The Gospel According to Gifts

weddinggiftsOnce upon a time, in the beginning, God gave. God spoke the universe into existence, and God gave reality, God gave existence, God gave all things. Creation itself was the first birthday party, the first festival, the first baby shower, the first graduation party, first wedding reception. The world was created, the world was born, the world graduated from nothing into everything. God spoke His bride into being and decorated everything for the marriage feast. God gave in His love.

In other words, in the beginning it was Christmas. It was Christmas all day, every day with presents stacked to the moon because God made everything perfect for His people, because God is love. God is the original extravagant Giver. He spoke radiant light. He spoke tossing, foaming oceans. He gave tangy oranges and crisp watermelons and sweet corn on the cob. He gave Great White Sharks with mouthfuls of razor teeth and grey armored rhinoceroses, and bald eagles sweeping and diving. They were just a few of the party favors, dinner entertainment to keep the guests busy before the wedding party could be introduced. He hung lights for the party, flinging handfuls of sparkling dust into the night sky. He stretched clouds, puffy and streaked around the horizon, and He heaped up snow-capped peaks all around the room. He touched the tops of some of the mountains and made them smoke and blow fire; He gave some of the angels missions streaking lightening and rumble thunder to pop and crack and boom for the festival. He made everything ready for His wedding day, and He spread a great lavish feast with fruits and vegetables, juices and fresh water, bread and wine: all of it in love, all of it with joyful expectation.

And all of it for us, His Bride. It was all an enormous wedding gift. It was a festival, a party, a celebration of His love for us. And when everything was ready, He made man in His own image, male and female, the guests of honor. It was our birthday and our wedding day, and even the love we shared was meant to point to Him, our Maker, our Husband, to His love embedded in the universe. The whole world was a proposal, God on bended knee, smiling proudly, “I love you. Will you marry me?”

The world was piled high with gifts for opening, a lavish wedding feast all at their fingertips, poems of love, songs of love. There was only one gift in the middle of the garden that said, “do not open.” There were thousands and millions of other gifts piled up, overflowing, spilling out, running over, under the first great Christmas tree, the Tree of Life. And all of them said “yes” and “amen” and “open now.” There was only one that said “wait” and “not yet.”

But we seized that gift, the gift that was not yet given, the fruit of the forbidden tree. God gave the whole world and said, “I love you.” But we demanded more. We coveted what we did not have. We envied God’s authority. We doubted His goodness. The serpent said He hadn’t given us everything, and we thought about it and it ate us up with desire and lust, and so we ate, so we stole. We had been given the whole world, but the one, tiny piece that was not ours, we demanded, we grasped. We built a tiny platform to stand on and for one insane moment insisted, “It’s not fair.” And then demanding our so-called rights, we ripped open the present that was not yet given, and our eyes were opened and we began to die.

We had to die because we turned away from Life itself. Life is not automatic. Life doesn’t exist apart from God’s gift. And to scorn the Giver is to scorn the Gift, the Gift of life, the gift of fellowship and friendship. It was like God handing us the present of life wrapped and tied with a bow, and we tossed it in the trash. We scorned life. We rejected the gift. And then in a strange sort of curse, we found that we couldn’t receive the gift of life any more. Though we might try to receive it like before, though we might try to figure out how, we always threw the gift away again, and again, and again. His love was never good enough. We rejected His love, we hid from our Maker, our Husband.

So God sent us out of the garden, our honeymoon home. There would have to be death now and thorns and weeds and pain would follow. All the good things, all the gifts would become trials. They were no longer simple gifts of simple love. Now they could crush us, and the curse held strong. Our hearts were bent and our hands were twisted, and so we twisted all the gifts. We threw them away, we broke them, we tore them open too soon, we demanded, we seized. We knew we would die, that time was running out, that we were guilty, and so in our fear, our fear of losing, our fear of judgment, our fear of pain, our fear of death, we scrambled like orphans. We stuffed everything we found in our pockets. We grabbed for whatever we could get, and it was always the same, life twisted, gifts only halfway enjoyed. We wouldn’t receive the gifts and so we couldn’t be givers. God promised to come and make us right again. He promised to come and heal us so that our hearts would love and our hands might receive His gifts again. He promised to make the world our wedding gift again.

