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Two of God’s Best Gifts
December 17, 2017
Last week, Matt got us off to a great start on our Christmas series called Christmas Unwrapped. He talked about all kinds of Christmas gifts that we give and that we get. Some we’re thrilled about and others not so much.
Jennifer gave me an early Christmas present the other day that she was thrilled about, and me not so much, at least at first. I was out doing yard work when she said, “Bruce, I want you to come in in about a half an hour and get changed because I want to take you somewhere.”
And I’m like, “What?! Come in? Take me somewhere? I’m raking leaves. I don’t want to go anywhere.”
She said, “Don’t give me a hard time and please don’t ask any questions. Just come in and get ready to go. It’s an early Christmas present.”
So we got in the car and she said, “Close your eyes. I don’t want you to see where we’re going. I’ll tell you when we get there.”
So we drove for a little bit and then she said, “Surprise! You can open your eyes now.” And when I did, she gave me a gift card to the Razr Bar at Providence Town Center.
And I said, “What’s this? What’s the Razr Bar?”
She said, “We’re going to get your beard trimmed and you have a 3 o’clock appointment.”
So she dropped me off and while she went to find a parking place I walked in and the woman at the counter said, “You must be Bruce here for your 3 o’clock appointment?”
I said, “Ahhh. Yeah. I guess.”
“Great. Do you want a beer? A glass of wine? A cup of coffee?”
And I thought to myself, “This is not Great Clips!”
I said, “No. I’m fine. I don’t even know what I’m doing here.”
And just then another woman came out from behind the curtain and said, “Hi Bruce. Follow me to the back.”
And I said, “Woah. Wait a minute. Slow down. Let’s just wait for my wife to see what she has in mind.”
So finally, Jennifer came in and we explained that this was my first beard trim. Eventually I got in the chair and 20 minutes later I had my very first makeover! How do you like it? I must admit it wasn’t too painful. In fact, it was kind of pleasant.
But the best part was that Jennifer was thrilled. She loves it and that’s all that matters. The trim was her gift to me and the beard is my gift to her. Merry Christmas, honey! Christmas gifts come in a lot of different ways, all shapes and sizes. Take a look at this video.
Show “The Gift” video (1:55)
“Christmas gifts come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of wrappings. Many people will go to great lengths to wrap a gift. But God’s gift did not come in elaborate wrappings. On a cold night in a feeding trough lay the Creator of the universe. The greatest gift of all in simple wrapping. We place our gifts under the tree. But God’s gift was placed on a tree giving us the gift of eternal life. Christmas is a time for giving gifts in remembrance of the ultimate gift, God’s one and only son. Jesus. Emmanuel. Prince of Peace. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. The greatest gift given for the world, given for you.”
Christmas is all about gifts. But let’s not forget why we give gifts. We give gifts to remember the greatest gift God gave to the world, to you, to me, to us, and that was his Son Jesus Christ.
And as we learned last week, when we unwrap Jesus we discover all kinds of gifts: the gift of grace, the gift of salvation, the gift of faith, the gift of hope, the gift of being raised up and given box seats next to Jesus in the heavenly realms. And those are just a few of the presents under the tree. God loves to give gifts. And this morning, I want to unwrap two more gifts of Jesus. The first gift is found in his name, Immanuel.
In Matthew’s account of the Christmas story the angel says to Joseph in Matthew 1:21-23 (p. 675), “She (Mary) will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means “God with us.”
Immanuel. God with us. That’s one of the best gifts of Christmas. We are not alone, church. God has come. God is here. One of the best presents of Christmas is the presence of God with us. His present is his PRESENCE.
God left the glory of heaven and invaded our broken, messed up world with the presence of Jesus. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God moved into our neighborhood, so we can know what he’s really like.
But not only did God invade our space/time world with the presence of Jesus, he invaded our personal space as well. When we believe in Jesus he comes to live inside us. The God who is with us is the God who lives in us.
I love the way one writer put it, “God is with us. He’s on our planet. On our countryside. In our manger. Immanuel the very name the angel speaks is now given to Jesus because God is with us. Fast forward 2,000 years. The four words that changed history can now change us. Those four words are the only words that can bring meaning to the deepest places of our hearts.
