Christmas is not about the gifts.
Heard that before? Maybe it came from your parents in your youth, or maybe even from your own lips, as you tried to steer your children toward a proper perspective about the holiday.
Actually, it is.
Christmas is all about the gifts – just not the ones you and I wrap and place around the tree.
Christmas is about the wonderful gifts that God bestows on all the people of the world, first given in the person of Jesus many years ago, and still lavishly distributed to hearts around the world to this day.
Allow me to explain. Tragically, we have lost sight of the specific gifts given that first Christmas, even though the Old Testament prophet Isaiah identified them. Honestly, who reads the prophets anymore?
Well, Jesus certainly did. The Gospel of Luke tells us that on the very first day of his ministry, in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth , he read a portion of Isaiah 61.* He finished the passage he had chosen and sat down, and then these words: Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. In other words, I’m the one that Isaiah promised would be sent by the Holy Spirit.
Luke tells us that Jesus only read verse 1 and the first line of verse 2, a commission that should be engrained on our hearts, as they form the 9 of Jesus’ purpose in life and ours. The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to…
By ending the quote where he did, Luke implied that Jesus stopped reading in the middle of Isaiah’s sentence. I don’t have any proof, but I believe Jesus kept reading to the conclusion of Isaiah’s train of thought.
Here is the full reading from Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
Whether Jesus read the second half of this passage or not is irrelevant. What matters is that we see the truth of what Jesus was sent to bestow upon the world, three amazing gifts on his birthday. I’ve long reflected on the meaning of these gifts, and am still formulating an adequate summary.
What do you think? Let’s make this an interactive post by sharing in your comments what Jesus’ gifts mean – to you personally and in a universal sense.
Together they sound like what the loving father lavished on the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable.** They also strike me as an awesome summary of the life-transforming gifts he gave to Peter and to Zaccheus, to Mary Magdalene and to the woman at the well.
Here are my tentative thoughts.
Crown of Beauty – A symbol of our worth and honor, God seeks to adorn the heads of those who are created in his image, his beloved. We bear the garland that proclaims the wonderful truth of Christ’s victory over death and sin; we are forgiven!
Oil of Joy – Oil is a common biblical symbol for the Holy Spirit, which speaks to God’s gifting us with his presence, and bestowing upon us an abiding sense of joy.
Garment (or Mantle) of Praise –God exchanges the filthy rags of our self-righteousness and our need to be liked by others for a wardrobe that expresses our true identity as God’s people. In doing so, we are given a new purpose – living for the display of his splendor, not for our own.
I hope you noticed the gifts that God chose never to bestow: ashes, mourning, and a spirit of despair. Heaping portions of shame and hopelessness come to us from many directions, but not from Jesus. He extends an inviting hand, never an accusing finger.
So what? What difference does it make that the truth of Christmas is about God distributing these gifts to you and to all mankind? You can answer that yourself, by asking this simple question.
How would your life change if you truly lived into the reality that…
… you have worth and beauty in God’s eyes, no longer saddled with the ashes of unforgiveness and shame?
… God is present with you every moment of every day, knowing that the familiar feelings of loneliness and God’s absence are just illusions, passing clouds that can be dispelled with a single word: Nevertheless.
… you can look in the mirror and no longer see a wounded soul that wounds others, obsessed with trying to impress others and to fit in. You have a new identity – one of his little oaks of righteousness – and a daily purpose – to bring the splendor of a little comfort and joy wherever darkness resides.
What a life that would be!
These are exactly the gifts that Jesus has bestowed on you – a crown of beauty, the oil of joy, and a garment of praise – and he hopes you will receive them and call them your own. And so I wish you the best Christmas you can ever imagine.
Why? Because it’s all about the gifts.
Benediction of Blessing
May God give you a new set of eyes, that you can see the reality of God’s gifts to you at Christmas. This Christmas, 2021.
May God’s Spirit, who lives in you, transform the way you look at and treat other people – including those whom you dislike and who dislike you – enabling you to see them also as beloved ones upon whom Jesus has bestowed these gifts.
May ashes, mourning, and a spirit of despair be tossed into the trash bin of your consciousness, as possessions unworthy of your identity.
The Blue Spigot will open again in January.
Time with family is precious.
Christmas and New Years blessings to all of you!
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM
* Luke 4:14-30
** Luke 15:11-32