Episode 1. Another Useless Present
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Most of us probably have a cupboard full of useless Christmas presents that we’ve been given over the years. Socks, hankies, ugly ties, whatever. Stuff that we would never use or wear. So, why do we do it … this whole Christmas Present thing? Yup … Yup! Christmas is almost upon us, and I guess […]
Most of us probably have a cupboard full of useless Christmas presents that we’ve been given over the years. Socks, hankies, ugly ties, whatever. Stuff that we would never use or wear. So, why do we do it … this whole Christmas Present thing?
Yup … Yup! Christmas is almost upon us, and I guess most of us, well, we’re pretty tired of all the Christmas shopping ads on television. The hype, the tinsel, the baubles, the bread makers, the rice cookers. In fact, the list of useless things you can burn your cash on, over the name of Christmas. Well … it’s endless. Some people are so hard to buy for. What do you buy? I’ll think of something as I wander through the shop in that well planned, strategic heart felt process of giving, that we call the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy. Isn’t it crazy? Especially when there’s a child dying of hunger every three seconds. Stand back and pinch yourself, it’s nuts right? So why do we do it?
What’s the most useless present you have ever been given in the name of Christmas? A tie, the sort of tie that you will never be seen dead in? Some monogrammed hankies, some perfume or some aftershave that you just choke on? Or maybe it’s that bread maker you think, “I haven’t got time to make bread.” Or the rice cooker you think, “Hang on, what’s wrong with the pot that I usually cook the rice in?”
They tell me, my family does think that I’m difficult to buy for. Well, that’s probably true, because I do have really definite taste. So I buy my own ties and my own aftershave and I’m not really in to receiving presents. On the other hand, I think I’m easy to buy for. I’ll have the next series of MASH on DVD, thanks! A bottle of good New Zealand Pinnonua? The simple act of giving, well, it’s great you know. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m not knocking it, but there’s a difference between genuine giving and racing around the shops at the last minute buying useless stuff because we have to buy someone a Christmas present.
If giving is going to be genuine, if it’s going to be, you know, real and meaningful, well, it has to be tailored and thought out and heartfelt. If I’m going to buy you a present, I need to know who you are. I need to know what you like and what you don’t like. I need to think about it and wander and say, “Hmm, I think I really like that one. I’d buy that one.” That’s sort of giving is wonderful, isn’t it? It’s wonderful if someone knows you well enough and cares for you well enough to go and buy something that you’d really like, that you’d really use, that you’d really enjoy.
But to me, it’s so crass when people just race around and fill their shopping cart with stuff at the last minute and give you this thing and you open it up and you go that’s not me. I’m not going to use that and then you kind of smile and say, “thank you”. And it s like, it’s awful, isn’t it?
We have been all been in that space. You open that thing and you get that tie and you think, “I wouldn’t be seen dead in that tie.” This is shabby, crass, commercial, ritualistic Christmas. Why do we do it? What is it that causes us to have that sort of a giving at Christmas time?
Well the whole present thing at Christmas begins right back 2000 years ago with the magi, the wise men. They’re actually astrologers who had come from the East, they’d followed the star and they came to worship Jesus and they brought him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. All of those things were really valuable commodities in the context of that society. But really the whole big giving thing at Christmas didn’t begin until about the late 1800s two things came to get a historically cause this to happen. The first was the Santa Claus stories somehow court people’s imagination. The second is that in the economy of western societies, retailing started to become a phenomenon. You know shops were opening; stores were starting to understand that advertising was important. So those two things historically came together to give us the sort of Christmas presents that whole phenomenon, the whole multibillion dollar industry that we have as Christmas today.
But the first Christmas present, the first Christmas present wasn’t gold, frankincense and myrrh. It was a baby. It was Jesus, God’s own son. Later this week, we’re going to have a look at the whole event, that Christmas night from God’s perspective, from a different angle completely, but today I just want to look at the whole question of gifts and presents. If the first present of Christmas was Jesus himself, was it a worthwhile present? In a nut shell it goes like this; God exists forever. Out of His love and grace, He creates a world and puts you and me in it and it’s a great world and it’s a wonderful world, but it’s also a world that has problems, pains, hurts and difficulties.
Any psychologists will tell you that one of the deepest problems in the psyche of a lot of people is guilt, a nagging sense of something of inadequacy and here’s God’s angle on Christmas: Guilt is a product of our free will. It’s a product of us being able to choose, to love and to worship God or to reject Him. And many people choose to reject Him. It’s a direct consequence of our free will, and we live in a great world but you and I have made some real mistakes as wonderful as that world is. But you and I have made some real mistakes, and those things bring hurt and pain into our lives and there’s a need for justice, too, of somehow ultimately pain for those mistakes. If we look at Adolph Hitler, we look at him and we go, “I hope there’s some justice there somewhere in the next life.” Don’t we? Wouldn’t it terrible to think that Adolph Hitler got off – scott free? That comes with our sense of justice that God gives us, and then Jesus said, “Hang on, there’s another way. I’m here. I’ve come so that you’d know my love. I’ve come as a carpenter, a person just like you.”
The Son of God grew up to become a man wandered around for three and half years, teaching, doing amazing things to show us who God is. He died on a cross to pay for the price, demand of justice and He rose again. To give us hope and victory, and future in eternal life, that’s a nut shell. That’s God’s view on what was happening at Christmas.
Now, let’s just take those two things, God’s view of Christmas, God’s version and this crass, commercial Christmas that’s all about presents that we throw in the bin, a lot of them. You weigh those up. One of in the left hand, one on the right hand. You look at this Jesus, Joshua. His name actually means God came to save, God’s salvation. Christ means God’s anointed or chosen one. So the name Jesus Christ means the way in which God has chosen to save the world. God’s chosen and anointed Savior.
You weigh him up on one side, the Jesus of humility, of amazing truth and relevance and forgiveness and hope and future and that Jesus, that Christmas. And on the other side, you weigh up the crass, commercial Christmas that we have come to celebrate. You look at them and say, “Which one rings true? Which one resonates with me? Which one deep inside meets my deepest needs? Do I need a Savior?” I can’t answer that for you. It’s your choice. But let me say this. The scary thing, the sad thing this crass, commercial Christmas, this ritual that has little or no meaning or satisfaction that we celebrate over and over and over and over again. Wouldn’t it be sad if all the time that Christmas, God was whispering to each one of us, “I love you. Look at my son Jesus. I sent Him for you. I love you.”
That’s what Christmas is all about. I can’t answer the question for you whether in your heart you feel a need for a savior. All I can do is this. This Christmas can I encourage you to think about that very thing? Can I encourage you to look at the real Christmas, that baby born out in an animal shelter amongst the goats, the cows and the sheep. Which one is real? Which one is authentic? Which one is all you think? Which one touches you and me with deep love? Have a great Christmas!