Has anyone asked you yet what you got for Christmas this year? I’ve heard it a lot. My response to the question is, “More than I really needed.”
It’s a funny thing about getting gifts – sometimes we look at them briefly after we open them. We say thanks and then put them away, maybe even forgetting about them only to discover later on how wonderful they really are. Last year I got a flannel shirt, for instance. I didn’t really want a flannel shirt. I said, “Thanks,” pasted a smile on my face, and hung it in the closet. There it just hung for months. This past November when it got cold, I tried it on and discovered it is one of the most comfortable shirts I have ever put on my body! Now I wear it constantly.
Maybe you have received a book that you put on the shelf and forget about. Later on, you pull it off the shelf accidentally, browse the back cover or the first few pages, and discover it looks like a really good book! What a great gift! I think sometimes we just don’t realize what we got until we stop and examine it a little closer.
We just celebrated the birth of Jesus and heard, “God so loved the world that He gave His Son . . .” (John 3:16). Jesus is God’s gift to us. I believe it is good to stop and take a closer look at what we got that first Christmas when Jesus was born. John will serve us today as our guide. His comments on Jesus are really quite different, remarkable, and unique.
You can’t help but notice John’s Christmas story is very different from Matthew and Luke’s. It has no Mary and Joseph or angels or shepherds or Wise Men or manger. Instead, he uses beautiful, poetic-like, theological language in the opening of his Gospel to help us see just how special the gift of Jesus really is. It’s almost as if he has gone out of his way to make it different so the readers won’t miss the positive implications of the gift of Jesus. This is what we got for Christmas! John says.
John tells us, first of all, that in the gift of Jesus, God has given us a picture of Himself. He has revealed Himself to us. Listen again to those great words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now in that passage, “the Word” means Jesus – the Logos. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
John goes on to say no one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known to us. Jesus is the Son of God in the flesh. There is no more guessing about God. He is a walking autobiography of His heavenly Father.
Later on, Jesus will say to His disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). As we look at Him and read the Gospels, He displays the heart of God to us. Our God created us in His image. He loves us, and we are precious in His sight. He wants a personal relationship with us. He gives us a picture of God.
I’m reminded of a cute story I heard a while back. A group of first graders got together and decided to write their own version of the Nativity. It was more modern than the traditional drama. There were also familiar members of the cast – Joseph, the shepherds, the Wise Men, the star and an angel propped up in the background, but Mary was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly from behind some bales of hay could be heard some soft moans and groans. Evidently Mary was in labor. Soon a doctor arrived dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck. Joseph, with a look of relief on his face, took the doctor straight back to Mary and then came out and started pacing back and forth. After a few moments, the doctor emerged with a big smile on his face. “Congratulations, Joseph!” he said. “It’s a God!” ☺
In Jesus we see the face of God.
In the gift of Jesus we also get light. In fact, we get the light we need as we live in our darkness. You can’t help but notice, it is a dark world out there. It’s full of evil, violence, hurt, and sorrow, and we are in the dark about how to fix it. We need God’s light. He is the only light that can make things right for us.
Later, when Jesus is an adult, He will announce, “I am the light of the world! Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness . . .” (John 8:12). Will never be captive to evil or be blind or ignorant of the way out, but have the light of life. As we turn to Him and follow Him, Christ gives us new sight. “We were blind but now we see,” as the hymn says.
His light shows us our sinfulness, first of all, and our need for a Savior. I remember when Julie, my wife, found a job as a dental assistant my senior year at seminary. Her first day at work, she came home and said, “You wouldn’t believe what people’s faces really look like under the light the dentist uses. I never want to go back again to have my teeth worked on. It shows all the flaws!”
This is what Jesus does. As we come to His light, He shows us we need help. We have flaws; we have sin. Jesus is the lighthouse who guides us safely into His heavenly harbor. We can’t get there on our own. He points us to His cross and then to Himself saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6).
This light brings us confidence and hope for the future. I love verse five of this passage. It says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We think of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Light of the world, and we know darkness has been defeated. We now live knowing full well what the end of the story looks like. Light wins out over darkness. Good is victorious over evil.
