The Gift Received, Christmas Eve

December 26, 2010

Well tomorrow is the big day. I guess it’s too late to ask if you are ready. Do you have all your gifts bought and wrapped, the tree decorated, the baking done? Hey don’t give me dirty looks, I’m just asking. More than at any other time of the year people are thinkin about gifts. Either the gifts that you want for yourself or the gifts that you need to buy for the ones you love. And gifts aren’t bad, in the book of Matthew Jesus was talking to the crowds that had gathered to hear him preach and this is what he told them about gifts, Matthew 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
And so in that one thought Jesus confirms that we are a gift giving people and that God is a gift giving God.
Over the past couple of Sundays I’ve been speaking on “The Gift of Christmas” and we been getting help from the gang from The Big Bang Theory. If you haven’t been there then I will bring you up to speed. In week one Penny reveals that she has bought gifts for Sheldon and Leonard. And Sheldon gets a little upset, he tells her, “Don’t you know the foundation of gift giving is reciprocity?’ And he goes on to say “Penny, you haven’t given me a gift you’ve given me an obligation.”
Last week we looked in on the group Sheldon had dragged Raj and Howard to a bath shop looking for the perfect gift for Penny. But not knowing what Penny hasn’t gotten him confounds Sheldon until he hits on the perfect solution. He buys a variety of baskets and his plan is to open Penny’s gift first and then rush out feigning digestive distress, look up Penny’s gift online and select the basket closest to that value give it to her and return the rest for a full refund.
And so let’s see how the plan works out. (Video Clip from Big Bang)
If we could look at your Christmas lists what you want and what you want to give we would probably see a wide range of gifts covered, from the practical to the provocative. Most of us know what would make us smile if we found it under the tree on Christmas morning. Some people will be surprised, others haven’t taken any chances and they have already taken care of their own gifts. But what about God’s gifts to you? The ones that won’t be under the tree.
Acts 28:28 So I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.” The first and most important thing we need to unwrap is 1) The Grace of
God
This is probably the most important gift that you will ever receive. This is the eternal gift. The gift that not only gives you eternal life, but gives you eternal life in the presence of God. Sometimes we get the impression if you are a Christian then you are going to live forever, and if you’re not a Christian, then you’re just going to die. And yet according to the word of God everybody’s going to live forever, the good the bad and the indifferent. The only difference will be the address. You see if the Christian lives forever in the presence of God the non-believer will live forever in the absence of God. In the absence of God and in the absence good, in the absence of light and in the absence love.
And so there are two things that you need to realize today the first is that without Jesus Christ there is no salvation. Jesus said in John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Jesus is the way, not a way, but the way. If there were other ways to God other then the sacrifice that Jesus made, then he didn’t have to make it. And Jesus reiterated that time and time again John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
The second thing we need to realize about the salvation of God is that it’s a gift, it can’t be earned, it can’t be bought, it can only be received as a gift. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
And Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
And so the first gift we receive from God is the gift of Grace. And I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that most of you folks have received that gift. And if you haven’t then I want to ask you right now, “How come?” Do you not believe? Or are you unwilling to surrender? It has to be one of the other. Now because the rest of the message is for those who have received the gift of grace the rest of you can use this time to mull over the fact that all you have to do is tell God that you are sorry for your sins, and that you want him to forgive you and to help you to live for him. It’s that simple that is the gift of God.
Nehemiah 8:10 And Nehemiah continued, . . . “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!” The second gift that we receive is 2) The Joy of God
Believers do you remember the day that you surrendered your life to God? Can you remember the burden that was lifted, and the joy you received in knowing that you were right with God? Now I know what you are thinking, “People can’t be happy all the time.” You’re right of course. But there is a difference between happy and joy. Happy is tied to external, you’re having a great day, the birds are singing, things are going well, the entire blue bird on your window sill type of day. I love happy days, days when I want to sing, not that that would make others happy. It’s tough to find fault with happy. But we can come to the place that our entire life becomes a pursuit of “happy”. And we set “happy” up as our God, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said “One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place” And so anything we value more then we value our relationship with God is an idol, Jesus said you can’t serve God and money, you also can’t serve God and happy. Because sometimes the things which you perceive as making you happy are in direct violation to God’s will for your life. Unless of course you simplify what happy is. Daniel Boone said “All you need for happiness is a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.” Presumably in that order?
Joy on the other hand runs deeper. Where does it come from Luke 10:21 At that same time Jesus was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit
In John 17 part of Jesus last prayer was that John 17:13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.

