This is a transcript of the talk given at the St. George’s Carol Service on 21st December 2023.
Christmas Unwrapped Survey
Something I’ve been involved with for many years in the lead up to Christmas is something called, Christmas Unwrapped. It is an interactive presentation of the true Christmas story for children in the last year of Primary School. Various churches invite schools from across Thanet to attend.
As part of the event there is a survey of the 10 and 11 year olds with various questions to do with Christmas. When asked for their ‘Favourite Christmas Song’,
the most popular was: ‘All I want for Christmas is you’
followed by ‘The Last Christmas’ and ‘Jingle Bells’
When asked for their Favourite Part of Christmas
Spending time with family and Presents took the top two spots
When asked What will you give for Christmas,
Although, some said presents and money, “love” took the top spot!
Now I’m not sure what to make of that. At first glance a child saying, ‘I want to give love this Christmas’, provokes that sense of Ahhhh… isn’t that sweet!
Yet, a more cynical response might ask, shouldn’t you give love all year round, are you saying you only love people at Christmas? Surely, we give presents to express at Christmas as an expression of our all year round love?
And is giving love at Christmas really an excuse for saying, I’m not willing to spend any money on buying you any presents!!
When it comes to the Christian message of Christmas of course it is all about ‘God’s gift of love.’
That’s not to say that God only loved us when he sent Jesus. Rather, the birth of Jesus, was a historical event that expressed God’s eternal love for the world.
As it says later in John’s gospel,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,”(John 3:16)
But more importantly, God’s gift of love was certainly costly.
Love is costly
True love is never cost free. Love means treating another as valuable and important in your life, which means you will be willing to make sacrifices for them and that is costly!
In particular, to love someone, means to make yourself vulnerable to them. It means risking being rejected.
In John’s gospel we are told that the birth of Jesus, was the eternal Word, or Son of God being made flesh. In that moment, God became utterly vulnerable.
He was born not in a spotless maternity ward, but in a stable. Not into a family with a secure home, but one which was temporarily homeless. Not into a world, where he was welcomed, but one where the most powerful man of the time in his area, King Herod sought to destroy him.
Yet, the Christmas story is just a foreshadowing of what was to come. John tells us:
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:10-11)
Someone came to our house for tea the other day wearing a provocative t-shirt with a picture of the typical Christmas stable scene on it. Underneath the scene were the words: spoiler alert – “he dies!”
For the eternal Word, the lack of acceptance ultimately meant a cruel and humiliating death on the cross. This is where God’s eternal love was exhibited even more powerfully. As he says later in John, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).
So, God’s gift to us was costly – so, what made this gift worth such a great cost. What did Jesus’s death achieve for us.
Part of the answer comes in John 1:
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
Love needs accepting
So that is the gift, but will we accept it?
The publicity produced this Christmas is called, The Great Invitation. There is a sense in which Christmas is an invitation. Not just to come and enjoy the festive feel with traditional services, but to receive God’s ultimate gift. Yet, as with any invitation it needs to be accepted and as with any gift it needs to be unwrapped.
So is this the kind of present or invitation you are looking for?
In the Christmas Unwrapped survey one of the other questions the children were asked were: What do you hope to receive? The answers to this included things like: a phone, PC/Computer game station and money. If all we are looking for in life are material possessions, then we will probably miss God’s invitation and fail to open this most expensive and precious present.
However, when the children were asked about Hopes and Dreams for 2023, the two top spots were for a deceased family member to be with them and for another family member to get better. In this case the concerns were to somehow overcome sickness and death and find restored relationships.
These desires come closer to what God is offering us. God’s gift is an invitation not just to come to a church service at Christmas, but to follow him with all of your life in the way that does ultimately overcome sickness and death, because as children of God, we gain eternal life!
So, will we see God’s gift as merely a decorative gift to be left unwrapped and put away with all the other decorations until next Christmas or will we actually unwrap it and choose to follow Christ in the way of Life all year round?