(By CP Cartoonist Rod Anderson)
Think about all the Christmas gifts you have opened over the years. If you had to name one gift that really stands out in your mind, what would it be? And who gave it to you?
OK. Now ask yourself why Christmas is such a big deal. Whose name is in "Christmas," and why? It has always been about God's gift for you, even when you had no idea there was a gift with your name on it under the tree.
Christmas is marvelous because of the birth of the Savior. Good Friday is unprecedented because that is when God built "the first Christmas tree" so to speak. And Easter is extraordinary because the living Christ guarantees eternal life in paradise for all who receive His gift by faith.
So are you ready to celebrate Christmas this year with faith in the Prince of Peace? Or will this season only involve holiday cheer and maybe a little religious sentiment, but nothing too specific? Celebrating Christmas without getting specific is like trying to open one of your presents without knowing which gift you are supposed to open.
The Savior was born in Bethlehem to bring God's gift to the world. Unlike the mythical Santa Claus who brings toys to every child in the world, God truly has delivered His gift to the entire world. He didn't come from the North Pole on a sleigh or with reindeer, but in a stable and eventually riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. Santa is make-believe. Jesus is real. But do you know the difference?
You might say, "Well, I believe Jesus is the Son of God." Great. What else? And what does that definition mean to you? Jesus didn't come to earth merely so that we know He is divine. He came here with a special delivery. It was a gift unlike anything the world had never seen. And it's a gift that keeps on giving, even way beyond the grave.
Here is one way God describes His gift to us: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 3:23) In order to understand the gift, you must first understand that you have sinned against God. You have broken His commandments. And that is a big deal because God is holy and just.
If God was not holy, it might not be such a big deal for us to be sinners. But since He is holy, sin places us in a dreadful position. Unbelief keeps us outside His family and apart from His grace. The only way to come into His family is to accept His gift. The only way to receive God's grace is to open this gift through faith. When you do, you literally receive the free gift of eternal life in paradise.
Do you know what sin does to man? Among other things, it causes him to undervalue paradise; and undervalue grace; and undervalue Christ. Sin leads man to think he is not really in such a bad spot without Christ. That erroneous viewpoint has led many people to go through life and never bring their sin to Jesus, and never open God's gift for them under the tree. In fact, thousands of people die everyday who lived on earth for many Christmas seasons, but never got around to embracing the importance of God's gift.
Do they understand it now? Of course. They have gone on to their eternal place of residence. And Jesus said He is the only One who can bring a person to the Father and to heaven. (see John 14:1-6) Now they get it. But for many, it is too late.
It would be like sitting around a Christmas tree with family members as someone hands you a gift, and then not opening it. Imagine yourself declining that gift, but then some months later wishing you had opened it when you had the opportunity. Few people do that sort of thing with Christmas gifts. They open their presents on the special day.
And so it is especially shocking to see how many people fail to open God's gift for them under the tree. Go figure. The reason they don't see their error in time is because their sin has blinded them to the truth.
There is not one of us who is "smart enough" to get it. We need the Lord to reveal this message of good news to our heart and mind. He does that as we hear the Gospel message of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, and then believe it. As we believe it, we receive it. Grace that is, and forgiveness, and eternal life in heaven. The total package is received when the gift is opened.
So will you trust Christ today? Will you open God's gift for you under the tree? It will change your life here and now, and your life beyond the grave. That is what Jesus does when someone opens His gift. You can turn to Him right now as you confess your sin and accept His forgiveness. Unwrap the gift through faith, and then enjoy Christ and His goodness forever.
The manger is now empty. The cross is now empty. And the tomb is now empty. But the package with your name on it is wrapped and ready to be received. Will you open it, or will you decline God's gracious offer? Your belief, or unbelief, will determine whether you have a blessed Christmas, or just a so-so holiday.