I have three sisters in my family. Every year since I was young we have drawn names for Christmas. This means that whatever name you draw out of a hat you are in charge of getting gifts for that person. It’s a pretty good “Christmas-gift-getting-system.” The reality is that the simple magnitude of gifts – one – allowed us to stress a lot less and focus on other things. It also works well as spouses etc. added. Rather than have to add to the gift count – the spouse enters the rotation and the number of gifts needed to be bought remains the same: ONE.
This past year one of my sisters had the bright idea that everybody should get gifts for everybody! A gift for each sister – a gift for each spouse – a gift for every child – even a gift for every canine. (Which is way more doggie gifts than there should be.)
Not gonna lie; I started to panic. Because suddenly I had a lot of presents that I needed to GET!
Get one for my wife.
Get one for sister 1, one for sister 2, one for sister 3.
Get one for brother in law.
Get one for dog in law.
Not to mention get one for all of Julianna’s family too!
And for me – Christmas ‘stress’ is born in the word “getting.”
I doubt I’m alone.
We need to “GET” the right gifts.
We need to “GET” the lights up.
We need to “GET” the cookies right.
We need to “GET” the right Hatchimal that the commercial told us.
We need to “GET” a second credit card.
We want to “GET” a Christmas bonus.
We want to “GET” a new sweater.
We want to “GET” a peaceful time with family.
And all this focus on GETTING means all we end up GETTING is heartburn.
There must be a better way.
Today we are starting a 3 weeks sermon series on GIVING. Our goal is to look at the original Christmas story and see how it is all about GIVING. Today we will start learning about giving by GIVING A SECOND LOOK at the manger in order to really grasp the incredible gift that God gave to us that first Christmas. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Second Look at What’s in the Manger
In order to take our second look, I want you to go back about 2000 years to a place called Bethlehem. It’s pretty busy. Not because of Christmas – but because of the census. “Caesar Augustus has issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to their home town to register.” (Luke 2 v.1)
And busy it was. Long lost sons. Married and relocated daughters. Grandsons. Granddaughters. Even crazy Uncle Lou have all returned in order to be counted in Caesar’s mandated census.
And most make it there. They arrive during the day. Their relatives put them up. They fill up all of the Motel 6’s.
Except for one couple.
Meet Mary and Joseph, they’re a bit late.
To be fair – it was a long journey. From Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 100 miles – whether you take the shorter mountainous trade route or the longer flat route by the Jordan River – it would have taken the top Ironmen about 8 days.
Joseph wasn’t an Ironman.
And Mary was about 8 ½ months pregnant.
So, they trudge into Bethlehem after two weeks of donkey travel, two weeks of sleeping under trees, two weeks of “Ugh Joseph. We need to slow down.” Two weeks of “Do they have any chocolate-covered pickle trees in this wilderness?”
When they finally saw it, Bethlehem must have been like an oasis to them. Firelight burning from the windows -- visible about a half mile off.
Joseph. We need to hurry. My water broke.
Suddenly there is no peace.
They need to GET to town!
They need to GET to a hotel.
They need to GET a room!
I’m sorry. There isn’t any vacancy here.
Dude, you should have gotten here sooner, we’re all booked.
Get off my lawn already – the other guests are trying to sleep!
Until Joseph --- Can’t you please put us up for a night!?! My wife is in labor. We traveled for two weeks and the other six inns are full! I need to GET her a spot for the baby to be born!
The innkeeper holds up his hands.
He adjusts his tie.
And he says, “Well…we do have a spot in the barn…”
And they head around.
And Joseph helps Mary off of the donkey.
And Mary rests on a pile of hay.
And Joseph runs for a bucket of water.
And Mary cries out in pain.
And the nearby cattle begin mooing at the commotion disturbing their sleep.
Which causes the neighbors dog to bark.
Which causes the neighbors’ neighbor’s dog to bark.
Until all that noise and commotion is replaced by the gentle cry of a baby.
“And she wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a feeding trough, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk. 2:7)
And that…is the manger scene.
What do you see when you look at it? I think there are a couple different perspectives.
(1) The Nativity Perspective. Maybe you’re a nativity-ist? You see a quiet, gentle baby in a quiet, gentle scene, where even the cows are smiling. Mary isn’t sitting. Somehow she’s kneeling moments after birth. Joseph is calmly looking on – not like his hand is in pain because of how hard Mary was squeezing it.
