By Summer Stevens
The Christmas story never loses its wonder. It is an unimaginable epic combined with a humility that takes your breath away. A wholly majestic and powerful Creator God exchanges the heavenly splendors for a tiny human baby body, removed of the ability to talk, to walk, or even care for Himself.
Jesus was the ultimate gift, given at just the right time, in full-orbed perfection.
One of the special things about Christmas, then, is the giving of gifts. We give gifts to others to reflect the gift God gave to us—His precious Son, to live on this earth right alongside us, to feel our pains and experience our joys, and then, to die for us. It’s a beautiful picture of the heart of God. This Christmas, let’s express the heart of God in our own gift giving. Here are the top 5 gifts to give this Christmas.
1. Forgiveness. At our church, we have added a time of personal confession to our Sunday service. The congregation is led to examine our hearts and ask God for forgiveness for whatever comes to mind so we can worship Him with a clear conscience. It’s amazing how often I realize, in that moment, how much judgment or negativity or worry I’ve been hanging on to. I need God’s forgiveness on a daily basis, even if I only remember to ask for it on Sundays! This Christmas, take the time to get on your knees and ask God to reveal to you whom you need to forgive. It might be your spouse, someone from your past, extended family, an old boss, your financial planner, or even our political leaders! God offers us forgiveness each and every day; let’s soften our hearts and, as a reflection of God’s greatest gift to us, extend forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
2. Attention. This year, in my husband’s Father’s Day card, I didn’t tell him the big reasons I love him. He’s used to that. I’ve been telling him for years. Instead I wrote a list of all the little details that I love about him. Things like he puts his sneakers on first thing in the morning; he’s always the one to go check out weird noises at night; and that he smashes bugs with his thumb. He appreciated that card more than most others because I took the time to pay attention. And it does take time. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that competes for your attention. Advertisers and entertainers have attention down to a science. A Microsoft study revealed that the average human being now has an eight-second attention span. This is down from twelve seconds in 2000. Give the gift of your attention this Christmas. Go out to dinner with your spouse and leave your phones in the car (and sit where you can’t see a TV screen on the wall). Plan a family night where the focus is doing something fun with your kids or grandkids. Take the time to visit with the lonely person at church who talks too much—hear her story, and empathize with her, even if you’re anxious to get home to lunch. Jesus paid attention to people. He took the time to really know those close to Him. He saw people that other people dismissed, and He loved people that others thought weren’t valuable. Let’s be like Jesus and give our attention this Christmas.
3. An invitation. Jesus’ ministry started with an invitation: Follow Me. He was inviting people not just to His church’s Sunday potluck or to a Men’s Breakfast, but into His life. We associate invitations with events, but Jesus didn’t do this. He invited people to share in His soul-satisfying life and purpose, to be His friend and be touched by Him. (“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28; “I am the bread of life: he that comes to Me shall never hunger, and he that believes on me shall never thirst” John 6:35.) We can apply the gift of invitation also this Christmas as we invite people into our inner circles of friendship and trust, or as we invite them to learn about the person of Jesus.
4. Something costly. Part of what makes Christmas so special is the very dear price that God the Father paid in giving His Son to the world. It cost Him greatly. Free Grace people often say, Jesus’ gift is free, but it certainly wasn’t cheap. There is an important aspect of the heart of God in this truth. The thing we most needed—rescued from our sins—cost Him the very most. Parents know that seeing our children suffer is far worse than suffering ourselves. How can this be reflected in our lives this Christmas? As we look around, what is most needed, that costs us greatly? It might be financial; it might be our time; it might be a long drive. Whatever your sacrifice is, do it joyfully as it enables you to participate in one of the great gifts of Christmas.
5. Joy. One of my favorite Christmas carols is the adapted version of “Joy to the World” by Chris Tomlin, with the chorus:
Joy, unspeakable joy
An overflowing well
No tongue can tell
Joy, unspeakable joy
Rises in my soul, never lets me go
Because joy is like that sometimes, isn’t it? It is something you can’t articulate, but it feels like a rush of wild water inside your chest. Jesus bursts onto the world scene with an angelic declaration of joy. In Luke 2:10 the angel says to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” Jesus’ arrival was cause for celebration! Finally, hundreds of years in the making, despite a rebellious people, infertility, and Satan’s best attempts to destroy the bloodline, the Savior. Has. Arrived. Amen! I love v 13 in which “a multitude of heavenly host” spontaneously break forth in praise right after the angel’s announcement of Jesus’ arrival.
As Christians, we can be a conduit of this joy in our homes, churches, and communities. We are ambassadors of Christ, and this means that during Christmas particularly, we can share the real cause for celebration. It is not elves on shelves, a perfectly decorated tree, or even family time—it is the remembrance of the greatest gift in history, when God in the flesh began His 33 year journey that would change the world.
Summer lives outside of Pittsburgh with her husband Nathanael and their five children. She has a Masters in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary and enjoys running (but mostly talking) with friends and reading good books to her kids.