As we approach Christmas and begin preparing our hearts and schedules for a time of celebration, I cannot help but be overwhelmed with a sense of compassion for the many people who are struggling during this season. The economy has been tough lately, and I recently learned that the monthly child poverty rate increasedfrom 12.1% in 2021 to 17% at the beginning of this year.
Even as I consider the weight of that reality, however, I am still full of hope. I am confident that we serve a fiercely compassionate God who is committed to binding up the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3), and He demonstrated this over 2,000 years ago through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Heaven came down. This phrase has been floating around my mind and heart for the last several weeks now, partially because I am preaching a Christmas series about this very topic at my church. I’m not sure there is a better way to describe the miracle of Christmas — or the Christian calling — than these three simple words: Heaven came down.
What I mean is this. When Jesus entered the world in the form of a Jewish infant over 2,000 years ago, He changed everything. The King of the Universe became human. He submitted himself to time and space and context. And when He did, He brought the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven with Him.
He told us that Heaven is not a far-off, distant place. It isn’t simply a castle in the clouds or a place we go after we die if we live virtuous lives. Instead, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 4:17). And even as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus and the complete redemption of the world, we don’t have to wait to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. We can do so right now.
We can pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), and we can also live out that prayer in our day to day lives.
That is why I am so passionate about the idea of being a “Do Something Church,” and I am especially passionate about the Toys for Joy event that my home church, Rock Church, has been putting on for the past 26 years. I know it probably isn’t a good thing to have “favorites” when it comes to ministry, but this event has truly stolen my heart year after year.
When we first started Toys for Joy 25 years ago, we gathered in the parking lot of neighborhood churches and gave toys and Christmas trees away to the local community.
It blows me away to see what it has grown into today, with locations spread out across San Diego County serving tens of thousands of children and their families.
We have a relationship with many of the schools in San Diego, so this year we decided to reach out and ask them to refer families who are in great need during this Christmas season. From there, we invited these families to all of our campus locations to participate in a unique Toys for Joy experience. We gave away gifts, free groceries, nail painting, and haircuts, and most importantly, we shared the love of Jesus with them.
During our most recent Toys for Joy event on December 10th, I learned about a mother and her daughter who have been volunteering to cut hair at this event for more than 12 years. I also heard about a woman who woke up at 3 am to drive from L.A. to San Diego to serve, and I was able to meet countless financial sponsors who made Toys for Joy a reality.
It was so special to see people from different businesses, schools, and churches alike coming together to serve the community with a common purpose. And one of my absolute favorite things to see was that many of the children we served in those first years returned with their families to volunteer and give back.
Recipients of Toys for Joy were invited to encounter the tangible love of God as they have their practical needs met, and volunteers were invited to be redemptive agents of the Kingdom of God.
And of the 5,500+ people who attended, over 1,100 people responded to the Gospel! That is 1,109 people whose lives will never be the same. They have encountered true, long-lasting joy. This joy isn’t like a Christmas tree bulb ornament. It isn’t shiny and pretty to look at but ultimately hollow and easily broken. No, true joy is robust and eternal. It is based on the everlasting love of Jesus, and it will never be taken from us.
Heaven came down. As I looked around at the smiling children and families at Toys for Joy, I let this phrase — and the life-changing truth that it articulates — wash over my heart and mind. Because Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago, the world has never been the same. As you wrap up 2022 and make plans for 2023, I encourage you to ask God how He wants to use you to partner with Him! He has created you and gifted you to be a light in this world, and because of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, you are invited to participate in seeing the world look more like Heaven each and every day.
Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.