If that’s what you see – you get a gentle, comforting feeling. It lasts for a bit. Until your own children start fighting about who gets to open the first gift…
(2) The Realist Perspective. This one happens when you think about it for a bit. You see a chaotic birth followed by a baby, wrapped in strips of old cloth, laying down next to the slobber filled hay – a scene that would have the Sanitation Department on Lockdown!
To be fair this scene provides a bit more comfort. You get to see the human spirit in action! You say, “Look at those odds that the couple faced! They got past the donkey travel, they got past the lack of vacancy, they made it to a spot where they could have a child – and if they can do that, I can get these stocking stuffers wrapped too.”
(3) The Divine Perspective.
But if that’s all you see in that scene…I need you to look closer.
Because the Bible tells us that there was more going on.
“The grace of God has appeared…” (Titus 2:11)
This is an interesting statement. Because grace is a concept. It’s an abstract object. It’s not tangible.
Grace is something that you give. It’s something that you get. It’s something that you receive.
And grace is something that humans do very poorly…even at Christmas:
You gave me what? Mental note to get them a $5 gift next year.
These cookies are off…That is NOT how grandma made them.
OK. That’s enough! You kids are too loud and Christmas. Is. Cancelled!
But when the Bible talks about grace.
It means grace.
Not “human defined grace” …But God’s grace.
And who can bring pure GRACE but the God of GRACE Himself?
Which is why when you look closely in that manger. You see GRACE.
GRACE who came out of the luxuries of heaven itself; to a stinky, sweaty, animal excrement filled barn.
GRACE who had been rubbing shoulders with holy, perfect angels; now on earth with crude sin-filled peasants, prostitutes and drunkards.
GRACE who owed us absolutely nothing; but who came to earth to GIVE us everything.
Understand this – when you look into the eyes of that little child, you are looking into the eyes of God himself.
II. What the ONE in the Manger Gives
That’s important to know.
Because if that’s God in the manger, he’s going to be bringing a plethora of good gifts.
He’s like that one uncle….The one who comes around Christmastime and bring all kinds of junk food. Tootsie Roll, cookies, a few of your favorite toys – maybe even the one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle that your mom told him NOT to buy because you have too many TMNT toys.
He’s the kind of person that when you see him, you know you’re going to get a plethora of good gifts.
God’s just like that – only eternally better. Take a look at the gifts that he brings: “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearance of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:11-14)
There’s a lot of awesomeness in this passage. Let’s break down the gifts.
Because we get it:
Wrong doing deserves punishment.
We get it so well that it is a part of our Christmas celebration – there’s this Santa Claus guy who gives gifts if you are good, but gives coal if you’ve done bad. It’s a punishment. The punishment of not receiving the good gifts and getting coal.
We all agree that naughty is not good.
And sin deserves punishment.
We just disagree on what level of naughty is deserves what level of punishment.
I was watching the Santa Claus 2 this past week. Have you seen it? It stars Tim Allen as Santa Claus and the premise is that he needs to find a Mrs. Clause before Christmas or he can no longer be Santa Claus. As a result, he has to leave the North Pole in order to find himself a date. The problem? Christmas is his busy time. He’s needed at the North Pole. So, they make a robotic Santa Claus that looks similar to him and leave him in charge of the workshop while Tim Allen goes in search of a wife.
And at first, it’s funny and cute. But soon the Santa robot starts reading the Christmas handbook. He learns that naughty kids are supposed to get coal. And when he looks at the lives of the kids from the past year, the Santa robot determines all of the kids are bad and they all deserve coal!
Here’s the thing: Santa Robot is obviously presented as the bad guy in that movie! But – he’s not wrong! The kids had done wrong and deserved coal.
The Bible speaks similarly “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 6:23) We are all sinners!
And, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 3:23) We all deserve punishment.
And God does not threaten coal for those who did wrong.
God threatens the eternal fires of hell itself.
Pastor, why are you talking about hell on Christmas? That’s kind of a downer.
Question: If you found out that you were $1000 short on rent this month and for Christmas, someone gave you $1000 that would be an AWESOME gift.
