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.
We’re two weeks away from Christmas Day. That revelation may be relieving to some and downright frightening to others, but it’s true nonetheless. That, coupled with a letter I received yesterday, gave me pause to think.
As Clerk of our Presbytery, I received a letter yesterday informing the Presbytery that it had not been accepted into a program that the denomination is sponsoring to help bring renewal to Presbyteries across the country. There were 27 applicants, and only 15 could be accepted, so there were 12 that had to be denied. Ours was one, and I’m certain there will be disappointment that results from the news.
Perhaps you have a ‘wish list’ at Christmas – a list of things that you would like to receive as gifts. If that list is not completely fulfilled, are you disappointed? When we were children, most of us had high hopes for particular gifts. Those hopes still exist, though most certainly for different things, today. Witness the commercials put out by “Best Buy”, whereby gifts are described not by their names or physical properties, but by the reactions expected as a result of their receipt.
Do you have a wish list? In our (mostly) affluent society today, many people who don’t get everything they wish for simply go out on Boxing Day and Shop ‘Til They Drop to get what they want, and on sale, bien sûr. Yet, as the great theologians (!) Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote,
You can’t always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need
What we want and what we need are not always the same thing. Many people know what they want for Christmas; do they know what they need? Do we know what we need?
The whole ‘Christmas’ thing got started because God presented the greatest gift of all in the form of himself: God in human flesh, born in a lowly manger. That is what we need for Christmas: Jesus. And the best part of all is that when we wish for him, we will receive him. And when we receive him we will never, ever be disappointed.
This may not be news to you. But you can be sure that it is news to some of your friends and neighbours. Why not invite them to celebrate Jesus with you this Christmas among your church family? Let them experience the wonder of Christmas surrounded by people who are united around a common purpose of glorifying and enjoying God forever.
What a difference you and I can make!
What does it take to have a merry Christmas?
For some people, it’s about the presents. If “just the right thing” doesn’t show up under the tree, the whole season of anticipation is seen as a waste of time.
For others, it’s about family. To be sure, many people find this time of year enriched by the presence of loved ones.
But there’s got to be more to it!
The children of St. Paul’s, Nobleton have spent the past several weeks rehearsing and performing a Christmas musical entitled, “It’s A Wonder-Full Life”. The premise is this: a group of kids complete their annual Christmas ‘pageant’, and one of them can’t wait to get home to find a really significant gift under the tree. Left to clean up after the presentation, this child just wants to leave it all and go home, wishing that Christmas was just about presents. With that, the lights go out on the tree, the gifts are empty, and the bell suddenly has no clapper. Without Jesus, the kids discover, there can be no Christmas.
They sing, “You can’t take Jesus out of Christmas: He’s there for all eternity. You can’t take Jesus out of Christmas. Don’t take Him away; you must let Him stay ‘cause Jesus means Christmas to me.”
It takes Jesus to have a merry Christmas. Yet all kinds of people – rarely, it should be noted, people of other religious traditions – work hard to excise Jesus from Christmas, or even to excise Christmas as a term from the ‘holiday season’. Here’s a poem that’s been going around the Internet that illustrates what I mean (it’s American, but you can translate it appropriately):
‘Twas the Month before Christmas
‘Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas – no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people’s feelings, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a ‘ Holiday ‘.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CDs from Madonna, an X BOX, an I-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanza
In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe’s the word Christmas – was nowhere to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny’s and Sears
You won’t hear the word Christmas; it won’t touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzer
On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate ‘Winter Break’ under your ‘Dream Tree’
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS,
not Happy Holiday!
Please, all Christians join together
and wish everyone you meet,
Jesus is The Reason for the Season!”
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9.6).
By the way, the kids are performing the Christmas musical one more time, this Sunday night at 7:00. You are very welcome to come and share the joy of Christmas!