The Greatest Christmas Gift
Christmas here we go. Continuing in our Christmas series. I just, just want to start off in a little bit of honestly over Christmas. One of the things that makes Christmas cool is the gift giving, and I know that’s really not what Christmas is about or what it’s intended to be about, but when you’re a kid, that really matters. When I was a kid, Christmastime, I think, when I think back, I don’t know how my mother let me live. I was a horrible child.
When Christmastime would come around, I had learned that if I could take a razor blade to my gifts, I could slice the tip on my Christmas package just right, I could actually open it up, slide out the box and it sort of became a game for me. I would see how long I could go wearing whatever she got me before she would notice. I grew up with a single mom who worked and went to school. She didn’t have a whole lot of time on her hands anyways. There were times when on Christmas I would open up my box and it was empty. I’m like, mom what? You ripped me off. I’m just like wearing the hat she bought me or whatever. Horrible child, right?
Some of you think that, shame on you, but I just want to call out your stuff too and say whatever, because it’s not like you’re any better. I know how Christmas works as an adult now that I am one, or at least pretend to be. It’s like, as an adult you use the holiday as an excuse and you just buy what you want and you’re like “Honey you’ll never believe what you got me,” right? It’s not like you’re surprised by your package. I mean what do you get someone who’s got the resources to get what they want anyway, right?
You’re no different than I am, but you know when I think about Christmas, there was one Christmas morning when I can remember I received the most incredible gift anyone could receive. Or at least I thought that, right? Some of you are thinking, oh this is the part of the message where he starts getting into the spiritual party, you know. The greatest thing he could ever receive, he accepted Jesus and received the gift of eternal life on Christmas right?
No. I’m not being that spiritual. The greatest gift I have ever received, one morning in the 1980s, I remember I woke up to the sweetest sound ever known to man, right? Sounded a little like this. There it was, right? Revolutionized my life. I got to spend weeks, go on a journey with two Italians with incredible mustaches to rescue a princess from this dark, evil individual. It was amazing, but not only did it stop there. I got a gun and a power pad with it, right? So I got to go hunting with my two-dimensional dog, taking out duck after duck, and then when I got bored of that, I got to beat every time in a track and field race, a guy named turtle, a guy named rabbit and a guy named cheetah, right? Nintendo changed my life.
For our family, it did not end there. I don’t know if this is fortunate or unfortunate, but Nintendo took our family by storm. My grandmother got so obsessed with it. To this day, no joke, I remember as a kid going to her house and that’s what we did at grandma’s house. We just played Nintendo with grandma. I was at her house in January. I don’t get time much to go back East very often, but I was at her house this past January. Go into her spare bedroom where we used to play Nintendo, and no lie, that same TV with super Nintendo still there, and Mario Kart in the cartridge, like it’s never stopped. My grandma is cooler than your grandma. My grandma is cooler than you. She can kill you at Mario Kart, any course, any day of the week, right? It is amazing.
You know we think about Christmas and all the gifts you receive. Granted gift giving at Christmas is over-commercialized, unless you’re giving gifts to me. Then we’ll just let it continue to work. Gift giving at Christmas tends to be over-commercialized, but giving around Christmas, it’s intended to reflect what the Christmas story is about.
Reality is, Christmas is more than just a day or a season. The truth is, Christmas is a lifestyle. The real meaning of Christmas, Christmas becomes a never-ending gift for us. That’s what I want to talk about today. We want to see how we can celebrate Christmas every day. I know when I say that, some of you need convinced right away that that would even be an important thing to do, because when you get to the Christmas season, you just get worn out with running kids around and all the performances and all the shows and all of the expectations and all the buying and all the shopping with all the people.
When I talk about Christmas, that’s not what I mean in regards to Christmas. When you see Christmas for what it is in Jesus, I think you can and should and as a believer you will celebrate Christmas every day. When you start to read the Christmas stories in the gospels, I don’t think it’s too bold to say that I believe the gospel writers wanted us to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas every day in our lives. When you read the gospel of Matthew and the gospel of Luke, in the very beginning, they record for us and describe the event of Christmas.
When you get to the gospel of John, rather than just describe the event of Christmas, John describes the meaning of Christmas. We looked at that last week. We started off in John chapter 1, and we know that how John begins the story and the painting the picture of the identity of who God is, and how he became flesh for us. It says in the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God, the same in the beginning with God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John creates this wonderful explanation and the meaning of Christmas as it unfolds in that text. Right after he gives this introduction to the identity of Jesus, he then moves to another John. John writes the gospel of John, then moves into the story of a man named John who we refer to as John the Baptist. John the Baptist solidifies the meaning of Christmas by giving us this presentation of Jesus in regards to what Christmas represents.
