This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas when we spend time considering the meaning of the birth of Christ in our world. Speaking of this event, the prophet Isaiah wrote: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means 'God is with us')." (Isaiah 7:14)
I love that the name 'God is with us' is used. In our world, we deal with many challenges and difficulties, large and small. From personal struggles to global problems like terrorism and refugee crises. I am grateful that God is with us in the midst of these problems.
This year, my church is considering the idea that God has invited us to a gift exchange.
When you are going to visit family or friends for Christmas, you try to make sure that you bring something that will make them happy. It would be terrible to receive a great gift and have something underwhelming to give in return.
Yet, in the original meaning and concept of Christmas, we find ourselves in exactly that situation.
Here's how Isaiah described it: "But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
Rebellion: God wants the part of us that is running away from him.
Sin: God wants the part of us where we are harming ourselves with selfish actions.
Whole: God wants the parts of us that’s broken.
Healing: God wants the parts of us that are hurting.
That’s the Christmas list God has: our sin, rebellion, brokenness and hurting.
And here’s what he brings to that exchange: himself. God comes in the person of Jesus.
It's kind of like having somebody give you a Lamborghini for Christmas and you got them tube socks.
We bring despair and he gives us hope.
We bring anxiety and he gives us peace.
We bring judgment and he gives us love.
We bring sorrow and he gives us joy.
It's completely unfair, and God loves it, because God loves us.
Now, God is not some giant, cosmic Santa in the sky. The way he gives us these things is by inviting us to live a life with more abundance.
The way we often get to peace is by choosing to trust. The way we get to love is many times through forgiveness. It's not easy, but it's worth it.
I can often get frustrated because I'm not getting everything I want out of life, but it seems that these situations exist to remind me that my comfort and convenience are not the purpose for which I exist.
I'm invited to be something a little similar to one of Santa's elves: helping to deliver the gifts God wants to give to his children.
This Christmas, write down God's Christmas list from you and put it on your fridge. Maybe it includes the items I listed above, maybe yours is different. The bottom line is that God wants us to give him the things that are keeping us from being truly happy.
That can never happen by getting 'stuff', it can only happen when we learn to get our joy and peace and hope and love from God himself.
What are the things God wants you to give him so that you can be made whole?
May we remember the point of Christmas is that God will not let anything keep us apart from him if we are only willing to allow his presence in our lives.