“For the woman whose husband walked out on her and who struggles to pick up the pieces. God is with you. For the elderly couple who can no longer care for themselves and must rely on the care of others. God is with you. For the man or woman who watches all their friends get married and painfully wonders if there is anyone out for them. God is with you.
“For the person who is seeking truth and looking hard at Jesus as a possibility. God is with you. You are not alone. You never have been and you never will be because God in Christ wrapped himself in human flesh stepped out of eternity into time and chose a cave in Bethlehem to communicate one simple abiding truth. God is with us. And those four words have the power and the beauty to change every waking moment.”
Fill in your situation. What does it sound like for you? Whatever hurt you’re feeling, whatever struggle you’re facing, whatever trial you’re going through, and all of us are, you are not alone. God is with you. His present is his PRESENCE.
And his PRESENCE brings PEACE. Peace is the other gift under the tree this morning.
Jesus put it this way in John 14:27, Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Those were Jesus’ words to his 12 best friends the night before he was executed and their whole world imploded. And those are the words Jesus gives to you and me when our world implodes. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. His PRESENCE brings PEACE.
The world was a mess when Jesus was born on that first Christmas night. He was born in the mess and filth and dung of a parking garage for donkeys to a poor, unwed, teenaged mother in an occupied country where the ruler would slaughter innocent babies when he heard a rival king was born. That’s a mess!
The world was a mess when Jesus came. And it’s still a mess today. There is no place on the planet where life isn’t messy. If you know of a place, please tell me and I’ll tell others and they’ll tell others and eventually the whole world will show up there and then that place will be a mess too!
Church, the message of Christmas is not that God will protect us from the messes of life. Stuff happens and will always happen. Stuff happened to Jesus. The message of Christmas is that in the messiness God is present and his presence brings peace.
Jennifer and I have been reading the devotional Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. The subtitle of the book is “Enjoying Peace in His Presence.”
She writes in the first person as if it was Jesus talking to us. And in one recent entry Jesus says, “Thank me throughout this day for my PRESENCE and my PEACE. These are gifts of supernatural proportions. Ever since the resurrection, I have comforted my followers with these messages: Peace be with you, and I am with you always. Listen as I offer you my PEACE and PRESENCE in full measure. The best way to receive these glorious gifts is to thank me for them …. As you thank me for my PRESENCE and PEACE, you appropriate my richest gifts.”
His PRESENCE brings PEACE. More and more I find myself praying for God’s peace and presence in my own life and in the lives of others.
Each week a few of us go to the Shannondell Rehab Center and pray for the residents there. We have some fascinating conversations about life and faith and Jesus. And each time I think we’re more blessed than those we visit.
Just last Monday, Geri Smith and I knocked on the door of a woman who invited us in to her room. She was lying in her bed with the covers pulled right up to her chin. We introduced ourselves and told her that we could come back later if she was resting. But she whispered, “Oh no. Please stay.”
She looked rather pale and had a hollow, distant stare. So we asked her what can we pray for? And we could hardly hear her response. “Peace. Pray for peace.”
“Peace. Peace for the world or peace for you?”
“Peace for me. I’m gonna die. I have cancer and was just given 3-6 months to live.” Wow! What do you say to that?
So I read Jesus’ words in John 14:27, Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Then we talked about Jesus and the hope that we can have in Christ that goes beyond this life. We shared the gospel with her and as we did she nodded and seemed to agree with everything we said. And it appeared that she knew the Lord, but needed a fresh dose of God’s peace in the midst of the messiness of a terminal cancer diagnosis.
Sometimes God chooses to remove the mess. And that’s a wonderful thing. But sometimes God allows the mess to remain. Yet his offer still stands. Peace I give you.
God’s present is his PRESENCE and his PRESENCE brings PEACE.
Where do you need God’s peace right now? Where do you need his presence in your life? What mess are you going through that threatens to become bigger than Jesus?
God’s peace and God’s presence are two of his richest gifts that you can unwrap right now. And the best way to receive them is to thank Jesus for them. Let’s do that as we stand together for prayer.