And that joy comes from knowing that we are where we are supposed to be and that we are doing what we are supposed to be doing. It’s internal not necessarily external, which means that we can have a no good, horrible day and still feel an inner joy even though we don’t feel like smiling. Dr. Melba Colgrove said “Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.”
When the apostle Paul was writing to the Christians in the early church he made this statement in Philippians 4:4 Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!
Now that sounds like a command. And I have discovered that if God requires us to do something then he equips us to do it as well. He’s not going to ask us to do the impossible. Part of the responsibility is His, that’s the joy of the Lord that the Bible talks about. But the other part of the responsibility is ours. We need to want that joy, and to do our part to obtain it. If you always go through life looking on the dark side then you will sabotage God’s effort to give you joy. God gives it we need to accept it. Here’s some advice from the great American Philosopher Charlie Brown. “This is my depressed stance. When you’re depressed, it makes a lot of difference how you stand. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because then you’ll start to feel better. If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this.”
So, claim the promise and straighten up.
So God gives us salvation, and he gives us joy, then we have
Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 3) Peace of God shortly after Paul tells the Church in Philippi to “rejoice always” he tells them to not worry about anything.
Here is a choice that each one of us has to make, we can choose to worry and fret about everything that can happen to us, or might happen to us or we can give it over to God and accept his peace about it. Most of what we worry about will never ever happen. Winston Churchill said “When I look back on all the worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.”
Are you worrying about things that will never happen?
The gift that God gives then is the peace of knowing that he has everything in control. It bothers me when a tragedy strikes a Christian and some well-meaning Saint offers up Romans 8:28 as words of comfort. You know the scripture it says: Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
I believe that, I truly do, but I think it’s something we need to know before the tragedy happens and I’m not sure that it is what we need trotted out when something terrible has just happened. We need to know as believers that whatever happens God is still in control.
You ever sleep in a car on a long trip? I’m a champion car sleeper, when somebody else is driving of course. I’m convinced that I have ADD, and boredom is my enemy. And so when I’m a passenger in the car I’m bored stiff, add to that the fact that if I read in the car I puke in the car and it only leaves me with one thing to do as a passenger, sleep. If I trust the driver I can sleep like a log, but if I’m the least bit concerned about my safety I don’t sleep nearly as well.
If God is doing the driving in your life here’s a news flash, he can be trusted. The bible has never promised that as a believer that you won’t have problems or even tragedy, but here is something it does promise. Peter was writing to the early church at the height of the Roman Persecutions and this is what he told those believers: 1 Peter 4:19 So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you.
And here is your promise for today, Isaiah 26:4 Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.
So what have we unwrapped so far, Grace, Joy and Peace, the fourth gift we receive is 4) The Direction of God If we go back into the Old Testament we find a period of time that the people of Israel wandered far from God’s teachings, they embraced foreign gods and false idols. The way this is described in the Bible is found in the book of Judges where it says in chapter Judges 17:6 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.
The people were living in a moral vacuum where the philosophy was, if it feels good, do it. Much like today, as a matter of fact if you were to question ordinary people about morality they would probably echo the words of Ernest Hemingway who said “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” What a crock. At some point there has to be more than simply feeling good or not feeling good that determines if something is right or wrong. If not where does it stop? If you were to ask Paul Bernardo, or Russell Williams or any other killer whether or not it felt good to take another person’s life I wonder what their answer would be?
And if it felt good for them would that make it moral? Of course not.
So how do we determine what is wrong and what isn’t wrong. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said “Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning — an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies.”
The bible tells us in Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
This has to be our guide, and yes we have wavered from it both in the world and in the church. And we need to confess that and get back to what is right and what is wrong. God has not set us adrift in this life without direction he has given us the rule book and it’s up to us to follow it.
Those are some of the gifts that God offers this Christmas. Grace, joy, peace and direction. Have you received them? If not now is the time.