What’s in a gift? What can we bring?

I’ve just returned from a bit of last minute shopping. It’s frantic Friday – everyone is rushing, pushing, searching, trying to put the finishing touches on the event that Christmas has become.

I was musing recently about why we give gifts at Christmas. Is it because we think of Jesus as God’s gift to us, or perhaps because the wise men brought gifts. It’s impossible to equate even the most extravagant Christmas gift with the giving of Jesus for us. Although Jesus is ours, he is never ours in the sense of a possession, something we own. He is ours, because we are his, and he is everything.

So that brings us to the wise men and the reasons for their offerings. First of all, the wise men were rather late to the party. Although they set out when they saw the star rise, it took some time to arrive at Bethlehem. Mary, Joseph and Jesus were no longer in the stable, and Jesus was an infant child, not a new born baby. But that in itself tells us something about Christmas – it was an event so monumental that the wise men were determined to pursue what they had discovered, even at such cost in terms of time and energy. I don’t know how far east they had come from, but judging by the age of the children that Herod murdered, it was some distance. This was more than curiosity, it was a conviction that the rising star bore real significance.

For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.
Matthew 2:2

Worship is a serious business, and these wise men were serious about worshipping the new king.

When they arrived at the house, the wise men did indeed worship Jesus, and they offered gifts to him. But those gifts were not toys or trinkets to be played with. The gifts themselves were an act of worship.

Perhaps we will come late to the real meaning of this party too. It may be well after the decorations have come down that we can objectively think about how we should treat Jesus, but here’s some food for thought for when you get there.

We are told that the wise men ‘offered him gifts’ (Matthew 2:11). The important word is ‘offered’. It’s quite a common word in the New Testament. We read of it when the people brought Jesus the sick and the demon oppressed. We read of it when the paralytic was lowered down from the roof. We read of it when a blind, mute, demon possessed man was brought to be healed. We read of it when the little children were brought before him.

Yes, we bring our offering of worship to the incarnate God – Immanuel, God with us; Jesus, God saves. But we come too, knowing our need, knowing that there is only one who can heal, restore, forgive. We offer ourselves not because we can give to him, but because he alone can save. And, strangely, these two, worship and petition go hand in hand with our loving God. No matter what state we find ourselves in this Christmas, know this, that Jesus welcomes all who will come and offer themselves to him. ‘I won’t reject anyone who comes to me’ Jesus would later say.

So, when you are struggling with the busyness, or the obligations, or just the whole commercial weight that is heaped on our Christmas celebration, remember the lines of the Christmas carol, and take them to heart:

Yet what can I give Him?
Give Him my heart.

And give him your heart in worship and in need. Jesus is more than willing and able to meet that need and accept that worship.

What’s in a gift? What can we bring?

Finding our Purpose

Difficult times can hit us in so many ways: job worries, family worries, health concerns. Perhaps the hardest part of any of these is the not knowing the end – not being able to recognise a purpose in that trying time. For Christians in particular it can add to the burden when we are walking a difficult path. We are to live by faith, and we do, but still that faith seeks out a purpose, a reason for the hardships that we suffer. If only we knew why, it would help us stand up under the pressure. And yet, God does not often reveal his purposes at this specific level.

Job suffered catastrophic loss, and yet we know from his story in Scripture that the heavenly goings on were never revealed to him during his life on earth. His faith is the ultimate example. I suspect our wanting to have a specific purpose for suffering is actually a lack of faith. We want to approve whatever it is that God is doing, it’s an attempt to wrest back some sort of control over our lives and our destinies: “Lord, work out your purposes, but please just run it by me first.” But that is original sin, it is pride and it is lack of faith and we must repent of it.

All through the Bible we read of God’s plan and intent in all that he does. The whole universe was made for his purposes, and we are a part of that. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world according to his good pleasure – God has taken pleasure in his plans for us! That universal plan has a definite purpose and a definite end. In Ephesians 1:10 we are told that God is going to one day bring life, the universe and everything to its ultimate conclusion. That’s a concept that we need to keep at the forefront of out minds as we walk through any difficult time.

We don’t often know the specifics of God’s plan for us before it happens, and often we don’t understand as it happens, but we do know that there is a purpose.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10

That is sufficient!

In the book of Ephesians Paul uses some incredible terms to describe what God is doing in his created universe. Each and every one of us plays their part in God’s plan. Paul’s purpose was to reveal the mystery of the Gospel, that was previously hidden, but now revealed in Christ Jesus. But every individual has a part to play. So, let us take up all the equipment that God has given us and press on, not insisting on knowing the specifics, but understanding we are here specifically to play our part.

so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 3:10

The first couple of words in the verse above translate a small Greek word, and possibly my favourite word in the Greek New Testament: hina. It literally means ‘in order that’. Right through God’s Word he is reassuring us that what he is doing, he is doing ‘in order that’, and that includes us. The Church is here in order that we might make known the manifold wisdom of God, not just here in this world, but to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places too – now, there’s an incredible purpose.

So, when the hard times come and we wonder why we look to a greater purpose that we do know. We don’t minimise our present troubles, but we don’t seek to take control from God’s ultimate purpose, we trust, we endure, we look in faith and in hope to that ultimate consummation of all things when our Creator God recreates, redeems and fulfils all his promises and plans. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Finding our Purpose