John the Baptist, it really gives an introduction, you’ll see before verse 29, but in verse 29, he gives this statement. He qualifies it for the Jewish people right after that, but he gives this statement that helps us understand what Christmas is about. He says this in John chapter 1, verse 29, “The next day John or he, saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.””
This is the meaning of Christmas. Now, the important question is that I ask. Well what does that mean? Because this statement meant a lot to the culture which John was around. John was a Jew, and predominantly Jewish people no doubt would have received this. This is full of Jewish imagery from the Jewish pool of words, of ideas as it relates to Jesus’ identity, but what does it mean for us?
It’s hard to celebrate or even appreciate a gift when you don’t understand its purposes and intentions. You ever get a gift where you lack the full story or understanding of it, and therefore you just didn’t appreciate it like you should? But if you took the time to understand it, it would have made all the difference in the world.
My grandfather, when I was a kid, he had an influence on my life. When I was a kid, I was a wild child, and my grandfather had a deep love for Jesus. There was a time as a kid where I actually, I would live with my grandparents. I actually lived with my grandparents off and on, at different points in my childhood. My grandfather had a routine that I was familiar with. He would come home from work or a busy day and he had a particular chair that he always sat in. It was his chair. Some of you probably have that, where it knows the indents of your rear end and your rear end alone.
He had that chair. He would go in and sit in that chair and he would read his Bible. He would meet with Jesus. What took place in that chair, what was just a man sitting in a chair, became a very sacred image to me. My grandfather, he never nagged me about God, but his actions showed me what it looked like to take time out to meet with him. In my life, when I finally became inquisitive, I wouldn’t even say about God. I’ll just say when I became inquisitive about divine things, God used that consistent pattern in his life to prick my heart for the things of God.
He had something that seemed real. I came to know the Lord and as time passed, my grandfather got dementia. My wife and I, we would take trips back East. Started to slip and but you know, no matter how many times we visited him, there was always one phrase that he could always remember. He would say it over and over. I love you.
One Christmas a few years ago, my aunt mailed me a package. She told me when I got the package, I needed to call her. I got the package and I opened it up and inside was a book. It wasn’t a great book. It was an okay book. It was a Christian book that I was familiar with, but it was an average book. I thought, okay, I’ll call her but what’s this going to do? I got an average Christian book. I’m a pastor. People give me Christian books all the time, you know?
Inside with the book there was a notebook. I called her and she said, “Did you get the book and the notebook?” I said yeah. She said, “You know, that book, I really wanted you to have because that book belongs to your grandfather. In that book he wrote notes of the way God impacted his life as he read it. But not only do you have that book. You have the notebook. That notebook was the notebook that sat beside his chair when he would meet with the Lord. As he met there, he wrote notes about the way that God impacted his heart and life.”
When I understood the intentions of the gift, my heart soared. But it wasn’t until I understood the picture that I really appreciated what it was. The same is true with what John is saying about this story because guys, that was just a gift that my grandfather gave me. That gift that he gave me was a greater reflection of what Jesus meant to him.
That’s what John’s proclaiming in this story. When you read John the Baptist introducing Jesus to the world, he says, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This word behold is John saying, take time to examine and understand this gift, so you grasp its beauty. You know last week, in John chapter 1, verse 16, when John the Apostle is introducing Jesus to us, in the meaning, he says we, John the Apostle says, “We beheld his glory,” and now as he gives the proclamation introducing him to the world, it’s as if he’s saying to you, now as we have beheld his glory, now John the Baptist is saying now you behold his glory.
This beholding is acknowledging that God is inviting you in. Beholding is also telling us to give God the attention to understand exactly what this Christmas is about. You know I think for us, this world behold also comes with an idea of a warning. That warning if for you to stop and recognize that in this moment, it is so precious that if you don’t take the intentions, intentional pursuit to understand what Christmas means, you can miss something crucial, by being distracting by things that you might even call better things in life.
This word behold becomes a place for us to meet God, to quiet your heart before him, to understand what he’s done for us. When you think about living life today, life is incredibly busy. The refreshing thought of this word behold is for us to recognize, guys, that busyness for us as a people, is a challenge for us in our relationship with God. In fact, I would say it like this. Busyness is the enemy of intimacy.
This word behold is for us, to recognize that in our life, as it relates to this story, this story will never change your life without you giving it the attention it deserves and understanding the importance of the gift, just like my grandfather’s. And in understanding the importance of this gift, this gift can daily change your life when you walk in the way that John shares it with us.
