Thursday, December 22, 2011

Perilous Gift Giving and the Perfect Gift

I have always been fascinated with the first witnesses to Jesus' arrival here on Earth. They are just not the people you would have expected deity to be presented to. A carpenter and his teenage wife. Some dirty outcast shepherds. Foreign gentile starwatchers. An aged priest and widow, long past their prime and importance. There were no nobles, no religious leaders, no government leaders by the manger. Just simple people, overlooked or held in contempt by most.

God set the stage with a theme that would continue throughout the New Testament. All of Jesus life, He would enter into the lives of the poor, the desperate, the rejected, the unclean, the irreligious, the sick, and so on.  Even foreigners would have encounters with Jesus which would give them opportunity to know the One true God, and His Son sent to redeem them from their sin. No one expected the Messiah to come in such a way … and yet … they should have. God told them it would be this way.

The prophet Isaiah said "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned …. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."    (Isaiah 9:2, 6) We live in a world where the shadow of death is constantly evident. The fruit of the fall from innocence is a teenager facing a life-threatening illness in a hospital room. It is a lonely widow, whose children live far away and are too busy to realize their mother's grief. It's single moms struggling to make ends meet, struggling to raise kids while working full time, struggling to keep their heads above water. Life in a sin-struck world is hard and messy and lonely, and it has been since the first sin corrupted God's beautiful creation. Then the Light dawned.

God Himself entered into our mess, not with the glory and recognition He deserved, but with simplicity, and the witness of people  like you and me.  All his life, Jesus entered into the misery and pain of those around Him. He wept with the grieving, touched the sick, fed the hungry, taught the confused. It was only through sharing their painful, difficult lives that the Savior could bear their burdens … and their guilt.

"After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:11)

Matthew tells us that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it …. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (Matthew 1:1, 4, 5, 14.) God didn't just send us words, because words weren't enough for us to understand. He sent us His word in the flesh; He sent us Jesus. Jesus was His best gift, wrapped up in simple packaging, and yet shining with a blinding light in spite of it.

Before Jesus returned to heaven for a little while, He commanded His followers to share His good news--His gospel. Often I find that command intimidating, because I'm not one who comes up with words easily when I'm talking to people. I never feel like I know what to say, and so sharing the Gospel seems difficult. But as I look at the way God shared His good news, I realized that what I'm called to do is not merely to tell the good news, but to share it. I'm called to share what I have with the family struggling to pay their bills. I'm called to cry with the mom whose son is rebelling and getting into trouble. I'm called to carry groceries with the ailing elderly couple across the street. I'm called to listen to what most consider mundane chattering by the socially awkward outcast.  I'm called to enter into the difficulty and suffering of other people's lives, and to DO what I can to relieve their suffering. Then I'm called to tell them it is because Jesus gave so much to me that I want to care for them.

Sharing the Gospel is so much more than telling people about Jesus, it's showing them Jesus. And it's hard and messy and expensive. It costs me time, money, emotional vulnerability, and humility. It is dangerous and risky. But isn't giving any good gift a little risky? Doesn't any good gift worth giving cost me something valuable? Isn't the Gospel a gift worth offering to those who don't have it?

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