â€œThe gift of givingâ€
A friend of mine took his son and daughter in their early teenager years with him on a camping holiday into the desert. Actually he dragged them with him. No internet, mobile phone coverage, hair dryers or hot showers. Yet on their return some six weeks later, they couldnâ€™t wait for the next trip â€œoutbackâ€.
A silent hot and dusty arid land of treeless plains where nothing runs into nothing. Â Yet a land that seems to transform and to where you end up seeing and sensing an unimaginable beauty in the nothing.
It doesnâ€™t change; it changes you as to those who come to know and spend time in Christ where things that were once adversity become gain, where weakness becomes strength and setbacks enhance.
In todayâ€™s Old Testament reading the people of Israel are in exile and enslaved in Babylon and in their despair we can hear the words from Psalm 137 and the song â€œBy the rivers of Babylonâ€ where they cry:
â€œFor there they carried us away to captivity requiring of us a song; now how shall we sing the Lordâ€™s song in a strange land, and yes we wept when we remembered Zionâ€.
Words of a time past, yet words we too we carry in our heart and mutter from our lips when we too are under the captivity of the adversity, weakness and set back from those moments and times in our lives when we are brought to our knees and weep in despair.
I was once told of a statue of Christ in Germany where unless you are on your knees you cannot see Jesusâ€™ face clearly. As was the case with the Israelites in exile when they heard the good news of God through the prophet Isaiah, and as too us from Christ himself where in Him â€œthe blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to themâ€.
Like rain in a parched desert and in the waters of Baptism, Christ restores our arid hearts and lives with His bottomless well of love and in our adversity we see His freeing hand and strength and are renewed like in the promise from Isaiah where â€œeverlasting joy is upon our heads as we have now obtained gladness and joy and all sorrow and sighing has fled awayâ€.
Sounds wonderful, yet reminds me of when talking to one of my friends and after he proudly stated that he and his wife had never had an argument made me wonder which one of us wasnâ€™t normal.
One of the Pope Paulâ€™s (I think) once said that after having been told of a problem said to himself, â€œgoodness, I better tell the pope about thisâ€, only to respond â€œhang on I am the popeâ€.
So too can it be as Christians living in our world fractured by sin where even though we know the truth of Christ and the gladness and joy that He has brought us, we can still-no, we still do struggle to live it.
Not unlike now as we await the celebration of the greatest gift we and the world have received in the Birth of Jesus Christ. A time of great joy. Yet a time for non-Christians and indeed Christians alike that can magnify the loneliness of the outcasts of society as they see families and friends gather as to for those grieving the loss of loved ones.
That people have said why canâ€™t every day be like Christmas may depend on which side of that ledger you sit.
The thing is every day is Christmas because in belief and trust in Christ everlasting joy is upon your heads and youÂ have obtained gladness and joy because in faith in Him alone, you are forgiven and most certainly will be re-united with those in Christ that have gone before where sorrow and sighing will be no more.
That is what Christ came for and that you know who He is and what He has done for you is the fulfilment of His great sacrifice.
In faith in Christ alone, your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life-thatâ€™s the deal. Yet while that is signed and sealed we still live in our world and our own lives disturbed by sin and so we live like a child who sees their name of a gift under the Christmas tree.
The gift has already been given and itâ€™s already theirs, yet they must still wait and go about daily life until the day arrives when the gift is fulfilled in its entirety.
So to with your gift of eternal life in Christ under the heavenly Christmas tree where a place for you has already been prepared and awaits you. In trust in Christ, the gift of eternal life has already been given and is already yours. You can see it, yet its total fulfilment is still to come and so like a child waiting for the actual day, we live our daily lives in the season of Christmas.
Christmas day is the fulfilment as is meeting our Saviour on our last day. But until then, we live everyday in the Christmas season where we have that sure hope, but we also have the sure reality of our lives of mixed emotions.
Mixed emotions of hurt that can crush and happiness that lift up. Failures that can lead to despair and achievements that may threaten unrighteous pride. Yet living in the Christmas season everyday and keeping our eye on Christ and His promise of what awaits, we see that in the hurt we can look forward to the fulfilment of His promise, as like in the moments that threaten to puff us up with pride we are brought back to the reality of just how slight it is in relation to what awaits.
People think being a Christian is about rules and they would be right if we didnâ€™t already have our gift of eternal life under the heavenly Christmas tree. But the unseen reality is that the gift is there with your name on it and when you see that, the â€œrulesâ€ to be humble and help and serve others in our lives donâ€™t become a chore but a gift.
You have been forgiven in Christ and most surely your room in heaven awaits you and in knowing that truth, you can live everyday not having to, but wanting to. Not crippled in our sin, but uplifted in forgiveness. Christmas is about the gift of Christ as is every day and while you may not be able to open your present just yet, it most certainly is yours and that is what brings endurance in hardship and life and joy in the big and the small of our lives.
Paul said to run the good race and indeed if you run your race knowing of the truth of what awaits you, though there are hills and gullies before you and though you fall and your legs grow weary need not concern you because when in either the gullies and on the hills you can rejoice in seeing Christ come to you in others, and rejoice that in either being battered and bruised or fresh and unscathed that in Christ, you as you are have been saved, and that you as you are-can live in the joy of being a gift to others. Amen.