and Simeon, are there when Mary and Joseph present Jesus (as any faithful Jewish family would). Each of them knows, and says, that the Saviour, the Messiah, has come in the form of this baby named Jesus.
When I was in my early 20s, I attended a church convention in Charlottetown, PEI. Wanting to bring home souvenirs for my parents, I chose a hat for my Dad which read, “I got this PEI cap for my wife – good trade, eh?” It was perhaps a little cheeky, and I must admit, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my Dad wear it. Probably just as well!
We who follow him tend to think of Jesus as the best Christmas present ever – which is true. God’s gift to us at Christmas is the reason, the symbol, for why we give gifts at Christmas. But if you think a little further down the road of Jesus’ life, you’ll realize a more profound symbolism for a gift exchange.
It was Martin Luther who popularized, in the 16th century, the concept of the “glorious exchange”. That is, the whole purpose for Jesus’ coming was for him to take on our sin, and for us to receive his righteousness. Pretty good deal, isn’t it? (Even better than the deal portrayed in the hat I bought for my Dad!) By faith in this child born in a manger, we are given a righteousness we could never achieve on our own, or earn, or pay for; and our sin is removed from us and placed on the One who lived every aspect of this life as we live it, but never sinned himself. Pretty amazing.
How do we know this? The Scriptures are clear, but perhaps the clearest promise comes from the writing of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5.21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
So, when you exchange gifts with others, remember that Jesus is the greatest gift ever, yes; but also remember that the greatest exchange that ever occurred happened on Calvary, where Jesus took on our sin and gave us his righteousness. By faith, we stand before God with Jesus’ sinlessness! Awesome!
That’s the gift for which I am giving thanks the most this Christmas. How about you?
Merry Christmas to you and yours, and may God bless you richly as you celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.
I awoke Monday morning to the news that an historic church building in downtown Whitby had sustained significant damage in a fire that appears to have been deliberately set.
Any building fire is tragic, and church fires are often especially tragic. This particular church fire meant something to me, however. All Saints’ Anglican Church in Whitby is a congregation with which I have some acquaintance. When I served with the Canadian Bible Society, I was privileged to partner with the congregation. I have preached from its now-charred pulpit. I have received the Lord’s Supper from its now-smoke-stained altar. I consider its Rector a personal friend. I am praying with and for these people.
Throughout the media coverage of this story, God’s goodness has shown up in amazing ways. The congregation has been offered space by other churches for its offices, for its worship, and for its choir rehearsals. The Christmas food hampers that had been prepared for distribution on Monday were replaced through community donations within a matter of hours. And anytime the Incumbent was called upon to speak to the media, he always spoke as if the life of the church would carry on – because it will!
To be sure, there are countless memories that are associated with the 140-plus year-old building that, in one sense, have gone up in smoke. However, though the building may not be what it once was, the memories remain.
The building burned in the early morning hours, and no one was injured. When the congregation gathers at the facilities graciously offered by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Whitby for worship this coming Sunday, the people who will be in attendance will probably be the same people who were in attendance last Sunday. And that is instructive for us: though the building was heavily damaged, the church was not! The people are the church. The historic building on Dundas Street may have burned, but All Saints’ Anglican Church still stands – probably stronger than ever.
Buildings are useful gifts of God, full of happy associations and memories. But when the buildings are gone, and the memories forgotten, the church remains.
May that be true for you, and for your church!
My encouragement to our sisters and brothers at All Saints’, and to us all, is this: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6.11, NIV). The enemy has meant this tragedy to discourage God’s people, but I believe it will make them more determined than ever to be the church.