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The Gift Exchange

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Have you ever wanted a gift so badly that, when you didn’t receive it you were crushed?  On Christmas morning, when I was about six years old, my brother and I woke up at 5:30 in the morning as we always did any day that we didn’t have to go to school.  We walked quietly out to the family room to look at the presents under the tree.  And there, sitting under the tree was a beautiful stuffed animal- a horse.  I knew it had to be for me.  After all, I was going to be a cowboy when I grew up and everything I had asked for that year had to do with horses.

I was pretty excited… until my brother showed me the tag.  It was for my sister.  I couldn’t believe it.  How could my parents buy this present for a girl who was barely old enough to walk and could care less about horses!?!  It just wasn’t fair.  I sat down and waited for the rest of the family to wake up, feeling pretty angry.  I was just about to go and wake up my mother and ask her why she had done this, when my brother finally let me in on his plan:  he had switched the tags on all of the presents. The horse really was for me.

Two thousand years ago, God gave to the world a very special and wonderful gift.  It wasn’t wrapped in paper with bright ribbons.  In fact, it may not have seemed like much of a gift at first.  On that first Christmas, a little baby was born who was unlike any other baby that ever has been or ever will be born.  The baby Jesus was both man and God.  And God does not want you to be confused about who is to receive this gift.  This gift from God, His Son, He gives to everyone.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  God became man and lived among people.   By His outward appearance, Jesus didn’t look like much of a gift- certainly not what everyone had expected.  A few thousand years before this, God had promised Adam and Eve that this day would come- that one day a savior would be born who would save His people. God continued to promise this Messiah throughout the centuries.  The centuries went on and on.  Many people grew tired of waiting and gave up on God.  Many reinterpreted the prophecies and believed that a new earthly king would come. King Herod was so worried that he would lose his throne that he had all the male infants killed after Jesus was born to ensure that no new king would take over. The people waited in eager anticipation for new royalty to be born, to command the Israelite army and to crush the Roman oppressors and free their country.  But God’s plan was quite different.

Jesus, the King God had promised, was born in about the worst conditions possible.  Have you ever been in a stable? Can you imagine having your child born in a building filled with animals?   There were no beds, no clean sheets.  When Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger, a feed bin, probably on top of some grass that was meant as animal food.  The conditions couldn’t have been much worse.  In that manger was a little baby boy who would save the world.  To look at Him that night, that probably wouldn’t have seemed possible.  That stable was no place for a king.  It was as if, after all those promises, God had changed the tags on the gifts- that He had given us something other than what He had promised.

Jesus was born that first Christmas for one reason.  In order for us to be saved, God had to fulfill His requirements for us, because we couldn’t fulfill them.  He placed the law in front of us and told us to keep it perfectly.  And if we could keep His Law perfectly, we would go to Heaven. But there isn’t a single person who can keep God’s Law for a single day of their lives.  And there never has been any person who could.  Jesus was born into the same conditions that we are: into a sinful world.  God lowered Himself to be born in this manner, because we can’t raise ourselves up to reach Him.

Every day we commit sins that may not seem so bad to us.  We look at the news and see all the evil around us and think “I haven’t committed any serious sins.  God won’t hold them against me.”  And so we continue to do things that don’t seem so bad to us.  Maybe we tell a “little lie” because it won’t hurt anybody.  Or we click on that link on the web page because of the scantily-clad woman pictured. Or we spend our time at work playing games because the boss isn’t watching. We may not think the sins we commit every day are so bad.  But in God’s eyes, all of these sins are serious.  And all of them have the same punishment attached to them: eternal death.  And Satan wraps all these sins up in a beautiful package that always looks tempting to us-  so tempting that we may want to reach out and accept it from him.

If we went back in time to Jesus’ day, we would see very similar problems.  The sins we commit aren’t new and exciting.  They are the same miserable acts that people have performed since the beginning of time.  The morals of the society Jesus was born into probably weren’t much different than those of our society.  The sin, the shame and the indifference were all there.  That’s the world this little boy was born into—a world that had, for the most part, separated itself from God and lived for itself.

That is why God had to become a man: to fulfill all those laws that we break and to live a perfect life for us because we aren’t able to do it.  But if that baby born on the first Christmas had been just a baby, had been only a man, we wouldn’t be any better off in the eyes of God.  The baby Jesus was not only 100% human.  He was also 100% God.

“We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”    This simple sentence tells us how it was possible that this tiny baby could save the world.  The glory that was revealed in Christ could only be from God.  Jesus is the “only-begotten of the Father.”  Even though we as Christians are called “children of God,” we are not God’s offspring.   We, as Christians, are adopted by God.  Paul tells us in Galatians:  “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”  We will receive the same inheritance as God’s Son, but we are all born of two earthly parents.  Jesus is the only one Whose Father is truly God.

This was also necessary for our salvation.  If Jesus had been only a really good and wise man as some would have us believe, then we would have no reason to celebrate Christmas. If Jesus had only been a man, then He couldn’t have fulfilled God’s Law because He would have been born a sinner. And we would have no hope of salvation.  Jesus had to also be God in order to be perfect.  Only God’s perfection could keep His own Law perfectly.

Imagine you were given the choice between two gifts.  One is big and wrapped in bright, colorful paper, with a ribbon on it, and the other is smaller and wrapped in plain brown paper.  Our natural reaction would be to pick the big, beautifully-wrapped gift.  We think that a valuable gift would be wrapped this way.  But when we open it, we find emptiness.  And inside the other box is a treasure.

The sins that God punishes with death, Satan wraps up to look like a beautiful gift.   The sins we commit look fun and exciting, but when we’re through with them there’s nothing inside but emptiness and death.  The gift of life that God gives us wasn’t wrapped very well by human standards.  It was a poor little baby, lying in an animal’s home.  It was an innocent man, wrongly accused and executed for the crimes that we committed.  On the outside, the gift of Jesus didn’t look like much; the wrapping was very plain.  But inside was the greatest gift that we could ever receive.

God takes the gift Satan wants to hand to you—sin and death—the “gift” that we’re all too ready to accept because it looks so tempting, and He exchanges it with the gift He wants to give you: forgiveness and salvation.  Jesus is given death. And, as believers, we are given life. We’re told in 2 Corinthians: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

When my brother switched the tags on all the gifts when I was six years old, it caused quite a few problems.  My parents had to watch as each gift was unwrapped to make sure it went to the right person.  When God sent His Son as a gift to the world, the gift was for everyone, and it was no mistake.

If you are still holding onto the beautifully-wrapped package that Satan keeps pushing into your hands: temptation, sin, and indifference to God’s Word, then look at the gift that God has given to you, the gift that you have to let go of to hold on to death.  The tag on the gift has your name on it and it’s not a mistake.  It’s for you and for everyone else in the world.  As we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ, we remember the greatest gift that has ever been given to anyone: the gift of eternal life through Christ, our Savior. And even though we often are tempted to return it, to exchange it for something that looks more exciting, the gift remains unless we give it up ourselves. God has promised His faithful that this gift will never be taken away from them. Your greatest Christmas gift is the Christ Child, your Savior, who has taken death from you and exchanged it for eternal life.

-Rev. Paul Fries