The Gift

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In 1905 William Sydney Porter, an author that most of us would know simply as O. Henry wrote what many considered to be a Christmas masterpiece: the Gift of the Magi. It's a story of Jim and Della Young. A young couple who were desperately poor, but on Christmas Eve they wanted to get each other gifts out of the tremendous love they had for one another. Della is grieving over the fact that she can't give her Jim a gift that reflects her heart’s love for him. She looks at the money she's been saving over all these last weeks and she looks and there's only a $1.87 to give him.  The most prized possessions that this couple has - she has her beautiful waist-length hair and he has a gold watch passed down to him from his father, and from his grandfather before him. So Della’s looking in the mirror on this Christmas Eve and weeping about the fact that she doesn't have the money to get him a gift.  While she's looking in the mirror an idea occurs to her - she'll sell her beautiful hair. She goes to the hairdresser, she sells her hair, she gets $20, so now she has a total of $21.87.   She goes out looking for a gift to give him and she finds this beautiful simple little gold chain that can go on Jim's watch. She goes home and gets dinner ready. She's got this little gold chain and she's excited to give him a gift but also terrified at “What will he think when he sees me? When he sees my hair is gone?” Jim comes in the door and he just stops in his tracks and has the strangest look on his face. Della says “Honey I know it's different, I know it's strange, and I know it's not what you expected, but I can explain.  I love you so much I sold my hair to get you this little gold chain for your watch. I hope you can still love me like this.” She's worried and Jim says “Honey I love you so much. I could never love you less for anything. You'll understand why I was so surprised when you see your Christmas gift.”  He hands her the gift and Della opens it up and it was the series of little jeweled, fancy combs that she had seen in a store window some months before.  Della makes the point, by the way, “Where did you get the money for these combs?”  He'd sold his watch.

I told my daughter Aubrey that story.  I was just kind of kicking around some things in my mind and I said “Have you ever heard the story of the Gift of the Magi?” I told Aubrey this whole story and I said “What do you think of that?”  She was like “Aw dad, ya know...”  I didn't know if she'd heard much of what I had said.  About 15 minutes later I hear her in the other room telling her little brother, Vance, the story and she gets to the end of the story and she says “Isn't that terrible!?” I’ve got to confess to you I was thinking the same thing.  Isn't that terrible!?  Like the worst Christmas story ever?  Like well, you had a little bit and now you got nothing - Merry Christmas!   I find it interesting that the author didn't view it that way at all. He ended his story by saying this, “and here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise, yet of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise.”

This morning we are starting a brand new series that, God willing, will last for the entire month of December very simply called Christmas Stories. There are some amazing Christmas stories out there. From Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, to “The Little Match Girl”, to the famous, famous one that most of us read to our kids on Christmas Eve - “The Night Before Christmas”.  Y’all it is my heartfelt belief that the most beautiful, magical Christmas stories are found in the first four books of this New Testament.

Today's story begins in an incredibly unlikely place with an unlikely audience. It doesn't begin with Mary, it doesn't begin with shepherds, it doesn't begin with Joseph, it doesn't begin with a manger. Our story begins before there was Earth, before there was man, before there was a material universe as we know it. Our Christmas story starts when there was only God and His angels.

 John 1:1 this morning. How many are glad you're here? Say Amen! 
John 1:1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 The same was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

Now most of you, if you've been in church any time at all, or you've been around the scripture at all, you know that when the Bible refers to the Word in this context its talking about Jesus Christ. If this language sounds familiar, I believe it's because this language in John 1 is Genesis language. In the beginning Genesis says, in the beginning God created, in the beginning God gave life, and what John 1 is telling us is that there in the beginning when God was, and he was creating, and he was giving life, so was Jesus!  Genesis tells us that in the beginning God was. John tells us in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God the same was in the beginning with God. l I can't fathom it. I can't properly describe it. I can't paint a picture for you. All I can say is God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and God the Son, all 100% God yet distinct personalities, for eons before planet Earth ever came around, God was doing life with God. God the author of joy, the author of peace, the author of life, the author of love, was doing life with God. Jesus was there and the angels were watching. Genesis tells us in the beginning God created, but John 1:3 says all things were made by Jesus, and without him was not anything made that was made. Colossians paints an even straighter picture when it says for through Jesus God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth he made the things we can see and the things we can't see, such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, authorities, in the unseen world everything was created through Jesus and for Jesus. Oh listen! We're very prone to only think of Jesus in terms of what He did on earth. Understand Jesus was integral to the whole process of creation. When the universe was spoken into existence it was spoken by the lips of Jesus. 