I love what Lutheran writer Gerhard Frost says.
“If I am asked what are my grounds for hope, this is my answer:
Light is lord over darkness, truth is lord over falsehood,
life is ever lord over death.
Of all the facts I daily live with, there’s none more comforting than this:
If I have two rooms, one dark, the other light,
and I open the door between them,
the dark room becomes lighter without the light one becoming darker.
I know this is no headline, but it’s a marvelous footnote;
and God comforts me in that.”
Darkness has not overcome the light.
Finally, the beautiful light of Jesus brings us joy as we look at Him. Listen to this musical testimony:
“Beautiful Savior, King of creation,
Son of God and Son of Man.
Truly I love thee. Truly I’d serve thee.
Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.”
Later on the songwriter says,
“He makes my sorrowing spirit sing.”
He comes alongside of us and gives us His presence – His beautiful presence – and we experience joy in our lives, because God is the true source of joy. In Jesus, we see into the face of God.
In this gift of Jesus, we get grace. “Grace upon grace,” John tells us. In other words, it is inexhaustible! It’s abundant! It just keeps flowing in our direction. This grace looks like forgiveness for our sins. “There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ” (Rom. 8:1). We have been given Christ’s robe of righteousness, and in Christ, God sees us as one of His own – cleansed and pure in His sight. The past is forgiven and forgotten forever. We are right in His sight.
This grace gives us strength for the living of these days. Jesus tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9). The apostle Paul reminds us, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:19), for Jesus promised, “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). His power from on high is breathed into us as we pray, as we call for help, as we turn to His Word daily for guidance and assurance. Christ shows up, and we get His strength.
We also get the free gift of heaven! At the cross and His resurrection, Jesus purchased a place for us in His heaven, and we will live with Him eternally. Death cannot hold us.
From His grace, we get attached to a family – the community of faith, the Church – to support us, love us, and lovingly keep an eye on us as we walk through life with Jesus.
There is your gift from God! This is what God handed over to this world at Christmas when He gave His Son Jesus. Amazing! Incredible!
Now, in the midst of this description, I don’t want you to miss this statement, which we cannot ignore. It’s an appeal of sorts to think about and then act upon. John says “Jesus came to his own but his own people did not receive him.” They rejected Him. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God – who were born, not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”
Did you catch that? To all who receive Him and believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God. A new birth takes place. We become a new person in Christ. To receive Him means to welcome Him. To believe means to accept that He is the Son of God, the great reconciler to God. To become a child of God means we who once were simply creations of God now become adopted children of God through what He has done for us in Christ. We are blessed with a rich, rich inheritance.
All the things we looked at earlier – getting a picture of God (knowing Him more intimately), light, grace – are ours when we are in Jesus Christ, as we receive Him and welcome Him into our lives.
A personal response is being called for. Are you to that place in your life where you are enjoying this gift God wants you to have? Have you received Him?
You might wonder, How do I do that? It’s really quite simple.
First, admit you are a sinner, and you need to be saved by God’s grace. You can’t save yourself. You need to give up control of your life to Him.
Humbly ask Jesus into your life. Ask Him to forgive you and take over every area of your life.
Then, begin to follow Him and take steps to grow in your relationship with Him, like daily obedience as you read His Word, pray, attend worship services. Serve your brothers and sisters in Christ as well as your neighbors, and depend upon Jesus at all times, even during the darkest times of suffering. Then you will truly begin to love and enjoy this gift that has been given, and you will have His joy within you as you walk with Him the rest of your days right into His eternity.
I have friends who say their biggest regret in life was not receiving the gift of Jesus Christ sooner. Don’t let this be the case for you. He’s knocking on the door. He says, I’ll come in and eat with you and have fellowship with you, and you with me (Rev. 3:20).
As I think about the passage John has given us today, I can’t help but be reminded of a great Christmas carol, the last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”
Perhaps Jesus is knocking on the door of your life today. He wants to come in. Praise God for the great gift of Jesus Christ, which He has given us, and all the blessings that come when we receive this gift into our lives and walk with Him all the way into eternity. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer