Yesterday I mentioned that recently my eye seems to have been continually drawn to huge blown up red Santa figures. Our western Santa Claus has travelled a long way from the original St Nicholas of the 4th Century. A Saint who, tradition has it, did many good things and whose legacy has been embellished by many legends and different cultural appearances and traditions. In the nationalgeographic.com/history/article/131219, I read, ‘It wasn’t until the late 19th century, that the image of Santa became standardized as a full-size adult, dressed in red with white fur trim, venturing out from the North Pole in a reindeer-driven sleigh and keeping an eye on children’s behavior.’ And so we have it, the gifts for ‘good’ children mythology, is thrown in too.
Most of the characteristics of Father Christmas, (many of them American) were added because people love to surprise and bless their children in magical ways. So we have this strange state of affairs where Christmas has become all about gifts, not from God but from ‘the man in red’, and where the main questions that children seem to be asked these days are, “What are you getting from Father Christmas this year?” and “Have you been good?”
I was contrasting that with Jesus’ birth and I fell to thinking about the wise men, (not kings, and probably not three), who brought with them treasures to give this, by then, young child, the one whom they recognized as “the King of the Jews”, Luke 2:1-11. It is such a beautiful scene. ‘They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, of incense and myrrh.’ Every one of those gifts had significance. Gold signifying Kingship, Frankincense, used in worshipping God, and Myrrh, indicating death and mortality; and as they gave those gifts they worshipped. For them it was about what they were ‘giving’ this new King, not what they were ‘getting’ from Him.
Thinking about that scene I was reminded of one of the most profound Christmas sermons that I ever heard. It was given many years ago by David Pawson, and he got us to write down on a piece of paper what we were going to ‘give’ to Jesus that Christmas. Immediately my thoughts went to things like ‘my time’, ‘some money’, ‘my future plans’, etc, but David directed us to pray and think more carefully, and to ‘give’ Jesus what He came for; the things that we normally hide, the things that spoil our lives, like our sin, our anger, our doubts and unbelief, our fears. He helped us to see that we could bless God by giving Him our bad stuff, and receiving from Him, His gifts of new life, of joy, of peace, of freedom – His good stuff.
For me the central scripture for Christmas is John 3:16. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son’. The heart of this season is about remembering that incredible gift that God has given us in Jesus; in His coming into our world to die for us, in order to give us Salvation. He died for us in order that we should have a new, and an eternal life. There never can be, or ever will be, a greater gift than that.
I am so thankful that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, not for the ‘good’ girls and boys, but for the sinners. I am so thankful that I get what I don’t deserve, not just at Christmas but every day of my life, as gifts from my wonderful heavenly Father, whether I have been good or not. And I am also thankful that I can give God gifts too. I can, as Christina Rossetti’s lovely carol ends, ‘Give Him my heart’. And I can also give Him all the things that He died for, my bad stuff, it’s all His, He has bought them with a price. I am also very thankful that His gift to me of ‘new life’ is not because I have been good, it’s just so opposite to that, He came to seek and save the lost. Luke 19:10.
But finally, and this is what this year of ‘thanksgiving’ blogs has been about, I can bless Him freely and often with the gift of my ‘thanks’.