Genesis tells us in the beginning God gave life, but John tells us in Jesus was life. He elaborated in John 5:26, the Father has life in Himself and He has granted that same life-giving power to His Son. Here's the picture I want you to get. Long before the manger, long before Christ came down and did miracles, long before the cross, listen! There was Jesus in heaven sharing life with his Father, speaking the universe into glorious existence, breathing life into His creation, and there drinking it all in were the Angels. Every day their greatest joy was seeing what Jesus would do that day. Every day the point of their life was hearing what Jesus would say. Everything about Him is so glorious and magnetic. There's not an earth yet, there's not a universe as we know it yet, there's just God and that's enough! It was glorious and there was peace. I think we kind of lost the true meaning of the word peace.  We think of peace as like an absence of war and absence of conflict.  The Jews had a word for peace in the Hebrew it was Shalom. Listen Shalom meant life as it's intended to be. Not just an absence of conflict but a presence of beauty, and glory, and wonder. It was life as God created life to be! In wrapping their life around God the Angels have peace but they would soon learn a lesson that they never should have had to learn. They would learn that no God, means no peace.

You see there was perhaps the brightest of the Angels, an archangel we believe, musical, beautiful, named Lucifer.  And Lucifer, The Shining One, determined at some point that the only thing greater than the glory of God and the peace that came with it would be if he could be God. If he could sit on the throne, if all would bow the knee to him.  Lucifer rebelled against God and a third of the Angels, we believe, rebelled against God. Jesus said in the New Testament I was there and I was watching when Satan fell like lightning from heaven. I watched angels become demons. I watched Lucifer become Satan. He went from The Shining One to The Accuser. Listen when this happened, when there's no God, when there's no glory, there is no peace. We don't know how long, in terms of time that went, after that event but we do know the time passed.  The angels once again marveled. They're standing there watching God, watching Jesus, and He does something brand-new! He decides to create the earth. He creates man and woman. He makes them in his own image. He gives them a garden. He gives them a place. He shows his glory to them. Adam and Eve, wrapped around God, made in the image of God, they are drinking in His glory and they are showcasing it to the world. It was glorious and there was peace, but that Shalom, as you know, didn't last long.  The enemy, this fallen angel, takes them down the very same path that he'd gone. He makes an offer: you don't have to worship God, you can be God! Why bow the knee to him when the world can bow the knee to you? Instantly he says your eyes will be open and their eyes are opened! They get what they wanted but they lose what they have, and they learn the lesson - no God, no peace.

