by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
Children of God: Receiving Our Rightful Inheritance – In our final week leading up to Christmas, we are celebrating what it means to have “the right to be called children of God.”
Read Ephesians 2:1-10
If you’ve been lucky enough to sit in on any of Mark Baur’s classes on the Old Testament, you know that (despite all that you may have learned as a child in Sunday School) every single one of the Old Testament “heroes” turns into a “villain” at some point. We are often desperate to hold up Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and say, “Learn from these guys – do what is right!” But the truth is that the Bible holds them up and says, “These guys were some of the best. And still, they could not keep it together the way God intended.” The lesson we ultimately learn from the lives of these men and women is that we all fall short of God’s standard – there is no one righteous, not even one.
So instead of trying to be like Joshua or Joseph, we are to be like Christ. That baby in the manger would physically embody the Hero to whom we were supposed to look all along. But that “all fall short” thing hasn’t changed; no amount of effort on our part will make us like Him. The harder we try, the worse off we are.
And this is where the “gift” of grace comes in: Jesus offered His human body in exchange for ours; thus, by the mystery that is the Gospel, we can wear His righteousness, and when God sees us, He will see the holiness of Christ rather than all our flawed attempts to be holy on our own.
In just a few days, my family of five will gather together around our Christmas tree and take turns opening the gifts we’ve chosen for each other. (That makes it sound a lot more orderly and peaceful than the reality – which will actually involve a LOT of noise and torn bits of paper and random skirmishes based on perceived slights and probably way too much sugar in the system.) It will be one of our favorite nights of the year. The kids love getting gifts, and we love to make them happy. It’s true that we try each year to set expectations significantly lower than what we see on TV – no beribboned Mercedes in our driveway, that’s for sure – and that we do lots of things throughout the season to remind our kids that it’s not just about the presents. But at the same time, we choose to celebrate with presents because we really do believe that this season is a time for giving – and that part of the reason we try to give good gifts to each other is that we have received the Best Gift from Christ.
But I will be the first to admit that I’m not always sure this is the best thing for our kids; by mid-December of each year, I find I’m living with three tiny monsters who can talk of nothing but “what I want for Christmas” – and the list is always growing, right up until the last moment! Sometimes I think we’ll try a “no gift” Christmas – but then I imagine the look on my kids’ faces, and my courage runs and hides in a corner to wait out the New Year. So instead, I feebly tell my kids not to expect more than a few gifts this year – and often, I break all my own rules in my excitement over the new toys and games and books and clothes that I know they’ll just love.
But something William Willimon wrote about Christmas has given me new perspective on this; he claims that “we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people but because we are proud, arrogant people” who “prefer to think of ourselves as givers — powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.” He notes that “the Christmas story — the one according to Luke not Dickens — is not about how blessed it is to be givers but about how essential it is to see ourselves as receivers.”
In Christmas, we are indeed presented with the Best Gift Ever. But this is not a gift that we politely receive in exchange for a gift we ourselves brought, as is typically the case with gifts at Christmas time. This is a gift that we cannot reciprocate – that we dare not, in our arrogance, attempt to reciprocate. It is a gift that we must receive, with humility and total dependance on the Giver, every day of the year. We must receive this gift with the assurance that we could never in a million years be good enough to deserve it. We must receive it without strings attached – and without presuming that it comes conditionally. It is the free gift of grace for all.
In that light, I will be watching my kids with some envy this Christmas, knowing that they have perfected the art of receiving gifts – with joy and gladness, with no thought of having been good enough, and with no plans to reciprocate with anything more (or less) than a grateful hug. And I will be thinking of how I might wake each morning and gladly receive God’s gift of complete grace – His redemption of my soul, and His willingness to use me, broken vessel that I am, for His glory – with humility and gratitude, and without a thought of having to earn this grace, knowing that Christ Himself already paid for it in full.