My guess is that nine out of ten Christians would identify God’s great Christmas gift as His only Son, Jesus Christ. That’s not a wrong answer. After all, the Bible spells it out in John 3:16—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .”
The thing is, God’s gift of Jesus was a means to an end, and it is this end that I think is the true Great Christmas Gift which God gave. The end I’m speaking of is reconciliation with God provided by God’s great grace which caused Him to send Jesus, to sacrifice Jesus, to accept Jesus and His death as payment for the insurmountable debt we owe because of our sin.
In that regard, I can hardly write about Christmas without also writing about Christ’s death and resurrection. His coming was not the end of the story. It wasn’t even the beginning of it since God Himself foreshadowed Jesus’s role in setting to rights the devastation sin introduced into the world:
“And I will put enmity
Between you [Satan, in the guise of the serpent] and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
God followed that first hint with promises and prophecies and types—people and sacrifices symbolizing the savior role. At the time of Jesus’s birth, then, the people of Israel—those who were faithful—were watching and waiting expectantly for Messiah.
I suspect John the Baptist’s dad, Zacharias, had been praying for the coming Messiah. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and began his message by saying, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard” (Luke 1:13b). He went on to explain that his wife would give birth to a son who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
Many think Zacharias’s petition was for a son, but his response to the angel makes me think he was actually praying for the Messiah to come. The part about having a son, he doubted: “I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18b). Why would he pray for something he didn’t think could happen? More reasonable, I believe, is to understand his petition, and the answer Gabriel was announcing, to be for the coming of the promised Savior.
Without a doubt the prophet Simeon had been waiting for the Messiah and had apparently received God’s promise that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Christ with his own eyes:
“Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
So the first Christmas, the day we remember and celebrate as God come down in human form, is actually the middle of the story, the second book of the trilogy. Everything we identify as “because of Jesus” actually had its inception before the beginning of time. God purposed to save the lost by the means of the Incarnate Christ taking on the sins of the world.
Because of His love and grace. Jesus come down from the throne of glory is the tangible representation of that love and grace.
It’s sort of like parents giving their kids a Glo Wubble Ball or a Legos Jet or a Video WalkieTalkie or an art case or a knitting studio for Christmas—they give those gifts as an expression of their love.
God’s gift of Jesus, of course, was more than an expression of love because He was also the means of His grace.
Our relationship with God was irrevocably altered by sin. We could no longer enjoy God’s presence and friendship as before. Sin was and is this contagion that prevents fellowship with Holiness.
As many non-Christians will tell you, they don’t even want to be around so much “goodness.” They think an eternity with God—and without their favorite sinful behaviors—is abhorrent.
God in His grace knew what we needed. Even though many will deny they’re lost and disdain the idea of salvation, God knows what awaits us and what will satisfy the deepest longings of our heart.
He has communicated His love through so many means. He demonstrated His love and grace through Noah who spent a hundred years preaching and building the ark that would save him and his family. That no one else responded is a human tragedy—one that could have been prevented if those people had only believed.
God made a covenant with Abraham and promised to bless the world through his “seed,” his Descendant. God provided a way of escape from slavery for the whole nation of Israel. He raised up judge after judge to free the people from oppression brought on by their disobedience to Him. He established kings and inspired prophets, all because of His love and grace.
God wants to be know, He wants us to know Him, He wants us to be in relationship with Him. That’s the end, the real gift: God Himself. His love and grace are gifts; Jesus is the great gift the first two initiated. But the real gift God wants us to have is the restoration of that friendship, that “knowing as we are also known” intimacy with God which sin interrupted. He wants us to be as we were intended to be—with ultimate and everlasting purpose and security and closeness to our Creator and Redeemer.
Jesus came as a gift, yes. But He is a gift given because of the gift of love and grace; and He is the gift by which we may enjoy the end-game gift: God Himself.