Here's the thing that occurred to me during this study that I don't know that I've ever articulated to a congregation before. I don't know that I've ever really consciously like done the math on this. If I understand my Bible right, while angels are unimaginably powerful, they are not omnipotent.  OK? Here's what this means:  you saw angels in the Bible.  If you're simply thinking of like sweet little cherubic naked babies with wings, that ain't the Bible version of angels!  Read your Old Testament and see one angel wiping out an army. Read your scripture and find Roman soldiers, the most battle-hardened, bloodthirsty men on the earth at that time fall down in terror at the presence of one of these shining ones. Angels are incredibly powerful but they're not all powerful. They know a lot, they've been watching mankind for generations, but they're not omniscient. They don't know everything and I find it amazing that in the Bible you find this this tremendous scripture which tells us in 1 Peter 1:12 that the angels desire to look into the mysteries of the gospel. So when man rebelled against his creator the angels must have wondered “What on earth is coming next?”  They knew what the truth of Romans 3:23 - all have sinned, all mankind has sinned and come short of the glory of God. They knew Romans 3:17 - the spirit of it, the way of peace they have not known, and I wonder if they didn't think something like this, “Surely God will abandon this fallen creation. Surely just as Lucifer is cast down, without ever a chance or a hope of being restored, perhaps He will destroy this earth and its inhabitants and start again.”  But I think these angels must have marveled when God didn't. For the next 4,000 years of human history, they would see a story of divine interventions. Adam goes against God, he tries to be God, he falls and now he's naked. Now he's self-conscious, now he realizes I don't have any peace.  I'm going to spend my life trying to find peace in all these places but I don't have it anymore. I'm naked as the day I was born. And God, instead of shunning him, has the first bloodshed that we ever see in the Bible. When God takes one of these little creatures that he's created, kills it, and wraps Adam in the skins. The angels are watching and wondering. We see Noah, when God looks down on the earth, and man has gotten so corrupt that God says, I'm going to judge it, I'm going to wipe it out. The Angels say you're justified in that God; you’re a God of justice. Yet we see this man named Noah, who found Grace in the eyes of the Lord, and we see that God does a whole new thing with this group of people and the Angels marvel. You see Abraham, who decides to take matters into his own hands.  He goes and gets Hagar, they have Ishmael, and it seems like the line that God is creating through Abraham is over. But then God comes down and tells Abraham and Sarah, I'm giving you Isaac. I'm going to make a way where there is no way and the angels see it all.  They see for thousands of years all these divine interventions for Israel, all these divine interventions for mankind, they start hearing prophecies. God tells men, I want you to write this down because one day... You know about the old covenant, do this stuff and avoid this stuff and you can earn eternal life, but I'm telling you there's a new covenant coming that no man can earn. I'm going to write my law on men's hearts. God says I'm sending a Savior one day and He's going to be a Jew, He's going to be from the tribe of Judah, and they're going to pierce His hands and His feet, Psalm 22. Isaiah 53 says they're going to lay stripes on His back to redeem a people and the Angels hear it, the angels see, and the Angels wonder what He means. Divine interventions and prophecies. Another thing that the angels see for all these centuries, are occasional Christophanies - times when Jesus leaves the throne in heaven and makes a trip down to earth. We see it before the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah when Christ comes down and talks to Abraham. We see it when Jacob, the patriarch, wrestles with an angel all night and at the end of that wrestling match he's afraid that he'll die because he's looked in the face of God. We see it in the fiery furnace when there's three Hebrew children who are being persecuted, we think to death, but the fires can't burn them and when Nebuchadnezzar looks into the fire he says I see not three, but four, and one of them as the appearance of the Son of God. And the angels must have wondered “Jesus why?  Why are you doing this? Why are you going down there? What's the point of all this?”

All this transpired for centuries. The angels desired to look into it.  They decide to try to put all these puzzle pieces together. What is Christ doing? What is the point? Until one day those same angels come to approach the throne of Jesus Christ, like they had done every day for all eternity, and when they come to approach the throne of Christ, Christ isn't on the throne. He's gone! Where could He have gone? Where would the Son of God be?  For the first time in the history the Trinity, in a sense, is broken up. There's the Father, there's the Spirit, but where's the Son? The rumor echoes through the ranks that Gabriel has made a visit down to Planet Earth to some folks. The rumor begins to echo through the ranks that Jesus has gone down to earth and that He's in a city called Bethlehem.  I picture in my mind the angels, who lived on the glory of God.  It woke them up in the morning if they sleep there, and put him to bed at night. They had drunk it in. It’s the greatest thing in their life just being in the presence of Jesus.  They long to see Him, and they want to know what's going on, and they make their way to Bethlehem, and what they find is indescribable.

Max Lucado wrote a little book called God Came Near, he said these words a lot better than I could:
The omnipotent in one instant makes Himself breakable. He who had been spirit became pierce-able.  He who was larger than the universe became an embryo. He who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent on the nourishment of a young girl. God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The Creator of life being created. God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys and a spleen.  He stretched against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluids of his mother. He came not as a flash of light, or as an unapproachable conqueror, but as one whose first cries were heard by a peasant girl and a sleepy carpenter.  The hands that first held him were unmanicured,  calloused, dirty. No silk, no ivory, no hype, no party, and no hoopla. Angels watched as Mary changed God's diaper. All my life I've pictured every dealing of the angels with Jesus as being glory in the highest!  Glory! I wonder if their first response at that wasn't more like Aubrey’s, “that's terrible! Jesus why would you leave glory and come down to earth in a stable with animals, and filth, and manure? God why would you leave the praise of all the created order, all the angels, all of us singing your worth, to come down like this? Why would you lay aside your glory?”  Do you remember the scene in the scripture when Jesus tried to wash Peters feet and Peter said “no, no, no, no, no! It's inappropriate. That feels weird. You're God!”  Can you imagine how the angels felt seeing Jesus like that? I don't know how the final puzzle piece slid into place. I don't know when the moment of divine insight came. I don't know exactly what it looked like when they got it, that aha moment from God of what he was doing, but we know that they did because of Luke 2.