And so the stories fill up with fearful husbands, false husbands and brides and gifts. When Abram went down to Egypt, Pharaoh gave gifts of sheep and oxen and donkeys and servants and camels to Abram, hoping that he might be able to marry Sarai. When the truth came out that Sarai was Abram’s wife, Abram was sent away loaded with gifts, gifts for the bride, a dowry, an ample wedding feast. The same thing would happen again with Abimelech in the land of Gerar, and again, Abraham would be sent away with sheep and oxen and servants and this time a thousand pieces of silver: a second honeymoon, a lavish anniversary gift. The same thing would happen to Isaac and Rebekah later, again in Gerar. That time there was no record of an explicit gift from Abimelech, but the Lord blessed his harvests and flocks with abundance. God gave the increase, and there was plenty for another wedding feast, another marriage supper. When the bride was under threat from false husbands, God intervened and piled high the wedding gifts. Though false husbands would arise, God came again and again giving, forgiving, proposing, insisting on His love, promising to always be there, to always love us, to be our God, our Husband.

Then when we were enslaved in Egypt, God sent Moses to rescue us from another pharaoh, another serpent-king, another false husband. God sent Moses with party favors, signs and wonders and tricks to remind Israel and Pharoah how the whole world was his, how He was their Maker, their Husband. But Pharaoh played dumb and hardened his heart. And as before, God promised that when we were finally released from the house of the Pharaoh, we would be sent out with gifts, jewels of silver and gold and clothing. There would be another wedding, another wedding feast.

Passover was another wedding day, and God our husband fought for us, delivered us, and carried us out of Egypt in His arms, on eagles’ wings, right through the sea, our Savior, Our Redeemer, our Husband. And He brought us to His mountain that burned with the fire of His love. He spoke to us in the cloud and the smoke, we went up on the mountain and ate and drank and saw our God. He asked us to marry Him again, and we said yes, only we were still longing for Egypt. Our hearts were still bent, and the serpent’s voice still called to us.

We demanded bread, and He gave it. We demanded meat, and He gave it. We demanded more presents, better presents, and He almost always gave them. We were naked, and He had pity on us and covered us with the curtains of the tabernacle. He covered us with skins, red, blue and scarlet threat, and everything was overlaid in gold. He set precious stones on the High Priest, precious stones for his precious bride. He wrote our names on the stones and set them in the breastplate of the high priest and on his shoulders, so that He would remember us, remember our names in His love. He showed us how we could be clean and become givers like Him. He said there would always be plenty so we could share and give our gifts away, but we doubted His word and refused keep the feasts or cancel the debts.

We scorned His gifts, and used them to court other gods, other kings, other men. We played the harlot, the whore. We threw away His gifts and we let everyone have a piece. We paid the gentiles, the nations, to sleep with us, to be our friends, to keep us company. Even though our Maker knew our name, even though our Husband sent us love letters and flowers, always calling us home, calling us back to His love. He told us that one day His love would remake us, that He would give a gift that would undo all of the false gifts, all of the torn gifts, all of the rejected gifts. He said that when that day came, even the Gentiles would bring their gifts to Jerusalem, they would come for the wedding feast and bring their glory into Israel. He promised there would be another wedding, and the world would become a gift again.

Then the wise men came from the east with gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh for a child born in Bethlehem. They brought the gifts of our tabernacle covering, our glory garments from the desert, when we were married at the mountain. They brought our wedding gifts, and it smelled like our honeymoon.

And the child grew up into a man, and He said He was our Husband, our Maker, come for us, to rescue us. And the gifts kept coming. He feasted like it was always Christmas, always a Wedding Feast. He turned water into wine at a wedding. The blind were given their sight. Lepers were cleansed, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and sinners were forgiven. He came with party favors, signs and wonders, and seemed to be saying, “Do you remember how it used to be? Do you remember how we walked in love in the garden?”

