The Presence of Presents
December 24, 2013
In our over-commercialized world, it can be easy to think that Christmas is all about toys and trinkets, clothing and cash. Everywhere we turn this time of year, we are overrun with advertisements and bombarded with commercials.
In this special Christmas message, though, Pastor Ed Young helps us distinguish the difference between God’s meaning for Christmas and the world’s message of it. And we remember that Christmas is all about Jesus – the ultimate gift, the perfect present.
ILLUS: I had a dream a couple of months ago that in reality was a nightmare. I dreamed that in five minutes, all of our Christmas services would begin, and I hadn’t prepared anything. So I walked on stage, more nervous than usual, and I just said, “Today I’m going to talk about presents presence. The presence of God,” I said, “was the ultimate present.” And then I woke up.
And then I remembered the dream and thought, “That would be a pretty cool Christmas message. That would be interesting.” The presence of Jesus is the ultimate present. So that’s what I’m going to talk to you about over the next few moments that remain. The presence is what the true present is all about.
When Jesus was born in a manger, they called him Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Literally the presence of God. To be present means a person is in a particular place. You’re in attendance, you’re here, you’re there, you’re nearby. It’s a period of time, now occurring. It’s a moment of time between past and future.
Jesus has been present from the past to the future. He’s just as present today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow. We celebrate his presence by the ultimate presents. The Bible says in John 1:14 (NKJV), “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…”
In the English language, our language which is sometimes confusing, there is present tense and present perfect. Jesus envelops both of those. He’s present, but also he’s present perfect. He’s the perfect present, the perfect son of God.
I like another definition of “present” – it means to introduce, especially with a formal ceremony. To show, to put forward. His presence is a present, and the present is his presence. He’s everywhere all of the time. There is nowhere where he is not.
Jesus is present to give us the ultimate, perfect present. His presence is our present. The presence of God is the present from God. The ultimate present is his ultimate presence.
I think we give presents because he gave his presence.
Emmanuel is God with us. Granted he is with us, but are we with him? There’s a difference between with and in. He is with us, but is he within us? He’s by us, beside us, with us and around us; but is he within us? Can you imagine a world where God is not with us? You think our culture is crazy now. Can you imagine a world where God is not with us? The result? Utter chaos. And even the low grade and overt chaos we see is cause by marginalizing our maker and pushing God out.
God penetrated the world. God wants to penetrate our hearts and lives. If you think about the metaphors Jesus compared himself to, it’s all about penetration. Light penetrates darkness. A door penetrates a room. Leaven penetrates bread. Salt penetrates the food.
Jesus was born into the world. The good news of Christmas is that he can be born into our lives as we are born again.
The perfect gift is selected. When you consider the ultimate present, which is the presence of God, I would have to say that as you select that perfect gift (I’m not perfect; you’re not perfect, but God gave us the perfect gift) we select it. We shop. We ask ourselves “What does this person need or want?” And the ultimate gift always reflects the personality of the giver and meets the need of the recipient. This of course was secured perfectly in Jesus.
Not only was the gift selected, it was purchased. Jesus purchased your freedom, your emancipation and mine on the cross.
For example, let’s say you have maxed out your credit card. Your credit card is smoking you’ve used it so much. And then suddenly you find out you’ve lost your job and you can’t even make the minimum payments. You start getting inundated with phone calls and emails and texts about the card. And you just don’t have the money. You can’t make the payments. So it’s like, “What do I do? What do I do?”
And one day you’re scrolling through your emails and you see an email written to you. And to your shock and awe, someone has paid your debt in full. They’ve taken care of the debt you could not take care of. Well, that’s what Jesus did for us. We were maxed out. We’d done this and that and we had nothing to show for it. Jesus took our debts and he paid for them on the cross. He purchased them.
Notice, too, this ultimate gift was selected, it was purchased; also it was wrapped – wrapped in flesh, epidermis. Fully God; fully man.
You select a present. You purchase is. You wrap it. But then the fourth this is you have to give it. A gift demands a response. There’s something about a present; it just cries to be opened. There’s an element of intrigue and surprise, and mystery.
Could it be that we go through this process – the selecting, the purchasing, the wrapping and the giving – because it’s a reflection of our great God, because we’re made in his image? It’s time that we receive the gift and unwrap it, use it, wear it, and appreciate it.
ILLUS: Here’s a question that I ask several people. “What did you get for Christmas last year?” Most couldn’t come up with an answer. Yeah, if you got an engagement ring or a car or something like that you would remember. But most of us would have to really think for a while to really remember what we received for Christmas last year.
Christmas is not about presents; it’s about his presence. We need his presence more than presents. God’s presence puts man’s presents to shame.
Our talents are a present from God. And what we do with them is an act of love, an act of worship. We should show our love to God because he saved us from stuff. Santa just gave us some stuff. I’m not perfect; you’re not perfect. But the perfect present makes us perfect.
Christmas is the season where we forget the past, forget the future, and just focus on the present. And that’s what most of us are focusing on right now – the present. The present is his present.
We enjoy giving great gifts. I know I do, especially the older I get the more I enjoy giving great gifts. So the present is his presence. And this process that we go through is just a microcosm of the process that God went through when he gave us the ultimate present.
I think it’s interesting that 83 times in the Bible the word “gift” is used.
As I said earlier, if we’d needed information, God would have sent a professor. If we had needed money management advice he would have sent us an economist. But we needed forgiveness so he sent us Jesus.
Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” And we needed forgiveness. But this text continues. “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God purchased this gift by the blood of Jesus, not with money. So after God selected it, purchased it, and wrapped it, he offers it to us. Titus 2:11, “For the free gift of eternal salvation is now being offered to everyone.”
After we receive this perfect gift, he wants us to exchange gifts with him.
ILLUS: Lisa’s birthday was a couple of days ago. We went out to an Italian restaurant. Then we rented a carriage and drove through and looked at lights. Something strange happened during her birthday. We didn’t give her one gift. We gave each other gifts.
You think that’s strange? You think that’s weird? I don’t. So often, that’s what I’ve done; that’s what you’ve done when it comes to Christmas.
There are, though, several gifts that we can give God, now that he doesn’t have unless we actually give them to him. The first one is our time. He can take it and multiply it. Time weekly in his church, time regularly as we talk to him in prayer.
Another gift we can return to him is our talents and abilities. These presents were given to us by God, and we can present them back to him, fully developed as an act of worship to him.
When someone receives Jesus, they have a supernatural sense about their abilities. God puts his super on our natural. Have you given your talents and abilities to God?
“Well, I’m a self-made man. I’m a self-made woman.”
Well, who gave you what you have in order to do what you’ve done?
ILLUS: Years ago, when my son was 6 or 7, he much have asked me this question 15 times on Christmas eve. “Dad, is today Christmas? Is today Christmas?” I said, “No, it’s not.” “Dad, is today Christmas?” No, it’s not. I said, “Tomorrow is.” So finally, after a while he got wise and changed his question. He said, “Dad, is today tomorrow?”
Our father is looking at you and saying, “Today is tomorrow.” The presence of Christ is around you, but you have not received the present of him. He is with you, but he is not within you. Today you can do that deal.