Turn back with me one last time Luke 2:8

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord [by the way folks, think Shekinah glory that filled the Old Testament Tabernacle, that filled the Old Testament temple, to where the priests had to leave it was so bright and glorious!] the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,

If you've been at Calvary any time you know we've talked about the fact that most of us, like when you think of Moses, you picture Charlton Heston. Most of us when we picture this scene think of three or four angels with their hands raised like we've seen in a thousand Christmas programs. I want you to understand what when the Bible says that there were these shepherds, God pulls back the curtain between the physical and the spiritual, and lets them see. The Bible uses the word multitude. That Greek word is pl├ęthos which we get the English word plethora. It is used to describe ,in the bible, the sand grains on the seashore, it is used to describe the stars in the sky. I believe there were perhaps millions of angels, spread out over all the mountainside.   What they've realized about that baby in a manger is so critical and so beautiful that they all showed up! Here’s what they sing “glory to God in the highest and on earth peace [Shalom] goodwill [God's favor] toward men. They realized that God has laid aside His glory. Jesus has laid aside His privilege and He's made this journey all the way from heaven to a cattle trough, to bring fallen men back into a relationship with God. He has made a way, once again, for them to taste the glory of God.  For us to taste the glory of God! And once again have Shalom. Once again have peace.

One evening many years ago an actress by the name of Mary Martin, Jenny and I were talking about this I believe she's from Weatherford , Mary Martin was about to go on stage for a production of South Pacific. Just before she stepped out on stage, she received a note from the famous lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Here's what it said: “A bell is not a bell until you ring it. A song is not a song till you sing it. Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay; love isn't love till you give it away. Love isn't love until you give it away.”  So on the surface when I look at Jim and Della I say that is the worst Christmas story I've ever seen. They gave up everything.  Do you know why they were wise? Because giving your heart is the greatest gift in the world and it brings the greatest return in the world. Two thousand years ago, listen to me, God gave us His heart. He sent His son because love isn't love till you give it away.

Let me ask you a question this morning. You may be here today and the truth is, for some time God's been pursuing you about something. You've seen evidence of His goodness in your life, you've had wake-up calls in certain areas that you know something's off and it needs to be made right. Maybe you've ignored them, maybe you've pushed them to the background. Maybe you're not a believer yet but something's happening in you that's pulling you that direction. Maybe you're not a believer yet and you've been skeptical and maybe you've been angry. By the way, every atheist I've ever met is a person who's been hurt terribly in life.  You may be here and there's some things happening with you, including this service today, that you just can't explain.  Love isn't love till you give it away.

I want to tell you something, listen, 2,000 years ago God showed you how He felt about you.  Not the new, improved, cleaned up version of you. He knows exactly what you are and that's the person he gave his son for. He gave him away, for you! What would it look like this very morning for you to reciprocate? What would it look like this very morning for you to take that step of faith toward your Creator and say God I want to trust you, I want to love you. I want to go from my love being somewhere in the realm of my mind and my theology and I want to express it you.  You know what? For a bunch of us it means we need to get out of our comfortable little safe lives and do the one thing that Jesus did, which is serve other people. Love isn't love when it's just a theological statement.  Love isn’t love when it's just attending a church service. Love isn't love because you sing it and talk about it. Love isn't love till you give it away. What is God calling you to do? What is that step of love that he's challenging you in today?

Brian Loveless has been serving as Lead Pastor for Calvary Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, TX since November 2003. Brian shepherds, leads, feeds, and guides Calvary’s congregation, staff, and guests to spiritual growth and service for Jesus Christ. His main goals remain for folks to see God, share life, serve others, and stay connected.