Or if you had been praying for a baby for years and find out on Christmas Day that you are pregnant, AWESOME gift.
Or if you have had cancer, but get a called from radiology on December 23rd that the cancer…is…gone. There is nothing more incredible than that.
To understand how incredible the gift of the manger is, we need to understand exactly our problem.
We needed salvation.
We needed a Savior.
We needed someone to save us from the impending punishment that we have inflicted on ourselves.
Jesus is exactly that.
He lived perfectly when we couldn’t.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of our sins.
In short, it’s like the name tags on two presents were switched.
Jesus earned heaven. We earned hell.
He got hell on the cross; we get heaven as his promise!
Now maybe you’re thinking – this couldn’t be for me. I’m too guilty. I’m too far gone. I’m too far apart from God.
But notice – it’s for all people!
It’s for the poor and the rich.
For the young and the old.
For the white and the black.
For the Asian and Latino.
For the Tarheel fans and the Duke fans.
For people with all kinds of backgrounds and all different kinds of sins an all different kinds of guilt – Jesus died for you.
(2) Gift of “No”
But salvation is not the only gift of Jesus. Look at the next part, “He teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions.” (Titus 2:12)
One year my mom got me the Super Mario Brothers 3 game for the NES. It was exactly what I wanted! I was very excited to get callouses on my fingers and watch Mario smoosh walking mushrooms. When I got it – I remember thanking mom a bunch. I remember making her a breakfast of “pop tarts” in bed. I remember working hard on telling my sisters to “play nice.” I was so thankful for her gift that I wanted to do nice things for her.
It’s the same with salvation. When we grasp what God has done for us, the natural result – we can’t wait to do what he wants!
We say “No” to the wrong.
We say “Yes” to God.
Which means living for God isn’t a gift we do out of fear.
It’s a gift we give out of his grace -- out of his Gift for us!
Think about it at Christmas:
God’s given you everything; that teaches you to say “NO” to commercialism.
God’s has given you all you need; it teaches you to say, “You grab the last BonBon.”
God loves you dearly: it teaches you to say, “I will show love to you even when you’re being so negative right now.”
(3) Blessed Hope
Gift three is not a gift that we get right away.
Ever had a gift like that? Maybe it’s tickets to a show coming up or a playoff game or an investment into a college fund. Those gifts are nice. Even if you don’t have the gift yet, you do get the gift of looking forward to it.
It’s the same thing with God. While we don’t have heaven yet, this promise gives us something right now:
And that’s a big deal.
Because you might be hoping for a nice Christmas.
You might be hoping for some new kitchen utensils.
You might be hoping for your kids to get along.
You might be hoping that your visit with your parents goes well.
But that hope – is kind of a wishy-washy hope – because “Who knows?”
But with God there is certainty:
He was born just as He said.
He died just as He said.
He rose just as He said.
And He will take you to be with Him just as He said.
In God there is HOPE.
III. What NOW?
(1) Give the Manger a 3rd, 4th and 5th Look
Because the more you look at a well thought out gift the more you are filled with gratitude.
This happens often with ornaments. You pull one out of your ornament box -- Maybe it’s a macaroni spray painted gold ornament with a picture of your kid when he was 6. What happens? Every year when you decorate the tree you see the ornament and you are filled with gratitude and love.
How much greater that truth when we focus on our Savior Jesus?
God’s love fills our hearts and the bad news, the scars of this past year, the anxieties of this life is pushed out.
So, don’t just look at the manger right now.
Look later tonight. Read Luke 2. Watch The Nativity on Netflix. Come back to worship tomorrow. Make a plan for worshipping repetitively throughout the New Year.
Give the manger a second look so that God’s love can flow to you and through you.
(2) Do Good “in the NOW”
Titus says this, “God’s grace teaches us to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” In the Greek language (the original language of the Bible for this section) it literally says, “in the NOW age.”
Meaning – not tomorrow.
Do good this evening with your family.
Be the one to clean up the wrapping paper.
Make sure people’s drinks are filled.
Pass out hugs and smiles like they are going out of style.
And GIVE His message of love.
Because Christmas was always about GIVING.
What God GAVE to us.
What God is GIVING to us.
What God will GIVE to us.
And what God will have us GIVE to others.
May God bless your giving this Christmas and always. Amen.