Sermon: "God's Greatest Gift"

Fifth in the "A Community of Light" series.
Delivered December 24, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6

Theme: The greatest Christmas gift was the first one. It wasn't a toy or clothes, but a person. Let's not neglect or reject that gift!

audio The audio file of this sermon is available for download and listening in MP3 format.
Sermon Text: John 3:16-21

Well we are finally here. It's Christmas Eve and I don't know about you, but I spend a lot of time looking forward to Christmas coming. I can remember when I was a young child Christmas Eve was a particularly special time. I can remember that; I must have been young at the time because I can remember going to family get-togethers and then my dad carrying me out and as I went out, I would be looking up in the sky to see if somehow I could catch a glimpse of Santa Claus flying over dropping off presents somewhere. I really enjoyed that feeling because as I was sitting there I knew that once I got home if I just found a way to get myself to go to sleep then very soon morning would come and I would be able to wake up; it might be 5:30 but that was late enough, I could wake up and I could see all the incredible gifts that were given. And we really do like to receive gifts, don't we? Think about your favorite gift that you received or some of the favorite gifts that you have gotten; think back. It might be years ago, but whatever it is, it still can bring a little bit of joy to your heart as you think about that. I can think of one gift that was one of my best gifts ever and one of my worst gifts ever at the same time. I was probably around six-years-old and I got a battery-powered tank that would run on its own tracks and then it would shoot little plastic bullets. You can't even buy tanks that do that anymore. You will shoot your eye out. Man, I had one of these things and it was absolutely wonderful. I would put books in front of it and it would climb over the books and oh golly I enjoyed it. It was one of the worst presents ever because before the morning was over my cousin broke it. I still have a picture of my cousin playing with that tank before it broke. I am still struggling to forgive my cousin, no. We love getting presents and even now thinking about those presents can bring a little bit of joy to our hearts.

We love giving gifts as well. Now I don't like to go to malls. I really don't care for that a whole lot. And yet around Christmas I start getting this desire to hit the different shopping areas in the Baltimore area and I start going to places and start making my list and checking it twice; even if I am not getting the big gifts, even if all those decisions are made already and we are getting that by shopping on-line, I will go to stores and browse around even if its just for things to put in the stocking, because we love to give gifts to people that we love. We like to get gifts, but particularly as we grow older we love to give them as well. And that's part of what we enjoy about Christmas. But no matter how great the gifts are that we receive, no matter how great the gifts are that we give to one another, they are never as great as the gift that only God could give us. And so what we are going to be thinking about in just a few moments is the incredible gift that God has given us and that's why we celebrate Christmas.

We love getting and receiving gifts. We have some gifts up here today and you all have some gifts in your hands. If you are a child you have some gifts in your hand and in just a minute, not right now, but in just a minute I am going to let you open it, but first we are going to open the gifts that are up here and I would like to invite the Rittlers to come up, Greg, Elise and family come on up and help me out with this. Alright. Okay. Good luck is right. Why don't you help me out, why don't you open these up, and then we will figure out what we are doing here. Okay. Let's take these out. What do we have in these gifts here? The shepherds. Let's get the shepherds out. These are an important part of the gift today. Whoa, that sheep just jumped off the cliff there. Okay. We've got the shepherds. Those are great shepherds. Okay. Great. Now what do we have next? An angel. Okay. Would you put the angel up there for me? Let me move out of the way so people can see. Okay, what else? Who is that? Joseph. Yeah. We heard earlier that Joseph is a gift as well. Who is this? Mary and the baby Jesus. Now what does this tell us about the gift that God gives us? That's what we are going to be thinking about.

