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?

Hope in disastrous circumstances

The prophet Jeremiah lived through the greatest disaster that befell the nation of Israel: the final stages of its conquest and exile. There was nothing left to hope in. In the throes of this disaster Jeremiah finds it easier to believe in God’s judgement & wrath than in his mercy & joy in his people. That is the state that Jeremiah is in when he questions God over buying a field, a possession in Israel, when all is lost (Jeremiah 32:25). He can’t see past the present judgement to a future hope. We can find ourselves in the same position.

God is straight with Jeremiah (32: 36-44) on the coming judgement, and equally straight about the future hope. Just listen to what God says:

“Behold I will gather them.” 32:37

“They shall be my people, and I will be their God.” 32:38

“I will rejoice in doing them good.” 32:41

“I will plant them … with all my heart and soul.” 32:41

In the depths of disaster and difficulty it is always hard to hold on to the promises. And yet, the promised disaster arriving was straightforward proof that God was following through on his promises, and if he has followed through with promised disaster he will follow through on promised good.

Not every difficult time is a judgement on us, Job’s story proves that conclusively, but in every difficult time we have the promise of good through a faithful God who has fulfilled every promise he has made. When he promises “they will be my people and I will be their God” he will do it!

That this same God rejoices in doing us good and plants us with all his heart and soul should give each one of us cause to rejoice in him, and live in him and with him with all our hearts and souls.

In the depths of disaster and difficulty let’s hold on the the precious promises that God has already given us, knowing that he will fulfil them.

Hope in disastrous circumstances