The gift of Christmas is a person. It is not the blessings and things we think we want. It is not “presents” but rather, presence. Like children, we are so easily distracted by the things we want. We don’t dream that we could be satisfied by a relationship with a person. But what the Bible says is the greatest Christmas present of all time, is a person
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CHRISTMAS EVE 2012
Imagine a woman from a poor family who gets married to a wealthy and talented doctor. She loves the status that her marriage brings. She loves the privilege of belonging to exclusive country clubs, and being treated deferentially by restaurant managers at expensive places. She likes being seen at society events. She enjoys driving newer models of luxury cars. Shopping is a joy and a delight, and she loves the fact that she hardly ever has to worry about how much something costs. She is constantly adding shoes to her closet and jewelry to her case.
Now, she isn’t entirely shallow. Coming from poverty, she knows what it is like. So she likes to give money away too, as long as it doesn’t affect her lifestyle too much. She even gets involved in charitable causes, and those charitable organizations are grateful for the social standing and monetary support that she represents.
But none of these things that she spends so much time and energy in, none of what she values so much, is her relationship with her husband. It comes with the husband, but it isn’t him. When they talk, she likes to talk about new purchases or ways to increase their social status and fame. She talks with him about the possibility of joining new clubs, or maybe trading in that two-year old Mercedes for a brand new Lexus.
This woman rarely listens to her husband when he has something say. Occasionally, she is brought up short when he refuses to spend the money for a trip to Vienna or something like that. Usually, that gets her attention, but mostly, she just complains and asks why. Her relationship with her husband is all about what his wealth and status can do for her. It isn’t about living life with her soul mate. It isn’t about loving him for better or worse. When things are “worse,” she wants to know why, and she wants it to change right away. Although she seldom really expresses love for him personally, she’ll probably never leave him, because she thinks he is the best chance she has to get what she wants in life.
If we are honest with ourselves, I think most of us would look down on somebody like this. Such a person, is clearly using her spouse to get what she wants out of life. Her life is not partnered with his. Her goals and desires are her own; he is a part of them only to the extent that he can grant her wishes. She has not taken the time to really know him. She has not learned to appreciate him, admire him and love him at anything more than a superficial level.
Suppose one day, the doctor comes home to his wife and shares his burning desire to be a medical missionary in central Asia. He wants her to be a part of his mission, heart and soul. It means that they will have sell everything they own, and move to a place where no one knows them, or cares who they are. They will be living in conditions akin to poverty. He invites her to join with him in his work, to be his partner and co-laborer. But this is not what she wants. She married him in order to get all of the things that he now wants to leave behind. She files for divorce.
Brothers and sisters, do we treat God this way?
Christmas is a terrific time to evaluate this, because it involves both an eternal relationship, and bunch of blessings. Which do we focus on more? Would Christmas feel just as joyous to you if you received no presents? Would you be equally as excited about simply receiving Jesus and getting closer to him?
Too often, I think I treat God mostly as a source of blessings, rather than the abiding passion of my life. I want his help more than I want him for his own sake. I like what I think he will give me. But do I like him? Author Larry Crabb said this:
“Offer a young child the choice of having Daddy present Christmas morning with no gifts, or having Daddy absent and a stack of gifts pile high beneath the tree, and the child might choose the gifts. Only the mature value the blessing of presence over the blessing of presents.”
Crabb rightly says it is about maturity. As we get older, presents become less important. But unfortunately for many of us, the same isn’t necessarily true about God’s blessings. Imagine you were given a choice: You could have a life where you had the blessings of getting paid to do what you love, and harmonious relationships, and no financial struggle; OR, you could struggle financially and in relationships and in your work, but the presence and love of God would be incredibly real and dominant in your life. The choice is between a better life, or a closer relationship with God. Which would you take? Would you sell all you own and live in a mud hut to be with the one you love? Or would you find that you don’t love him that much?
We all want both, of course. But we can’t have both unless we want God more than his blessings; and for that we have to be willing to do without his blessings. If we insist upon having God’s blessings along with God, then we aren’t willing to have him without them. We would be like the woman in the analogy above. Once her husband stopped providing what she wanted out of life, she left him.
People do this to God all the time. They don’t get the promotion they want. Sometimes it is much more serious than that – maybe their loved one dies of cancer, in spite of all their prayers. So they walk away from God. He didn’t do for them what they wanted him to, and so they abandon him. This is demand that God give us blessings. It is a refusal to follow Him unless he blesses us. What makes a such a person any different from the shallow woman in our analogy?
The gift of Christmas is a person. It is not the blessings and things we think we want. It is not “presents” but rather, presence. Like children, we are so easily distracted by the things we want. We don’t dream that we could be satisfied by a relationship with a person. But what the Bible says is the greatest Christmas present of all time, is a person. Listen to Isaiah:
For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isa 9:6, HCSB)
Or to John:
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. (1John 5:11-12, HCSB)
Or to Jesus himself:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. “If you know Me, you will also know My Father. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7, HCSB)
The gift is a person. It is a relationship. He came to be the love of your life. It isn’t about how he can improve your life or fulfill your dreams. It is about HIM. Sometimes, he blesses our lives with good things. Sometimes he does not. Often it is hard to tell why he does or does not. But the point is never supposed to be about the blessings or their lack. It is supposed to be about closeness with Jesus.
The truth is that a life of blessings without God as our prime desire, is an empty one. For proof, look in any celebrity-oriented magazine, any day of the year. You’ll see beautiful, incredibly wealthy people, married to other beautiful people, adored by millions, completely free from any financial burdens, who are desperately unhappy. They have access to the best healthcare. Anyone in the world would jump at a chance to have a friendship with them. Their spouses are attractive beyond belief. They have the money to pursue any path they choose. But droves of them are addicted to drugs and alcohol; they have eating disorders; many of them secretly feel they are ugly; they get divorced in record numbers.
There is no meaningful life in blessings alone. Listen carefully. If our relationship with God is mostly about the blessings he can give us in life, then we are still just living for the blessings. God is just a means to get them, just as movie-acting is just means to fame and fortune. We are no different from those celebrities.
So this year, I plead with you to struggle, as I do, to connect with the truth that the only true and lasting blessing, the only one I need, is Jesus himself. Not what he does for me, but him.
Jesus does promise us a life full of blessing, of freedom from worry, pain and fear. But that is not this life. That is the eternal life we will receive if we choose Him, here and now.
My prayer is that you do that.
Imagine an alternative ending to my little parable. Suppose the woman takes a risk. Realizing what a good man her husband is, she changes her mind. Full of fear, she agrees to go to central Asia with him. There, in service and near-poverty, she learns to love her husband more than she ever thought possible. She finds un-dreamed of joy serving with him, even in spite of the rough conditions. Now the blessings she tried so hard to hold on to mean very little to her. Instead what means the most is being with the one she loves.
May this be your story! Merry Christmas!