Sunday, December 15, 2013
Christmas Unwrapped - Tempo Coffee Bar
Are you ready for Christmas? Have you finished your Christmas shopping and all the presents wrapped and under the tree? It’s one of the best bits of Christmas - when you see presents wrapped up with shiny paper and bows - but it’s even better when you see the wee gift tag that says it’s a present for you!
When it comes to presents, are you a shaker or a poker? When we were growing up, it was a rule in our house that we weren’t allowed to open any presents until Christmas morning. That was normally ok - we only got most of our presents on Christmas Eve night when all the family met at our granny’s house. But we had a great-aunt and uncle who lived in Belfast, and they always called with granny in early December. They gave us their presents ages before Christmas, the best sort of presents, too, and there they sat, under the tree for a couple of weeks. We couldn’t open them, but that didn’t stop us from poking and prodding them, trying to work out what was inside. The wrappings are nice, but they’re not the most important part.
As you’re counting down the days to Christmas, it’s the wrapping that holds the attention. But once Christmas Day comes, the wrapping paper is torn away, the gift inside is revealed, and the real enjoyment begins.
So how does it work in your house? Is the wrapping paper carefully collected in a plastic bag (and maybe even reused!), or does the room look like it’s been re-carpeted with fragments of wrapping paper? Either way, the wrappings are forgotten. The presents are finally present.
When you were younger, you might have been more interested in the box than in the present that came in the box. It’s like the advert McDonalds ran: [video]
What is it with kids and boxes? It’s as if the box is more exciting than the present - the box can be a hiding place, or a rocket, or a table, or a car or whatever... they toy is left sitting, abandoned. If your younger brother or sister or wee cousin was doing it, you’d want to show them the real present, not just the wrappings. Otherwise they’re missing out on the precious gift.
It can be funny when a child does it, but sometimes we can also get caught up in the wrappings and miss out on the present. As we come near to another Christmas, you might think you’ve heard it all before. You know it so well. But we can get so wrapped up in the wrappings of Christmas that we miss the Christmas gift itself.
You see, Christmas is about more than the adverts try to tell us. It’s not really about cooking the perfect Brussell sprouts, or attending parties, being visited by a jolly man with a white beard dressed in red, or even spending time with family. These are all like the tinsel and trappings, rather than the treasure.
For a few moments, let’s unwrap the Christmas parcel and discover what’s at the heart of Christmas. What is Christmas unwrapped?
We’re out in the fields near Bethlehem. A bunch of shepherds are watching their sheep. These are the outcasts - shunned by ordinary people because they were unclean; they lived with their sheep. It’s a dangerous job - watching out for wolves who would come and destroy the flock. But more than that, can you imagine trying to check that you have all your sheep - so you start counting... and then fall asleep!
Suddenly an angel appears to them and tells them about the best Christmas present ever. It might be the very first Christmas, but there’ll never be a better Christmas present given - not even the Yankee Candle and gift voucher you’ve got for your mum this year.
This is Christmas unwrapped: Take away the tinsel and turkey and tree; pass on the parties and puddings and mince pies; strip away the shepherds and angels and wisemen; and gaze on the glorious gift - wrapped up, but not in paper and bows. Wrapped in strips of cloth, and lying in a manger, where the animals feed, is THE Christmas present: a tiny newborn baby.
But this is no ordinary baby. Every parent thinks that their child is special. I’m getting to that age now when lots of people my age are getting married and having kids. Every day there’ll be an update on Facebook, with the obligatory photo: (Of course, names have been changed to protect the innocent!) Today wee Jonny smiled. Today wee Jonny puked. Today wee Jonny ate most of his dinner.
But no child can compare with the baby in the manger. We discover that this is the long-awaited king, the rescuer. As the angels told the shepherds: ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.‘ Luke 2:11
Now I don’t know if you’ve ever met someone who thinks of themselves as ‘God’s gift’ - girls, you might have met a guy who thinks that he’s so special that every girl will instantly fall for him; that everyone would want to be with him. That’s just what they think of themselves - everyone else knows differently.
This baby grew up, and over in John’s gospel, as he talks to one of the most religious men in Israel, Jesus speaks of himself. It might just be the best known verse in the whole Bible, but it helps us understand this baby who really is God’s gift.
It begins with God. God, the giver. God, who is love. And Jesus says that ‘God so loved the world...’ God looked at the world he had made; looked at the people; thought of you and of me - and he loved us. Isn’t that remarkable? It’s amazing, not only because of the bigness of the world - the sheer number of people, not just the bigness, but also the badness.
I don’t need to tell you about the badness in the world - not just out there, but also in here, in my heart and in your heart. We have turned away from God. We’ve gone our own way. It’s what the Bible calls sin.
