I don’t know if you’ve opened the gifts yet – it’s pretty early now. But it’s a safe bet most of us are heading to something of that in a few minutes. And perhaps, in your gift opening, you’re anticipating someone opening a gift you’ve given. Now I’m not talking about those SkyMall or listicle kinds of gifts – therapeutic invisible gel toe-socks or whimsical animal doorstop – which all may be fine if they’re your special person’s special… but they’re usually not. Those are the, “Ugh, I’m on this flight to Dallas and I forgot about Christmas – save me, O great Mall in the Sky…” I’m talking about that gift that says you know that person: who they are, what they need, what they love. The kind that lights up your heart because it lights up theirs. I’m talking about something unique and one-of-a-kind – a gift that truly lets someone know you love them.
Tonight we’re talking about God’s love. It’s in one of the most well-known Bible passages of all time. Not the golden rule, “Do unto others…” This is the golden gift – a complete and total focus on what God has done. It started, as you heard, like this: “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Stop and think about that for a moment. Jesus’ claim for us this Christmas is that God loves this world – this world with its brokenness and tragedies and monstrous people and disappointments. This world that we sometimes feel like he couldn’t possibly love, not if he allows those things to happen. This world with me in it – you, who has done those things that haunt you. This world where you who feel like no one loves you at all. God assures tonight that he loves this world – you and me and all.
But how can we know…for sure? Talk is cheap. You can be sure because of what he gave you. Jesus says, “For God so loved…that he gave his one and only Son…” With Christmas gifts, it really isn’t the amount of gifts that makes it special. Not even the cost of the gift in many cases. Most often, it’s what the gift is that makes it special – something unique – perfect for you. That’s literally what Jesus says, “God so loved…” That is, “in this one, unique way” he loved… He sent his “one and only” Son, the only-begotten, unique and special Son of God – just for you.
If you had ten sons, you wouldn’t give one of them to save another person. But your God would. He did. He gave his one and only Son – unique and special. That is what tonight is all about. That little baby in the manger is God’s unique gift to you, to the world. That little baby—wrapped not in paper but in swaddling clothes, that little baby—placed not under a tree but in a manger, that little baby is the greatest gift you will ever be given. No matter what you unwrap later tonight or tomorrow morning, it will not compare. Because that little baby did for you what no one else could do. He restored your relationship with God – exactly what we need. He willingly went from lying in that manger to hanging on a cross where he paid the penalty your sins and mine deserve. The baby whose birth we are here to celebrate took our place and paid our price so that God is now able to say, ‘I forgive you. I no longer hold your sins against you.’
Can you believe it? Jesus says you can. In fact, Jesus says, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Eternal life! What a gift! What could be better than knowing that, when you leave this life, God will welcome you into his heaven, that you will spend forever in a place without the pain and suffering and sadness and sickness of here?
Finally, that is what this night is all about. Receive his unique and wonderful gift. Celebrate this birth from two thousand years ago that promises us a life that will go on for endless thousands of years. All because God so loved the world. All because God so loved you.
Almighty God, heavenly Father, we are thankful that you fulfilled all of your ancient promises and sent us a Savior, who is Christ, th eLord. Your Son left eh glory of heaven and became flesh of our flesh. He became our brother so that through him we might become your children. We marvel at his grace, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. We are indeed rich, for we have peace with you and access to your throne in every need.
Dear Savior, give us a simple, childlike faith that sees your glory even in your lowliness. Help us all to rejoice in your birth. In sincere faith we join the song of the angels, share the delight of the shepherds, and adore you with the Magi. May the truth, love, and redemption that you have brought dwell in our hearts and lives. Like Mary may we keep all these things and ponder them in our hearts. And since you came for all people, help us share the good news of great joy we have in you.
As you have shown us your glory on this holy evening, so one day bring us into your glory in heaven, where we will take our places among the saints and angels. There we will forever praise and glorify you for the grace and mercy you have shown to us poor sinners. Hear us, O Lord, for the sake of your name. Amen.