Behold. Busyness is the enemy of intimacy, but yet God invites you near. It’s really a revolutionary thought when you think about it. All religions in the world, God seems pretty distant, like you sort of do your thing and hope in the end that you’ve done good enough, but the Christmas story isn’t you pursuing God. It’s God pursuing you, and he calls you. Behold.
We behold and in order to behold the way that John calls us to, he wants us to celebrate the significance of Christmas. So to identify that for us, he then demonstrates exactly what Jesus has done. He says he is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, which is an incredibly powerful thought for the Jews. The identity of Jesus being lamb beckons into the thought of the Passover, when the Jews would go to the temple and they would sacrifice a lamb during the Passover every year.
Every year, the Passover celebration would come around. Every year the Jews were expected to go to Jerusalem and every year they were expected to buy a lamb at their expense and to make a sacrifice for their sin, and every year, they had to do this because no matter how many times they did this, they knew that no lamb, no physical lamb would ever, ever take away their sins or at least the animal.
In fact Hebrews 10 starts off that way, that year after year, they would make the sacrifice and they knew it was never sufficient because they always had to do it again and again. Then all of a sudden, John gives this pronouncement. Here is the lamb who takes away the sins for his people for all time. Never to pay the expense again. What does it cost them? Nothing.
The Jews didn’t have to pay anything. The world for who Jesus dies, we don’t pay anything. For us, it’s free. It costs Jesus everything, but for us, it’s free. The lamb of God come on our behalf to take away our sins. When you think about this word taking away sins, this is where, this is where the rubber meets the road for us because we don’t like to talk in these sort of, this sort of language, because when you talk about the idea of sin, we might refer to it in third party. Look at them. They’re worse than I am. Aren’t I good God?
But when you talk about sins related to the world, what God is saying in this statement is it’s not third person, that God did this for those out there, but rather that God includes you in this story. So when God takes away sin, what he’s doing is exposing our need for him. He’s exposing our sin. We don’t like to have our sin exposed. You know what it’s like. I’m not the only one that’s messed up in life. You mess up and everyone sees it. What do you want? When it happens, you fall on your face, and you do it publicly, exposed. You want to hide. You want to find grace.
When you receive true grace, it is refreshing to the soul. I know when I mess up in my relationships, that’s what I long for, grace. I can think, when I mess up before my wife, I don’t have the power to magically turn back time and fix things. I want to be near to her, when I can’t undo things that I do wrong. But do you know what allows me to restore that relationship? It’s really not even me. I confess to her. She forgives me by grace.
It’s truthfully the only way a relationship can survive, can thrive, can experience intimacy, is in a love that extends grace. When John describes the gift of Christmas, he says it that way. He says it’s the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. What he’s describing for us is an act of grace. In fact, as John the Baptist starts to define and introduce what Jesus has done for us, remember the backdrop of this statement comes on the presentation which John gave to us. What John the Apostle said about Jesus when he presented him to us, he says this, “For of his fullness we have all received and grace upon grace.”
You know what the coming of Jesus is like for everyone? He sums it up in this idea of grace, grace upon grace. Grace is God freely bestowing his best upon us. I’ve heard the acronym like this. God’s riches at Christ’s expense. It’s nothing that we’ve paid to earn it, but what he’s lavished on us, despite our sin. When you look in passages of the Bible related to grace, there’s good verses in scripture that really define what grace is for us. Romans 11:6 is probably one of the best ones. It says, “If it’s by grace, that God gives you himself, it’s no longer on the basis of works. Otherwise grace is no longer grace.” It has nothing to do with what you do, but what he’s done.
Because if you try to do anything to add to what Jesus has done, it’s no longer grace, but his grace is sufficient. In fact Ephesians 2:8-9 says this “For by grace you have been rescued or saved, through faith. It’s not of yourselves. It’s the gift of God.” That’s Christmas right? That’s why we give at Christmas, because it reflects the greatest gift. It’s the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
By the way, gifts aren’t the only thing that you can give. Words of affirmation, time, service. Gifts aren’t the only thing, but it’s a reflection. We give because we love and the greatest love we’ve ever seen is in Jesus. The Bible tells us, they’ll know we are Christians by our what? Love, right?
We love him because he first loved us. It’s a reflection of our creator. So he’s saying to us, that it’s grace that he’s lavished on us. That’s why this lamb has come to take away our sins. We couldn’t rescue ourselves. He comes, gives us the ultimate gift in himself so that we can be rescued from the sin that separates us in relationship from him, because apart from grace, we can’t restore what’s been destroyed. But grace.
