Updated: Dec 26, 2018
The sweetness of the Christmas season is undeniable, especially for a child. Our kids beg us to start pulling out the decorations well before Thanksgiving, and Christmas music may or may not be playing in our home as early as October. But, for many people, the most exciting thing about Christmas traditions is gift-giving! (and if we’re honest, gift-receiving, too!) I came from a home where gift-giving was an important demonstration of love-showing, and I am of the firm belief that this little tradition holds with it some profound and beautiful reminders of God’s love and plan for us; a plan that hinges on His extravagant giving, as well as our humble receiving – our responding to Him.
I was 15 years old when my parents and the local authorities initiated a “full stop” in my social life because of the less-than-ideal decisions I was making. This interruption to my fun left me with a burning desire for something in life to make sense. I asked every question I could think of regarding God, creation, purpose, and supernatural realities; I was determined to figure it out. (“Full send” personality problems!) Finding myself in a coffee shop across from a friend, I was posed with a Bible verse and a question. God would use this conversation to completely change my life.
Can I take you back to that evening? I will never forget it. In the dim light of an old community center-turned coffee shop, Mr. Roys found a marker and started writing on the paper tablecloth in front of us. He wrote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Together we put boxes around the important words WAGES, SIN, DEATH, GIFT, GOD, LIFE, and JESUS.
We talked at length about the first part of this verse. “What is a wage?” he asked. I was well acquainted with the term… isn’t that how all of life works? We get what we have paid for, people treat us the way we treat them, etc. We walked through the remaining words to reveal this truth: what we earn from having sin in our lives is “death” - eternal separation from our perfect God. “All have sinned and fall short” (Romans 3:23). In this world where we reap what we sow, we are faced with a spiritual problem we are not able to fix.
For the first time in my life, this was starting to make sense. I knew, after getting in trouble with the police for under-aged drinking and drug use, and seeing the look on my parents’ faces as they recognized the full extent of my lies, that I was a mess inside. It made sense to me that a perfect God could have nothing to do with me. What a hopeless place I’d gotten myself into.
It was the next question that stopped me dead in my tracks: “Sarah, what is a gift?” “It’s a thing someone gives you,” was my knee-jerk response. “Do you pay someone for a gift?” “No.” “Are you expected to pay them back?” “No.” “Why do you think someone gives another person a gift?” Then it hit me. A gift is given out of love! God Almighty was offering me a gift that cost Him dearly, because He wanted to be in relationship with me. A large cross, an instrument of torture in the late Roman Empire, symbolizing Jesus’ death and forgiveness of my sins, bridged the impossible gap from death to life on the paper in front of me, and simultaneously in my heart. He is the Way.
So many emotions rushed through my body in that instance. I had been living my life for myself for 15 years. I had spit my Creator in the face while enjoying His “gifts” of life and breath and provision. And even in my absurd immaturity, He stood there offering me Himself; a free gift that I desperately needed, and that would change my life and all of eternity, because He loved me. He LOVES me. Unfathomable.
Overwhelmed by my own unworthiness, and God’s great love, I fell on my hands and knees next to the little table we were chatting over, as if involuntarily. I cried and prayed and confessed and asked and cried some more, my tears mingling with the dirt on the floor that my face was sharing space with. I knew the Lord Jesus was real, and there, and happy to give me the gift He had been crucified to offer me. Looking like a fool, I bore my soul to the One who knew me, loved me, and made a way for me. Hope-filled repentance. "I tell you, her sins--and they are many--have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love" (Luke 7:47).
It’s been 23 years since that night, and I’m constantly relearning that it’s less important what I DO for God, but more so how I RESPOND to what He’s done for me (receiving His gifts). We live in a culture riddled with an over-abundance of stuff and crippled by entitlement, especially at Christmastime. We are prone to wander, obsessed with comfort and control, and tempted every day to exalt ourselves. It’s a rare moment that we come to realize our absolute depravity and need, along with the gift offered us of His presence and power. Interacting with Jesus, we see His life as if looking in a mirror, which reveals so clearly our backwards, selfish thinking. It’s in light of His perfection that we are brought to our knees in response. What a wonderful place to be.“The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17).
This Christmas, let’s be reminded with every gift given, and every gift received of the great, undeserved gifts God offers to each one of us. The best and most appropriate response when given a gift – receive it! Thank the giver for it! In a world where nothing is free, God freely gave us both the most helpful, and the most valuable gift of all – He sent His Son “to seek and save those who are lost" (Luke 19:10).