“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17)
This scripture has become commonplace in our American culture. We see “3:16” on sports figures and roadside signs and other public places. I hope when people see this “3:16” they ask what it means, instead of brushing it off, because it has great meaning.
Some years ago a young woman named Karen became a missionary. She was a well-trained nurse, so she was sent to serve in a Methodist Mission Hospital in a remote corner in Africa. She loved her work. She knew God had called her to this special healing ministry…and she felt incredible fulfillment in bringing much needed love and medical care to the people in this impoverished region of the world.
But as Christmas approached, her thoughts turned toward home. Christmas had always been a wonderful time for her family. They would always go to church together on Christmas Eve.., and then open presents together on Christmas morning. What could she send to them? She wouldn’t be able to go home for Christmas that year, so she would send her presents by mail. But what to send? She had very little money and no place to shop and mailing a bunch of large presents was out of the question.
Then Karen thought of something. Some days later, a small box arrived at the front door of her parents’ home. When her mom found it and saw the postmark from Africa, she knew it contained the Christmas presents from Karen, her missionary daughter. On the outside of the box were written these words, in bold print: “Please open on Christmas morning with the whole family.” So, on Christmas morning, after all the other presents had been exchanged, her mother opened Karen’s box. She found a number of envelopes. One for Karen’s dad, one for her mom, one each for her sister, her brother-in-law, her niece, and her nephew. When they opened the envelopes, they were surprised. Each envelope held a small piece of poster paper. The pieces had been cut in funny shapes. Suddenly, they realized it was a home-made jigsaw puzzle and each family member had a piece of the puzzle. Quickly, they went to a table and put the pieces together…and when the last piece was put into place, they realized that they had put together a heart. On the home-made poster paper heart were inscribed these words from Karen: “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, I give to you…I give you my heart.”
This is what God did for us on that first Christmas, He sent us His HEART! He sent a part of himself, His Son, to show us how much He loves us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (16)
I think verse 17 is just as important, because once when I asked children who Jesus was, a little girl answered, “He’s this guy who sits up on a cloud waiting for us to do something bad, so he can punish us.” Her answer broke my heart. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
If you have been taught this lie, stop being afraid of Jesus. He was born, lived, died and was resurrected to show us ‘created in God’s image’ human beings, the breadth, and height, and depth of God’s love! Jesus is God’s heart laid open for us. Jesus is God’s gift of love.
What can we learn about gifts of love from the cast of the first Christmas? What kinds of gifts did they give God in return? They couldn’t see the whole picture when they were in it, and yet I see gifts of love they gave to God.
Mary gave God the gift of believing the angel Gabrielle, and trusting God with her life. Mary is a good example of what God calls each of us to give God. I believe God wants us to “confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead, and through this we are given eternal life.” (Romans 10:10, my emphasis) God wants us to trust Him with our life.
Joseph gave God the gift of honoring his commitment to Mary. Lack of commitment in our American culture today, is a huge problem. Even if people give their heart and life to God, many fail to honor their commitment to Him. We don’t honor our commitment to one another, or our children, or even showing up when we’ve said we would. I believe honoring our commitments would be a gift of love we should resolve to give to God.
The Innkeeper gave God the gift of hospitality. He did the best he could when he did not have room in the inn. He made room in his stable. We are so busy with our lives, we often do not take the time to open our homes to our neighbors, much less strangers. I confess that I am guilty of not giving God this gift of hospitality to others.
The shepherds gave the gift of worship and of sharing the good news of Jesus’ birth. They were the first evangelists! Do we make worship a priority in our life? Do we readily share the good news of Jesus? What a gift of love to God these would be, if we practiced them.
The wise men gave God gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; which Joseph could use when God’s angel told him to take the baby Jesus to Egypt to escape the murderous Herod. Do we make giving tithes and offerings, which can be used to build God’s kingdom here on earth, a priority in our life? One thing I have come to understand is that we cannot out give God. Whatever we give to God will be multiplied in His giving back to us.
What do we learn from the first Christmas? God gave His heart to us. Mary gave God the gift of her faith and trust in Him. Joseph gave his commitment to God and to the person God gave him to love. The Innkeeper gave God the gift of hospitality. The shepherds gave God the gift of worship and sharing the Good News, and the wise men gave God the gift of money to be used for beginning His Kingdom here on earth.
As you open your gifts this Christmas, I encourage you to ponder what gifts you can give to God, in return for the greatest gift of all: the gift of love, His heart, His one and only Son. Receive His Son, this gift of love, and your ultimate gift will be eternal life. Although God does not require you to give a gift in return, I wonder what gift of love you will give to God.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut