The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full. (John 10.10)Curses in Disguise
Some gifts backfire on their givers, as a hysterical video that made the rounds about this time last year shows. A clueless husband gives his wife a Thigh-Master for their anniversary. She immediately escorts him to a doghouse with a trap door that drops him into an underground sweatshop full of similarly inept husbands. Their only means of escape is convincing a stern, all-female parole board they’ve figured out why their gifts backfired. Other gifts backfire on their receivers. Many “gifts that keep on giving”—Fruit-of-the-Month subscriptions, for instance, or adorable bunnies—sometimes fit this bill. The initial delight fades, leaving a routine dilemma about what to do with cartons of perishables or a child who won’t clean his rabbit’s cage. The gift worth having must be something we truly want. The gift that keeps on giving must be something we can’t do without. Otherwise, we may discover these gifts are curses in disguise.
Unnecessary presents typically wind up stowed out of sight and mind. We can’t bring ourselves to toss them away and risk offending those who give them to us. But as the years wear on and the gifts pile up, they start taking. They steal space we could put to better use. They kill time and energy by forcing us to deal with them. And the longer we hang onto them, the more burdensome they become, gradually destroying our appreciation for the kind gestures behind them. Over time, “How thoughtful of them to give us an automated card shuffler” turns into “What made them think we’d ever use this?” It’s funny how gifts we don’t need ultimately become clutter we detest.
Gift and Giver
In their gospels and letters, the Apostles continually present Jesus as God’s Gift to humankind. This concept originates in Isaiah 9.6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” And Jesus ratifies it several times, most famously in John 3.16 (a verse we’ll delve into next time): “God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son.” Yet while the concept holds firm, its construct proves surprisingly elastic. John and Paul in particular portray Jesus as a literal—i.e., physical—Gift, as well as the channel through which God’s grace and life are given. In 1 John 5.11, we read, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son,” while Paul contrasts Adam and Jesus in Romans 5.15 by saying, “For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!”
The dozens of variations on this idea coalesce into a unified theme: Jesus comes as Gift and Giver. He’s born specifically to provide the perfect Offering—a Gift of Love—for our redemption. “This is love,” 1 John 4.10 tells us, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” But in the span between His first breath in the manger and His last gasp on the cross, He teaches us to accept gifts God wants us to receive. No verse better summarizes the extent of what we can receive by and through Him than John 10.10: “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Jesus epitomizes the Gift worth having and the Gift that keeps on giving. We need Him and the full life He gives.
Opening Our Lives
With Advent cresting this weekend and Christmas approaching, we have a moment to remember embracing the Gift of Christ is nothing short of opening our lives to all of God’s gifts: love, grace, mercy, acceptance, strength, purpose, joy, healing, hope, confidence, peace, creativity, holiness, and innumerable other treasures. They’re not ours for the asking; God gives them to us without reservation. This has always been so, even before God sends Jesus to offer them in Person. Psalm 84.11 says, “The LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” And get this: even blamelessness is a gift. Paul writes, “Righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3.22) No matter how much righteousness we scramble together, we’ll never accumulate enough to merit God’s gifts. Titus 3.5 stresses, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” So great is God’s love, He bestows His righteousness on us for no other reason than entitling us to every other gift He wants us to have.
The tiny Baby in a cow-crib is so much more than a Sacrifice destined for the altar. He’s Life—new life, eternal life, and full life. He’s the Gift worth having, the Gift that keeps on giving. Thus, Christmas transcends celebrating Christ’s birth; it’s the celebration of our lives. We experience it at its fullest by enlarging our worship to include gratefully accepting all He came to give. When Jesus arrived, everything we’ll ever want or need came with Him. If anything’s absent from our lives, it’s not because God decides we can’t have it. It’s because we haven't yet opened our lives to receive everything He gives.
Jesus came into the world as Gift and Giver, which transforms Christmas from a celebration of His birth into the celebration of the fullness of life we experience by receiving all of God's gifts.
(Next: Defying Nature)