And so now you can open up those presents that you've got and inside you've got some things that are going to help you listen to the rest of the sermon. Oh, you've got a present too and I have forgotten it, what is it? You open it up. Now you go ahead down there and you will be able to use your present okay. Great. You've got it open now? Do you see what's inside? You can use those things to help listen to the rest of what we are going to be hearing about. Inside you should have some crayons, some wicky sticks, a card and a glow stick, which is to be used later. Okay now, are you ready to listen? The greatest gift ever given is the very first gift of Christmas and this is what the gift was. The gift was a person. The gift was Jesus. God gave the whole world a present when he gave Jesus and we hear that in the passages in what the angels said to the shepherds. We have an angel up here and we have shepherds up here. Listen to what the angel said to the shepherds.

"And there was shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and the angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

God has sent a savior and this is good news for all people. This is in the very earliest announcement about the birth of Jesus. It is good news here for all people because God has sent a savior and what does a savior do? A savior protects us from things. A savior is someone who delivers us out of a bad situation: gets us out of a bad situation, out of destruction and danger and brings us to a place where we are safe, a place where we can be happy. And so these angels tell everybody that God has given a gift of a savior. The apostle John puts it a little differently and that's tonight's text. It comes from the gospel of John, Chapter 3 and I am going to read beginning at the 16th verse.

"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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

God so loved the world that he gave; that same joy that we feel when we give is a joy that God felt when he gave to us, but he gave to us something much more valuable than what we can afford to give one another. And John reminds us that what God gave to us was for a bigger reason than just because God wanted to show us that he wanted to be with us. Now that's definitively part of what God is doing, but Jesus didn't become a human being just so God could say, "Hey I want to be one of you. I want to be close to you." The problem is far bigger than that. This passage we have in the Book of John talks about there being darkness, that there is condemnation, that people are perishing, that there is destruction. There are a lot of strong words in the passage I just read. There is a problem in this world that Jesus came to solve. That's what he came to save us from and that problem is evil. All of us experience that evil in our lives, but part of the problem is that that evil is inside of us and that's what Jesus came to deal with. It's a problem that is so serious that it leads to death. And so God sends a savior to help us deal with that.

We see the gravity of God's gift particularly because this same Jesus that's born in a manger here goes to the cross and so in just a few months in the church year we celebrate the fact and we think about the fact that God in Jesus Christ faced death on the cross for us, to take our place, not to just become one of us, but to take our place in judgment so that we could be forgiven and so that we could have a fellowship with God. So what's behind all of this is God coming to be with us and to lay a foundation for being able to establish a relationship with us forever and he does that not just through Jesus being born, but also through Jesus dying and being resurrected. It's sort of funny to be here on Christmas Eve right as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it's weird to be here talking about death, and yet its Jesus death and his resurrection that completes the promise that's made by the angels, that's made by the prophets as Jesus is born.

God so loved the world that he gave. He gave his one and only son. In Jesus, God is still giving himself to us and we can have a relationship with God, a living relationship right now with the God who sent Jesus Christ. Emmanuel. God with us. Now, tomorrow, maybe some us tonight, are going to be starting to open presents. Is that going to happen at your house? You will be opening presents and one of the saddest things I can think of is if when we are opening presents someone goes in to a present that was lovingly selected, they open it up and look at it and they say, I don't want this junk and they reject it. And the more valuable the present the more thought that has gone in to selecting that present, the deeper the rejection is if we say, "No, we don't want what you have given us." Well, God has spent an eternity picking out this present, Jesus Christ for us. And God has given us the most valuable thing possible: his one and only son on our behalf so that we can be restored to a relationship with him. The message for us is let's not reject a gift like that. And if we received a gift like that already at another time in our life, let's not neglect it. We can neglect this relationship that God has so dearly bought at the cost of Jesus' own life. Let's not neglect that if we are already followers of Jesus, but if we are not even a follower yet, let's not reject a gift of this magnitude. What better time than Christmas Eve to take a first step, to believe the good news of great joy that the angels talked about, to accept what God has done on our behalf, because the message here that we celebrate tonight is that today in the city of David a savior has been born who is Christ the Lord. Amen.

© 2005, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145