Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Wondrous Gift

She was just a child herself, yet a woman, but to all appearances, just a young girl. She was pregnant with her first child, not even married. It was an unforgivable condition to be in… engaged but pregnant. Mary must have been an unusual teenager. In her culture, she could have been stoned to death for what appeared to all to be sin. Yet, she willingly told the visiting angel sent from God “"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:38) She made a choice...and the rest is history! One young girls choice has changed the destiny of the world.
The result of her choice was the provision of a wondrous gift, a new covenant….a new intimacy with God…a new relationship with the Almighty. It brought heaven down into this miserable and sinful world. A ray of light shined into the darkness that has beamed across continents into time changing lives for eternity. Mary’s choice allowed the Son of God to be born in the flesh, to be a tiny infant in a fragile world. Wrapped in swaddling grave clothes, He lay in a manger, a stone trough filled with hay, vulnerable to whatever life brought. Mary had no idea what the future would hold for her or for her newborn Son. The brief years of childhood would long be cherished in her heart as every mother does. But soon, the joys of childhood would turn to wonder as she watched her child become independent of her care as He remained at the temple astounding the religious minds of the day. We know very little of his childhood years, or his teenage life. We do know that very early He became focused on His purpose and destiny.
What if….
A tiny baby born to a mere girl, changed our world for eternity. When I think of the impact His life has had on this world, I wonder what our world would have been like if He had never come. What if life had just continued… the temple and the holy city in Roman hands… laws and rules… circumcision… sacrifices… old covenant ways complicated by religious laws added by the religious leaders, Sadducees and Pharisees. In just a few short years, the temple would have been destroyed by the Roman government. The impact of the Jewish world was in decline. Secular philosophies influenced by the Greek and Roman world were on the rise. We never would have known the freedom of a democracy based on the Christian teachings found in 2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Women’s rights and freedoms would have not developed but for the teachings of Jesus Christ. The new moral standards set by Jesus who taught his followers to love each other and love their enemies, turned mankind from a vicious destructive way of life to one of tolerance, patience and peace.
Without Jesus, there never would have been a renaissance or reformation. Pilgrims would have never ventured to America for spiritual freedom. There would be no celebrations such as Valentines Day, Easter, Christmas, or even Halloween (originally Hallowed Evening). We would not know the meaning of the term “salvation.” Forgiveness of sin would not be possible for Non-Jewish people. Our cultures would have become a mix of Judaism, Greek mythology, Roman law, and who knows what culture would have developed in time. Islam would not exist as it is based on a mixture of Judaism and Christianity. Four billion Christians and Muslims would have a different religion. “Foxes’ Book of Martyrs” would have empty pages. There would be no “Pilgrims Progress.” Great works of art would not have been sculpted or painted. Science would not have developed as many of its greatest minds were Christians who prayed and asked God for wisdom (Pascal, Pasteur, Newton) Nations such as the United States would not have been founded on Christian ideals and principles. Cathedrals and churches would not dot the landscapes of every major city in the world. There would be no such thing as a pope, a pastor, a deacon, a bishop, or an apostle. We would not understand the meaning of such words as apocalypse, rapture, evangelical, or even justification. Denominations such as Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Pentecostal would not exist. Their influence on the world would never have happened.
I can hardly imagine what the United States and Canada would be like without Christ and Christianity. Sometimes we as believers wonder if we are making a difference in our world. Just as Jesus made a difference, so does every believer who stands for what he believes.
What now…
He did come.. He did change this world. He did make a difference, and because He did, we have an awesome responsibility to carry forward what He began. We have good news to tell those who have not heard. We have a message of hope for a world lost in hopelessness and despair. Because of Him, we can say with confidence, like Paul, “ for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.” (1 Timothy 2:12). While millions around the world reach out to idols of wood and stone, spin cylinders of prayer, wave flags, burn incense and pray to icons and dead men and women, we have a certainty, a knowing, a confidence that our Savior who came as a baby, grew to be a man, and died, only to live again, that He hears today and answers our prayers, heals our bodies, prepares us for eternity and loves us all even if we sin.
Can we do anything less than share His love with others this Christmas? Can we for a moment lay aside our selfishness and greed, our materialism and humanism and choose intentionally to reach out to someone else who has no hope? Is Christ truly the center of your Christmas celebration? Do you see the needs of others around you? Have you gone out of your way to help someone as Christ would have done? This Christmas, determine to give to the ministry of your choice, as if you were giving it to Jesus Himself. He gave up the glory of heaven for us. Can we give up the glitz and grandeur of this world for Him? Somehow, I don’t think the two realms are comparable.
What a gift…!
We take our precious finances and select a gift for our loved ones, wrap it in tissue paper, decorated with pretty ribbons and foil, and then put it under the tree for Christmas morning. We think we have done something grand! Yet if the truth was known, too often we gripe and complain and recycle unwanted gifts and do just enough to get by the season, hoping no one will notice our stingy hearts. Meanwhile, God sent us the perfect gift, one size fits all, the kind that heals every broken heart, and fills every empty life to overflowing. He gives us Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, Hope….. And we leave His gift under the tree, still wrapped, still waiting to be received. We are not sure what to do with Him. If we open it, we might feel obligated… to change our habits, go to church, guard our tongues, to give our tithes, and go out of our way. If we pretend we did not get His gift… then perhaps we can go on doing things the same old way.
Christmas is about change. God sent His wondrous gift to change us, to give to us, to heal us, to love us...even though we feel unlovable. The gift never changes yet the gift changes us forever if we will just open the gift and receive Him. He is the perfect gift—the one that heals sick bodies, frees those in bondages of addiction, fills those who are lonely, lifts those who are depressed. “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come (Luke 4:18,19 NLT) Let’s take the wondrous gift, open it, and give it again to someone in need! His wondrous gift never stops giving!
J. Johnson

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