And he doesn’t just say grace. He says grace upon grace. Grace upon grace is taking the word grace and just multiplying it. It literally means an inexhaustible supply of grace available to you 24/7. So when you read John, John 1:1-4, all the way down to verse 16 really, it gives this identity of Jesus and then John 1:29, you see this introduction of Jesus about what he is, and then the rest of John, we’re off and running. The letter of John becomes a series of stories that pepper the identity of this Jesus that we’re introduced to in chapter 1.
People that meet the lamb and embrace his grace. Then John does something really interesting at the end of the book, and the reason he’s about to do what he does at the end of the book is because what he wants to eliminate is the possibility I think of what most human beings will do when they read this story, and that’s just to simply say oh that was good for them. But what John does at the end of the story in John chapter 20, verse 31 is this, “But these have been written,” these stories in this book have been written, “So that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
What John is saying, the point of John, is he wants you to see the intro, to see the never-ending grace, and to read the stories that relate to that introduction and then to take those stories and make their stories our story. You know we can read the Christmas story historically, but what this verse is saying is that God wants us to make this story personal. God wants this story to connect your life. This Christmas story isn’t intended to be read and say, you know God that’s nice that God gave them grace, but rather than say I can’t believe that God continues 24/7, grace upon grace, this inexhaustible supply, pouring out over me.
When you read the stories in John’s book, do you know the people that got Christmas? It was the ones that came to the lamb and the brokenness of sin and embraced the lamb’s gift. Grace upon grace. Do you know the ones that didn’t get the power of Christmas? The ones that remained in pride, and didn’t make personal the gift of the lamb’s grace.
I’d like to say it like this, guys. That just as busyness is the enemy of intimacy, pride is the enemy of grace. In fact, James says it like this in James 4. He said, “God opposed the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” That’s what beholding is. Beholding the lamb of God that came for a purpose and what was the purpose? Well as a lamb, the lamb who sacrificed, he came to take away the sins of the world. John didn’t leave that story with them. He gave that story to me, so I don’t just read it historically, but I read it personally. Because when Jesus poured out grace upon grace, it didn’t stop when Jesus went to the cross. That grace flows new every day for me.
The more we understand our need for grace, the better we respond to Jesus. Some people look at this story and it doesn’t connect because it isn’t personal. The key is to behold and understand that God’s never-ending grace has made this intensely personal for you. The lamb takes away your sin, every day because his grace never ends.
This is an important message. This is a beautiful message. This is the Christmas message and this is the reason why we can say Christmas isn’t just a day or an event. Christmas is a lifestyle because behind the story it is a matchless grace for my soul. Can I add, probably one of the most powerful stories that we should share. I should say it is the most powerful story we should share especially for today.
Because our world today is a pretty graceless place. Other people may attack you. Other people may give up on you, but grace upon grace says God will never give up on you. God is not finished with you. That he gave it all to you, as an incredible gift for your life. His life, for yours. I get it. Sometimes in life, we can think that we’re not even worthy of God. But he’s not finished. You think about the stories of the Bible. When I look at individuals like Moses or Abraham who, given a promise later in years, or David or Paul or even Jesus’ genealogy. If you read Matthew or Luke. They take a point a couple times in Jesus’ genealogy to say, now she was a harlot and she a harlot.
David murdered people. Moses murdered people. Paul murdered people. The world could say, it’s not worth God. You’re not worth God. But God’s not finished. Grace upon grace. New every morning. Could you imagine how the story of Christianity would be different if God had given up on them? The Apostle Paul? But his grace made him new. You can celebrate Christmas every day. That’s what that means. Every day, the Spirit of what Christmas is about can be nurtured within my soul as I do just a couple of things guys. Behold.
Refuse to let busyness become the enemy to my intimacy with God. Do not let pride become the enemy of experiencing the grace of God which he so freely pours upon me. I told you I received one of the greatest gifts of all time when I had Nintendo given to me and Atari got to go away. But you know over the years I’ve learned, I’m not that great of a gift giver. I’ve tried, but I just never feel like I’ve ever … When you love people you want to give the best to them. You always want to give that gift that you just think would make all the difference, the one revolutionary gift, right?
I always feel like I strike out. I never quite hit it. I get close but I never get it. But do you know, Jesus did give the greatest gift of all time. He took away what separates you from him, to make you new in his grace, to give you a new beginning in your relationship and to give that grace every day. Celebrating Christmas is all about beholding the lamb who takes away the sin of the world every day, by grace upon grace. May we as God’s people …