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December 7, 2011    Merry Christmas

Christmas Message 2011: The Gift is NOT in the Box

On November 26, 2011, news report across the nation narrated stories of people hunting for annual bargain to start the traditional Christmas shopping season after the Thanksgiving holiday. Sadly, there were reports of shootings, brawls, stabbings, and pepper spraying as many unruly shoppers scrambled to get the best Black Friday deals.

If the purpose of Christmas is what is inside the box of a present, then we have lost Christmas to the devil! The trick of the devil in the Garden of Eden was to seduce man’s soul with fleshly desires. In the process, he blocked human spiritual development, severing his relationship with God. The devil succeeded! That is why the human race is in trouble today because of the curse of the original sin. The devil continues to use the same tricks today and many people including Christians are blindfolded to his distractive strategies using materialism. Consequently, instead of focusing on God during the Christmas season, we redirect the focus on ourselves leading us farther away from God. Lack of fulfillment of human insatiable desires of the flesh will crash many into depression during the Christmas season. The solution is to redirect our focus from ourselves back to God who gave us the reason to celebrate Christmas in the first place. The Lord will in turn direct us to other people for us to nurture. Being led by the Lord to do his will is what brings us joy, not what is inside the box.

Around the Christmas season every year, businesses continue to seduce people so they can spend more and more money. They exploit people’s desires for materialism and consumerism. The tradition of spending more money around this time of the year is now elevated higher than the purpose of Christmas itself. As a result, we get stuck with the obsession of either giving presents in boxes to other people, with an anticipation of getting something back in return. Many times we get disappointed. We ended up losing the essence of the Christmas celebration and the spirit. Instead of looking to Jesus, we look into our own desires whether they are met or not.

The best way to understand the essence of Christmas celebration is to look at the original sin and what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Even violated God’s ordinance based on their disobedience. The devil tricked them, and stole earthly dominion from them. Nobody was able to take responsibility for what happened because Adam blamed God for giving him the woman. The woman blamed the devil. God consequently placed curses on ALL the parties involved. However, God tempered justice with mercy when he created a plan of salvation to reconcile man back to himself. God therefore gave man the second chance to rebuke the devil and to embrace the desires of the Lord. This was the reason why God sent his Son in human flesh to deliver God’s message, and to pay the debt of the sins man has committed against God. Jesus therefore came to reconcile us back to God. For this primary reason, we celebrate Christmas, as God’s greatest gift to humanity is the gift of his Son as a sacrificial lamb for the sins of the world. The greatest gift is therefore not in the box, the greatest gift is on the cross. The gifts on the cross represent forgiveness of sins, redemption, reconciliation, mercy, and eternal salvation.

In a graphic way, Abraham raised up his hand to jab the knife into the throat of his son Isaac. He was about to slash the throat of his own son to please God. He wanted to do as God had instructed him to sacrifice his only son. As the knife came down, the angel of the Lord stopped the motion of Abraham’s hand. The hand froze in mid motion. Isaac did not die on that sacrificial altar; instead it was a ram. However, when God the Father placed his only Son on that sacrificial altar and raised his hand, this time, the hand motion did not stop. The sharp knife jabbed through the throat of his only Son, with blood splashing all over the altar. Jesus died on the altar of God called the cross. He was covered with blood! God offered his own Son as the sacrificial lamb for humanity – it was the greatest gift anybody could ever have given. "Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends" (St. John 15:13). Subsequent to this, Jesus resurrected and he took his own blood, entered into the Holy of the Holiest in Heaven, and offered this precious blood at the mercy seat in Heaven to wipe out the sins of the world. Everybody that came out of a woman was born in sin and deserves the atonement of sins. The blood of Jesus is offered as a sacrificial payment for sins to those who believe in him and have accepted God’s plan of salvation through Jesus. That is why Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus’ blood was the only blood that sealed the New Covenant between God and man. No blood is pure enough to wipe away the sins of humanity except the precious blood of the Son of God.

