Once again, Christmas has reminded us that the giving and receiving of presents, symbolizes the greatest giving and receiving of all; the gift of God's own self to the world, in Jesus Christ; and our receiving of him, into our lives.
Christmas presents, indeed, presents of most kinds, fall into three, main categories. Firstly, there are things of immediate use; such as a woolly jumper that really fits, or a good book that is a real pleasure to read, and so on.
Then there are presents which come into their own later on; such things as pots plants that will bloom in a few weeks time; or household items given to engaged couples for their eventual new home. Thirdly, there are those presents which get unwrapped ... admired ... and then wrapped up again, and put away carefully, and seldom, if ever, used.
To receive a present, and to use it straight away ... or to have the joy of the gift 'coming into its own' later on ... not only fulfils the intentions of the person who made the gift; but it also adds something to the life of the person receiving it. But, to receive a gift, and then put it to one side, to be forgotten, and unused; not only takes the purpose and joy out of the giving of it, but also fails to add anything to the life of the person to whom it was given.
As a gift of God, to all of mankind - and to you and to me - Jesus Christ was, and remains, intended to be in that first group, where the gift is of immediate and practical use. The immediate part of it all being that now is the time when God is ready and willing to bless us; and that now is the time when we can begin to enter into deeper and more meaningful relationship with the Lord.
The things of only a minute or so ago are, already, history; and the things that lie only a few minutes ahead of us are, for all their nearness, in the future, and beyond our reach. Now is all that we have!
A few weeks ago, in one of the brief, induction interviews here, at Woodhill, a prisoner, with a bit of a record, said something like this: ‘I think that I'm ready for a really new start in my life. I've come to realize that, for the last few years, I have not so much lived, as merely existed...’.
Most of us have said something like that, at some time or other. Does what we say remain just words, or do we, instead, get on with things?
The immediate past is already history. The immediate future, is beyond our reach. Now is all that we have; and every moment of each day is a new ‘Now’ opportunity to think, and to do, those bigger and better things that we have, so often, wanted for ourselves, and for others.
As God's gift to all of mankind, and to us, Jesus Christ also belongs in that second group; that of a gift which comes into its own later on.
For the Bible teaches us, and Christians believe, that salvation is what Christmas, and the giving of Christ to the world, is all about; and that salvation, although it may start in the here-and-now of our lives, must continue, day by day; because its fulfilment lies somewhere in the future.
Many poets have likened ordinary life, to a journey; with a starting-off point; the journey itself, and the place of arrival. In various ways, they tell us that we progress from one place, to somewhere else; such as from childhood to old age; or from a lack of wisdom, to becoming that bit wiser.
The religious life of the Christian is something like a journey, too; but there is this great difference. In the 'journey' of our Christian lives, God's love for us is the reason why we set out in the first place; it is his love, that enables us to complete the journey; and it is his love that awaits us at the place of arrival.
Our Christian 'journey', is not from somewhere, to somewhere else. Rather, it is a developing revelation of God's love for us.
Jesus Christ is not only God's gift in the here-and-now of our lives, but is also a gift that will come to fulfilment later on.
Obviously, our Lord Jesus, was never intended to be part of that third group of gifts; those that are received; put to one side, to remain unused, and largely forgotten; but, sadly, it can all too easily happen.
Here are a few thoughts, on aspects of giving and receiving; offered in the form of several questions.
In the year that has just ended; what did we receive from God, and did we utilize that gift immediately?
Was it a deeper sense of the reality of the Lord? ...short pause…
Was it a fuller understanding of God's love for us? …short pause…
Was it a better understanding of ourselves; of who we really are; and a clearer idea of the right way ahead for us? …short pause…
Was it a sense of being helped through our situations? …short pause…
What was it that we received from God, that was of immediate use to us, and which added something to our lives? …short pause…
Looking at the year that lies ahead of us; what gifts of God are likely to begin to 'come into their own’?
Could it be a better degree of self-acceptance, moving towards a proper love of ourselves? For, where we fail to love ourselves, with that God-given love that makes life worthwhile; we fail also to love others; for we cannot offer to others, that which we do not possess for ourselves. …short pause…
Could it be a bit more discipline; patience, and expectant hope; so that we can read the Bible more meaningfully? …short pause…
Could it be a desire to turn to God, not only at those times when things are going bad for us; but also when things are good? For God's love for us, is offered at all times, and in all places; and our response to his love, should be the same, at all times, in all places. …short pause…
And that third group of gifts; those that are put to one side; to remain unused, and largely forgotten.
At some point in our lives, was there something that we received; that we thought, at the time, to be a good thing; but which; since; we have rather lost sight of, and forgotten?
If there was, what do we propose to do about it? Should we try to find it again, and hold on to it? …short pause…
May the Lord God help us to have good desires in our hearts; good thoughts in our minds; and good words to speak; so that we grow in love and faith.
May we, in twelve months from now, be enabled to look back and say …
…‘That was a good year! Thanks be to God!’.