My favorite time of the year is Christmas. The music, the smells, the food, the time with family and friends, the lights, the tree, the manger scene, and the snow (still holding out hope for a White Christmas!) The season of Christmas allows me to unlock all of my love for nostalgia that I possess. I welcome the same songs that I listened to in the car on the way home from basketball practice as a kid or Handel’s Messiah blaring through our house. The familiar smells of warm cookies, hot chocolate, scented candles, and a fresh snowfall. The tastes of my mom’s ham balls, my aunt’s caramel corn, and my grandma’s holiday punch. Christmas is a perfect time for both remembering and making memories and I soak it up!
One of the things about Christmas that I also love is the anticipation for giving and receiving gifts. There is an excitement in the wonder of what could be under the tree or imagining of the face of your loved one as they unwrap that special present from you. I’m getting super pumped just thinking about all that is Christmas! Can you tell?
I can only imagine the joy and excitement that was taking place in heaven on that night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago as Mary gave birth to a baby in a stable. It was at that precise moment that the Gift of all Gifts was sent for you and for me. That small child, named Jesus, would grow up and be for us what we could not be on our own. He would live the perfect, sin-free life that we could not, He would die the death that should have been ours, and He would be raised to life conquering both sin and death for you and for me. And all that hope, and expectation, was wrapped up in swaddling clothes on a bed of straw in a manger in a town in the middle of nowhere under the watchful eyes of a rough-looking carpenter, a teenage girl, and some smelly shepherds. But oh, what a gift!
A common feeling that you and I can have when it comes to responding to gifts, or generosity, or an invitation, expresses itself in two thoughts: “What can I bring?” or “How can I pay you back?” Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but I know that many of us can struggle with simply being on the receiving end of someone else’s kind gesture. We feel compelled to bring things back to even, we feel like we need to bring something to the table to feel welcomed, we feel like we might be obligated to do something in return for the gift. But the crazy part about this gift that God gives us in His Son is that it is not one of those gifts. This is a no-strings-attached gift. You and I are invited to come and receive…and that’s it.
This Christmas may each of us be reminded, that we are recipients of the World’s Greatest Invitation and the World’s Most Miraculous Gift. We are invited to come to the stable, to see and remember this holy night that God has set in place generations ago. We are invited to come with our mess, our sin, and our mistakes knowing that this Little One has come to bring us peace with God. We are invited to bring our worries, anxieties, and shortcomings to the straw-stuffed throne of the King of Kings and receive His gift of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. I need to be reminded of that reality this Christmas amidst all of the other joyous and fun-filled memories that are unfolding around me. 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 Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)
Pastor Ben Bigaouette