The tradition of shopping and spending money during Christmas has obscured the reality of the divine gift God gave to man and the essence of life. Many people including non-Christians believe erroneously that the essence of life is just to work hard, make money and just enjoy life till death comes. This is a false notion of the purpose of life. As a result of this false notion, even Christians continue to seek the hands of God to deliver their wants. Such a notion is very contrary to what Jesus asked us to do. He said, "But, seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these shall be added on to you" (St. Matthew 6:33). Jesus was saying by this verse that we should first seek the heart of God, and we will subsequently experience the manifestations of his hand. Today, we do the reverse. We seek the hand first. If we do not get what we want, we sometimes walk away from God, and into the hands of the devil. Then the devil will do his havoc. He strips us naked, chews us into little pieces, and leaves us on the roadside of life badly wounded, bleeding, and weeping. Jesus comes to the side of the road, covers our nakedness to protect our shame, wipes our tears to put smile on our face, and binds our wounds to heal our wounded soul. He then offers us a free plane ticket home, and a safe dwelling place in the heart of God the Father. Who else is able to do this besides Jesus? Nobody, but God!

There are many people who have experienced the hands of God, and they never cared to experience the heart of God; hurting God’s feelings. How many of us are happy when our children only come to us when they need something? As soon as you give them what they want, they will disappear until when they need something. Many people have friends like this. They only call you when they need something again. You could have given your life’s savings to them for years. At the moment you can no longer give them what they request is the moment they start bad-mouthing you to other people. Don’t we do God the same way? We only come to him when we need something. Do we ever care to reach out to his heart? Do we realize that sometimes we hurt the heart of God by our indifference to his feelings? And some mad people want to say God does not exist!

According to Exodus chapters 33 and 34, and confirmed by Psalm 34:7, Moses experienced the nature of God because he touched the heart of God. The children of Israel only experienced the acts or the physical manifestations of God. Through Jesus, God changes his plan, and allows each person to experience his heart through Jesus. That was why God placed Moses in the cleft of a rock before he revealed his back to him. That rock is a symbol that represents Christ. We can boldly go straight to God today, through Jesus. This is the relationship God wants with his children; an intimate spiritual fellowship and relationship.

The gift box offered during Christmas only symbolizes the gift of love. What is present in the box is not the gift. It’s a symbol. The size of the box does not matter, except the size of the heart that offers the gift. Many people especially some children will be very happy on the Christmas day because they receive what they want. Many other people will be very disappointed because they fail to receive what they want. People who enshroud themselves with disappointment should look beyond the box and look at the cross. The gift is therefore not in the box, the gift is on the cross.

Holiday blues should die once we understand the reason for the season. The celebration of Christmas is far beyond the disappointments of this world, or the pain of personal failures. It is not about bringing back the suffering memories of yesteryears because of the painful incidents of the past. If we choose to close the door to the past, we can look forward with joy to where Jesus is leading us instead of being bogged down with the painful pasts. "Loneliness is a choice," said Dr. David Jeremiah in his preaching series of November 2011, Overcoming Loneliness. If we cultivate a closer relationship with Christ, the painful moments of the past become irrelevant. The more we look at our painful past, the more we torture ourselves! The more we look at Christ, the more we experience love, joy, and peace.

"In his presence is the fullness of joy, in his right hand are pleasures for ever more" (Psalm 16:11).

As we all know, a Christian does not die! That is an undisputable fact. Once a Christian comes out of the physical body, he or she is more alive than in the physical. More of the spiritual awareness comes alive and the person is even able to travel so easily through the spirit dimension. A Christian does not lose consciousness after the physical death of the body, but goes into transition from the physical to total spiritual being entering into the tunnel on the way back to Heaven. I have witnessed the transition process of some people. It is a time of great jubilation for those who believe in Christ, and not in material possessions. This is a very painful moment for those who do not believe in Christ, as their souls are placed under arrest and taken into the holding cell in Hades beneath this earth – a very unpleasant place.

An earthly magician has a box, but Jesus has the cross. The devil asked Jesus to trade his cross for the box, Jesus answered and said, "Hell no! Get behind me devil!" The miracle is therefore not inside a gift box, but on the cross of eternal salvation as the precious gift of God the Father to the world.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

‘Yinka Vidal, author, Closer Walk With Jesus