Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Unopened Gift (reprise)

Remember the last time you received a gift-wrapped package from someone?  Picture the box, wrapped in iridescent white paper, and tied with a beautiful bow. When you were handed this gift, what did you do?  Did you open it immediately, eager to see what was inside?  Did you want to personally thank the one who gave you such a gift?  I suspect that most would open the gift right away so the giver of the gift could see the pleasure on your face as you received this present. But did you ever take a beautifully gift-wrapped package, put it on a shelf or in the closet, and leave it there unopened?  I can’t imagine doing such a thing, can you?

If you gave a gift to a loved one, would you be offended if that person never opened it?  Would it bother you if you paid a good deal of money to purchase this gift, only to have it sit, unopened, on the shelf?  Or what if you hand-made a gift, and spent countless hours laboring, in love, to create something special?  Would you be upset if the recipient of this gift didn’t even open it?

The one who longs to give us good gifts is God, your heavenly father. We are quickly able to receive His gifts of love and peace. We may at times neglect to use these gifts, but we have opened them and have expressed our gratitude to God for His generosity.
There is one gift from God, however, that we often find difficult to open:  the gift of forgiveness. Psalm 86:5 (NKJ) says, “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You.”  Unfortunately, many of us believe that our sins are just too terrible, so we cling to them. We know God forgives sins, but He surely won’t forgive this?   We just can’t force ourselves to untie the bow and tear open the paper to receive the gift of forgiveness. Sometimes the problem is that we can’t forgive ourselves. “How could I have ever done that horrible thing?” we might wonder, and the beautifully wrapped package stays on the shelf, untouched.

God paid a great deal to give each of us this gift of forgiveness. He spent a great deal of time laboring on this gift as well, thirty-three years, as a matter of fact. For thirty-three years God’s son lived as a man on this earth, away from His home in heaven. That’s a long time to work on a gift of love. And He paid a high cost for this gift, too: He paid with His life. Don’t you think He would want us to open this gift?
Father God, forgive me Forgive my many sins, both those I have recently committed and those of long ago that I harbor in my heart. Help me accept Your gift, wrapped in love and the sacrifice of Your son. Help me take it off the shelf, unwrap it and accept the forgiveness inside.

I John 1: 8-9 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Hear the Crying

Imagine if you will, Christmas day, more than 2000 years ago in the village of Bethlehem. Do you feel the crisp early morning air?  Do you smell the animals and the hay?  Listen.  Do you hear the newborn crying?  Can you see Mary, seated on the floor of the stable, holding her tiny son?  Can you see her rock back and forth, back and forth to quiet her tiny babe?
Now let your imagination fast-forward thirty years to a barren land.  Do you hear the voice of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness?  “Make straight the way for the Lord,” he calls to any who will listen.  Now that the crying baby is grown, his cousin John cries for the repentance of his people.
Think forward again, three more years.  This time it is the mother of Jesus who cries.  She kneels and weeps at the foot of a rugged Roman cross.  High above her is the broken body of her baby boy.  The tiny babe is grown and men have nailed him on this cross.  She cries for her suffering, dying son.
Imagine three days later.  Now those bitter tears and agonizing cries have turned to miraculous cries of joy.  The son who was crucified on a cross is no longer in the tomb.  He is alive!
Once again, let your mind move ahead, many years.  Zoom in your imagination the last few weeks.  Think about your preparations for Christmas.  Did you spend many exhausting hours shopping, wrapping, cooking, cleaning, and baking?  Did you cry in anger, frustration, or fatigue? 
Remember, the babe who cried in the manger is the same Lord who died on the cross.  He died, was resurrected, and is alive.  He is the same Lord who takes away our sins so that we, too, may live with Him forever in heaven. 
Once again, we hear crying, the crying of our hearts.  We cry, remembering our sins.  We cry in repentance, preparing our hearts for His coming in our lives.  We cry in grief, remembering His sacrifice.  We cry in joy, recognizing His resurrected life in us and anticipating eternity.  We cry tears of delight, for we realize that even though all the shopping and wrapping are not yet finished, we are, finally, truly ready for Christmas.
Father, may we never overlook the reason for the celebration.  In all the busyness and scurrying, let us remember and reflect on the miracle of our Lord’s birth in a lowly stable.  May we consider our Lord’s sacrifice.  Let us cry tears of repentance and gratefulness, remembering the greatest Christmas gift.  We have worked hard preparing to celebrate Christmas. May we work just as hard to prepare for His birth and life in our hearts.  May this precious new life within us cry out joyfully for all to hear.