by Pastor Mark Shupe
Some of my favorite childhood memories of Christmas began each year with the arrival in the mail of the large catalogues from Montgomery Ward, Sears and Roebuck and JC Penney. I would immediately grab them, skip past the boring clothing sections, jump right to the listing of toys, start marking pages and make my Christmas wish list. Then began that exciting, yet agonizing period of anticipation, hope and waiting as the days crept by until finally, on Christmas morning, I would see if my dreams and wishes came to be as I opened presents under the tree.
Little did I know how that yearly repeated process was a reflection of the larger story of Christmas. Anticipation, hope, and waiting – three themes that characterized that very first Christmas in the small town of Bethlehem. People were longing for the promised Messiah to come to earth to rescue and save them. Political opposition intensified the anticipation of the coming King. Spiritual oppression heightened the hope of the coming Savior. The greatest dreams and wishes of the people were finally fulfilled in a stable – the birth of Christ, the long-awaited gift of God.
Sadly, the majority of people around during and after the birth of Christ did not recognize or realize the significance of this tremendous gift of God. Sadder still is the fact that after thousands of years of history and tradition, most people today still don’t open and embrace the greatest gift ever given to mankind.
What is that present? What truly is the gift that keeps on giving the whole year long? It is the gift of salvation, announced by an angel on that very first Christmas.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” - Luke 2:10-11 NASB
A Savior who knew no sin took on our sin and in exchange gave us His righteousness allowing us to find favor with God and be in good standing with Him. A Savior who took the wrath and penalty of all our wrongdoings on Himself. A Savior who offers us true peace, complete forgiveness, abundant grace, total freedom from all guilt and the ultimate hope of eternity in heaven.
I still remember a song a children’s choir did many years ago where the chorus had the words “the best present of all is Jesus.” Little children proclaiming the larger truth of God. Jesus is still the best present any of us can receive. It is a gift that not only needs to be opened and received by faith (belief), but it also needs to be embraced and called upon each and every day of our lives through our submitted and grateful hearts. Only then will we experience all the benefits of this tremendous gift of God.