It was another proposal. It was always an invitation to walk with Him, to share life together. The world was a gift to be enjoyed together. And so He came to show us how. He came to introduce Himself face to face. He came to undo our refusal, to wash us clean, and win us back. He came to give the greatest gift that gifts might begin to be given again.

And when we rejected Him, when we spat on him, and cried crucify Him, we thought we were getting rid of him once and for all. But He was giving the greatest gift, the gift that could swallow up every refusal of the gift, the gift to overcome all ingratitude, all envy, all lust and covetousness. He allowed us to exhaust our anger, our bitterness, our envy, our covetousness on Him. He gave us even that. He became sin for us, the Passover Lamb for us, giving His life for the world, giving His innocent life for the life of the guilty.

In this is love, not that we loved Him, but that He loved us and gave Himself for us. For while we were still enemies, Christ died for us. For God so loved the world that gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believes Him may not perish but have everlasting life. The gift of God is eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

Life was wrapped in blood and sweat. Life was wrapped in hands and feet nailed into wood. Life was wrapped in a brow pierced by thorns. Life was wrapped in death. Life was wrapped in grave cloths. Life was sealed in a cave, and they rolled a stone over the entrance, like a bow on a gift box. But on that first Easter morning, an angel descended from heaven and tore off the wrapping paper and scared off a regiment of soldiers in the process.

When Jesus died, the greatest gift was given. There is no greater love than this that a man lay his life down for his friends. Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many. And when He died, His life purchased the life of His wife, His bride, the Church, the souls of countless millions. His blood paid the debts of all who trust in Him. For our filthy rags, He washed us clean and gave His garments of righteousness and obedience. For our sorrow and regret and shame, He gave honor and beauty and glory. For our guilt, He announced, “Not guilty.” For our past, He gave us His word that He would remember no more.

And early that first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene met the risen Jesus, mistaking Him for the gardener, an Adam. But of course He was. He was our Lord, our Maker, our Husband, and beginning on that Easter, the whole world began to become a garden again. The whole world was becoming a marriage feast. The whole world was becoming Christmas again. Then God, our Husband gave us the Gift of His Spirit, coming down like a city out of heaven, to clothe us in glory, like a bride adorned for her husband, without spot or wrinkle.

Advent and Christmas is rightly full of gift giving. God created the first world and packed it full of presents for His Bride, and when He re-created the world, His extravagance only increased. He gave His only Son as the great sacrifice for sin, but then He poured out His Spirit, giving gifts to men. When God gave gifts, He was giving glory, He was giving crowns and gowns and thrones. His gifts always come with letters of love. His gifts always come with words of love. The word of God is our glory, and the word of God is for wearing, for adorning, for singing. His proclaims His love, His grace, His healing, His mercy, and our hope for glory.

Whenever we give, we are talking about the world. If we see this world as fundamentally loaded with the gifts of our loving God, then we become givers, like Him. We become lovers like Him. But if we imagine that death still reigns, that there is an end, scarcity, time and resources running out, then you will grasp, demand, envy. You will compare what you got with what others got. You will look sideways. You will feel threatened, scorned, forgotten. And so everything comes down to what you see? Do you only see the hurt, the pain, the failure, the brokenness? Or do you see Jesus? Do see healing breaking out in the broken? Do you see the garden breaking out in the desert? If this whole world belongs to Jesus, and you have been made right in Him, then whether you have little or much, you have all things in Him and you can give and receive with abandon.

Do not worry about what you will wear, about what you will eat or drink. You have died and your life is hid with Christ in God. You cannot worry; you cannot fear because the greatest gift of God has turned you into a gift by His grace.

So as you give gifts, as you receive gifts, as you look at the gifts piled under your tree, see the good news of Jesus. See God’s love for you, see God’s promise to be your God, your Husband, now and always. What can separate you from His love? How will He who did not spare His own Son not freely give you all things? Christ is born in Bethlehem for you. The world is your Christmas. All things are yours. You have nothing to fear.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Note: This is the second half of the fourth sermon in the series Looking for Jesus.

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