A few years ago I came across "The Twelve Thank-you Notes of Christmas." (I have heard another version on the same theme recently.) The "thank-you notes" were written by Emily in response to these presents from her "true love" named Edward. As the gifts kept coming, she increasingly saw them as irritating, inappropriate, annoying and downright unwelcome. Edward was persistent, but lacked sensitivity. He seemed out to justify himself rather than to express "true love" for Emily.
How did you fare this Christmas? No presents to "re-cycle" next year? Was love given, recognised, received...? Was love reciprocated? Now that raises some interesting questions. Do we always give expecting something in return? And how can we keep on loving when there is little or no response?
In Psalm 8, the Psalmist reflects on the vastness of God in comparison with human beings. He then writes of the special place and role with which the Creator has invested the human race - "You made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet..." (Ps. 8.5-6). On which the writer of Hebrews comments, "In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. [The human race was intended by the Creator to have dominion. And that divine intention we continue to see in a human desire to 'master it all'. Yet it can only be properly fulfilled as we ourselves come under the Rule of God.] But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2.8b-9).
We see Jesus - the rightful Master, who lived in submission to the Father. He came into the world as a servant. He suffered at the hands of ordinary people, as well as of the power-brokers of the time. We used that God-created desire for dominion against him – the very Son of God.
Think about the manger in the stable – and about apathy towards human need. Consider the actions of Herod in eliminating every boy under the age of two in the Bethlehem area – and deliberate and vicious hostility expressed by others against the purposes of God. True, there were the shepherds and the wise men. Yet in adulthood Jesus was to say, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" (Lk. 9.58). While Mary, Martha and Lazarus made him welcome in Bethany whenever he came to Jerusalem, yet he had no permanent home.
Think of Jesus – flogged, scourged and nailed in public to an execution cross for wrongs he had never done – dying, in fact, for the sins of others. Two secret friends, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, had been unable to get a fair hearing for him in the Sanhedrin. Burial in a clean new tomb was the best they could do.
We see Jesus, who became like us, a person of flesh and blood, and shared our human nature, "so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2.14-15).
We see Jesus, victorious over sin and death – "Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted" (v. 18).
This is what the coming of Jesus was all about – it is what Christmas is all about. It all happened in a very real world – not unlike ours in the deepest respects.
If we tell the story "warts and all", it is our "warts" we need to acknowledge, for, as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5.21).
This is our "real world" – more technologically sophisticated than the first century, yet with the same human personal problems. We are such a mixture of brilliance and brokenness. We show off our brilliance and struggle with our brokenness. We reveal ourselves to be just as the Biblical record describes – on the one hand, made in the image of God, yet, on the other, fallen creatures trying to live independently of God.
One writer has put it this way, "We can sometimes behave as though Christmas were a time out of reality, a fairy-tale time when it is possible to hope that peace and goodwill to all is possible, before ‘reality’ descends again. Hebrews reminds us that Jesus shared our humanity with all its problems, difficulties, limitations, and struggles. Christmas is no fairy-tale; it is God breaking into our reality to set us free... Christmas is not about how to escape from the sad reality of the world; [it] is about how God is dealing with the unpleasant realities by choosing to come among us."
The final letter from Emily to Edward was issued by her solicitor. "Sir, Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7.30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock..."
Edward's gifts were inappropriate, irrelevant to Emily's needs and unwelcome. They had the effect of closing off a very loving open relationship. I don't think Emily was being unreasonable and ungrateful.
How do we regard God's gift of Jesus Christ in today's real world? John 3.16, "For 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." Romans 5.8, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
In the coming of Jesus, God was expressing his love toward us, but is his gift of Jesus inappropriate in the twenty-first century? Is his gift irrelevant to the needs we now have? If we think God's gift inappropriate or irrelevant, is it because we basically don't want to welcome God's gift?
We see Jesus. Please consider his claims. Welcome him into your life. Allow him to cleanse, renew and transform your life. Come! The gift is for you!
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