Sin is when we say to God: ‘Shove off, God. I’m in charge of my life. No to your ways.’
And even though we have turned away from God, he loves us. It’s why God planned for the ultimate Christmas present. When you love someone, you want to give them the perfect present - the very thing they need.
Now sometimes you get someone who tells you exactly what they want for Christmas - maybe a granny who complains about her old slippers and would love a new pair - and she tells you for ages and ages so that you get them for her. But have you ever been out shopping and see the perfect present for someone? You know it’s just what they need; it was made for them.
God takes the first step. He sees our need. He gives us exactly what we needed. The whole Old Testament shows the preparations for giving the gift, so that at just the right moment, on that first Christmas God gave - what? Or rather, who?
‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.’ The only Son, the one by whom and through whom and for whom the whole creation was planned and made, stepped into the world he had made. Jesus takes on our human flesh, growing in Mary’s tummy (womb), born in Bethlehem’s manger, toddler, boy, teenager, man, his whole life leading up to the cross, where he would die to rescue us from our sins. God gave us his Son, his only Son. What a love, what a cost.
Don’t be content to leave Jesus in the manger when you finally get fed up with the Christmas decorations. Don’t just think that he remains a helpless baby forever and ever - cute to look at, nice to hold, but powerless to do anything for himself, let alone anyone else.
Jesus was born to die, the best Christmas present in the world - because it doesn’t end there. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
We deserve to perish, because we’ve been going our own way, rejecting God, refusing to listen to him. But the gift tag on the best present ever tells us that we can avoid perishing, and instead have eternal life. And it’s all because of Jesus.
Jesus says that whoever believes in him - whoever, anyone, of whatever age or stage in life; whoever fits into the category of whoever - whoever believes in Jesus.
Right now, you’re believing in something. As you sit down, you trust that the chair will hold you. It’s as if the chair is saying, sit on me, depend on me, and I’ll hold you. Jesus calls us to do the same thing - to depend on him, to take him at his word, to trust him, and be assured of eternal life.
You see, Jesus came into the world to die the death that we deserved. He took the punishment for our sins. He gave his life so that we might live, eternally live.
Let me tell you about the worst Christmas present I ever received. For ages I had wanted a Scalectrix track and cars. I’d seen them on TV; I’d seen them in the Argos catalogue. I couldn’t wait. I was so excited. So after church on Christmas morning, we got the track set up in the kitchen. Mum and dad were stepping over the track to get the dinner ready. And the moment came when the car went on the track. I was going to drive the wee car around the track. I squeezed the controller, watching the car zoom along the track. But I didn’t realise you needed to slow down to take the corners. The car flew off the track, straight under the cooker and was never seen again (until mum and dad renovated the kitchen about ten years later). My Christmas present lasted about twenty seconds.
But the gift that God gives us this Christmas goes on and on and on. In Jesus, we receive eternal life - life that never ends, life with God in his new creation, where there is no more sin or sickness or sadness or suffering.
So if this is the best Christmas present ever, what should you do in response? Well, what do you do when someone gives you a present? You receive it. You say thank you.
You might be a present-poker; you might have sneaked a peek; or you might be waiting patiently to see what’s under the tree. But don’t get caught up in all the wrapping paper and miss the real Christmas gift.
This Christmas, God is offering you the best Christmas present ever. It’s exactly what you need. It’s what you really want. The gift tag has your name on it. The gift is for you.
For God so loved ... Peter/Jane/you that he gave his one and only Son that as Peter/Jane/you believe in him, you will not perish but have eternal life.
Tonight, you have the opportunity to receive this gift - to believe in Jesus for the first time. It’s very simple - as easy as saying sorry, thank you, please: Lord God, I am sorry for my sins, the wrong things I’ve done. Thank you for sending Jesus into the world to save me from my sins. Please help me to know your joy and peace, and walk with you every day. Amen.
If you want to take that step tonight, speak to me, or one of the leaders, or a Christian friend, and we’ll be glad to help you.
But if you are a Christian; if you’ve already received the gift - what can you do? How can you respond to this reminder? First of all, give thanks for God’s gift in your life. Never forget that it’s all of grace, all of God. You haven’t saved yourself.
But in the verses we’ve looked at tonight, remember that the gift doesn’t stop with you. It’s helpful to put your name into the verse and discover that God loves you and gave Jesus for you. But it doesn’t stop there. Ask God to help you get a bigger vision of his love - for the world, for sinners, for the people in your class in school; those you hang around with; those in your street or townland.
The shepherds went to see Jesus because the angels had told them. On the way home, they told everyone, they spread the word. They couldn’t keep it to themselves. If we do that with football scores or other wee things, what about the best news about the best Christmas present ever?
This sermon was preached at the Tempo Coffee Bar Christmas night on Saturday 14th December 2013.