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December 31, 2023

The Christmas Gift Plan….

Passage: Zechariah 2:10-13, John 1:15-18, 1 John 4:9-16

Sermon Theme: The Christmas Gift Plan…


Stage 1: Promise & Anticipation, Stage 2: Fulfillment & Reception, and Stage 3: Aftermath & Invitation

The Scripture Readings may be read as you come across them in the sermon:

“I can’t wait to open that giant present! What is it! What is it!” That’s something you’ve probably heard a child say leading up to Christmas. Now how about this, on Christmas day the child opens their gift, some speedily and with lots of energy and others much more delicately lest they damage their gift. Whatever the case may be, they open their gift and practically say, “wow! This is what I’ve been asking for all year!” The joy in their eyes as they hold in their hands the fulfillment of their Christmas wishes is quite a wholesome site. And finally, what happens shortly after Christmas? School comes back up again and every kid shares, “My mom and dad got me this, my uncle got me that, grandma got me this.” Some kids even bring their gifts to share and show off. Some even invite their friends over to their houses to play with their gifts.

I call these three stages of Christmas gift reception the three stages of the Christmas gift plan: stage 1—the promise and anticipation “What is it! What is it!” Stage 2—The fulfillment and reception, “Wow! This is amazing! Thank you!” And Stage 3—The aftermath and sharing, “Guess what my parents got me! You should come over and see it!” As we take in the celebration of Christmas this morning and give praises to our loving Father, praises to the incarnate Son Jesus, and praises to the joy-peace-hope bringer, the Holy Spirit; let us evaluate God’s loving message for us according to the stages of the Christmas plan: Stage 1—the promise and anticipation, Stage 2—the fulfillment and reception, and Stage 3—the aftermath and invitation.

We begin with stage 1, promise and anticipation:

(Read Zechariah 2:10-13)

In the anticipation of Christmas gifts, many a child can go nuts just trying to figure out what’s inside a package. They want their gift before it is time, but hopefully they patiently wait for it. Now, as you all know from raising children and from being a child once, this anticipation provides parents with an opportunity for discipline: “You do this, you lose a gift. You do that, you lose another one. You open it too early, you have to earn it back, etc.”

Now imagine a whole nation’s worth of children, with thousands of presents for each one of them under the Christmas tree. What a site to behold! Now imagine this nation of children hearing their Father’s commands to behave lest they lose a gift, and still all these children wildly disobey their Father’s orders. Also, a site to behold…and not in a good way. These children as you know already are the children of Israel, God’s chosen people of the Old Testament, and all of them were rotten brats. God had all sorts of gifts for them under the tree so to speak—agricultural success is one package, the land of Canaan another, the gorgeous temple of Solomon another. All these beautiful packages were given, and they were all gone to waste to be thrown in the fire of God’s just wrath. And why? “I want a golden calf for Christmas! I want a king to rule Israel, all the other boys and girls have kings! I want a prophet that makes me feel good, not Jeremiah and Amos! I want idols--Baal, Asherah, and Molech—they’re better than you, dad…” And so, what should a parent do here? I was thinking the same thing…burn their child’s gifts…This incessant misbehavior brought upon so many problems on top of them losing their gifts: a divided kingdom, captivity, the temple’s destruction, and thousands of deaths. But could these children help it? I see a lot of reactions, “Israel is so dumb! Why don’t they just listen?” But who are we to make such accusations? No, we’re not asking for a monarchy, but how dissatisfied are we with our living arrangements? No, we’re not asking for false prophets, but there have been times where pastors and loved ones, past or current, have spoken truths which you’d rather not listen to. No, we’re not asking for golden calf idols and Molech statues, but what kind of things are we asking for that would replace God—things that distract from Him to the point where we aren’t even here on Sunday? Compared to the burning of the Israelites’ Christmas presents, I think we’ve got it easy, and we should never take that for granted. How then are we to look at this? How are we going to make our Heavenly Father at peace with us? How did Israel look at this?

As Israel was disciplined, watching their presents disappear one by one, there remained one absolutely gorgeous present—the present that God would never in a thousand years get rid of. This is the present that no one has earned, for God gives it freely out of His love. This is the present no one deserves, yet God gives it anyway out of love. “What is it! What is it!” And as most parents out of love drop hints to their kids as to what gift they got, so God does throughout the Old Testament. “I’ll give you a hint, Israel. Your neighbor friends are going to love it!” Many nations other than Israel will love it! They would be joined to the family when the gift is opened. The old ways would be put away and they would be invited. Another hint, “Remember some of those gifts you lost? Judah, Jerusalem, and the holy land were some of those gifts. But this gift is a way better, a limitless version that includes you and the Gentiles!” And the last hint I’ll give you, my daughter of Zion, is this: I am coming, and I will dwell in your midst.” Jesus Christ is the gift they so joyously waited for. He was to be born, and He would dwell in their midst. This means that the Lord no more would dwell in the Temple of Solomon, but in the flesh and then in His people’s hearts and then in glory. This is the gift that isn’t thrown away, and it is the gift that would save Israel and all people from losing their most important gift from God—eternal life with Him. So, from the perspective of the Israelites, something great is about to happen. The Lord would leave heaven to earth to take on human flesh. The author of the universe would be cooing in a manger. He would no longer be a cloud in Solomon’s temple but would be a man still guiding the people to salvation. And so, after the hints given, God tells His children, “Be patient and quiet, and just watch and wait till the package is opened.” Let all flesh, Gentile and Jew, keep silence, for your God is active in history. He is not aloof or passive. He is not simply a spectator. He is in complete charge, working out His plans. Your God is working! Be silent and observe.

You see then how Israel was guided despite their wickedness? They were given the Messiah shaped package to make sure they got their gift of eternal life, and so it is with you. This Messiah came to earth for you, took on your flesh, took away your sin on the cross, and now lives in you through word and sacrament, pointing you to heavenly glory. As Israel excitedly waited for Jesus first coming saying, “What is it! What is it!” they experienced joyful promise and anticipation, and so do we. Jesus came once already, and thanks be to God; but we now have another promise and anticipation, a new package under the tree. “What is it! What is it!” Jesus is coming again, and He will come with gift upon gift, eternal life and Heavenly joy, Heavenly safety instead of tears. These are the hints we get that we don’t fully comprehend yet. Until that day comes though, be silent and patient and watch, for Jesus is working through His Word to get you and many others there by revealing the salvation in His life and death.

Let us then sing of the fulfillment of Israel’s and the nation’s joyous expectation in our next hymn:

(Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!)

Are you ready for stage 2? Are you ready to open the gift? Are you ready for the reception and fulfillment? Are you ready for the “Wow!”? Let’s revisit the opening of the greatest gift of our Heavenly Father as we read our Gospel reading:

(Read John 1:15-18)

Have you ever had the experience of watching a child opening a gift only to be disappointed? He rips open the packaging so eagerly in expectation of a toy only to be disappointed because all he got was socks…In the case of our Christmas plan theme, what if we were to just find socks, socks, and more socks. It would be very discouraging and annoying. We wouldn’t like Christmas anymore. So it is with the gift given to us by the prophet Moses. We open one of his gifts…it’s law. Now don’t get me wrong. The Law is important. It shows us what pleases God and what He wants from all people, and it more importantly shows us that we are sinners in need of saving because we didn’t obey this law and now we need to be punished. It’s a good teaching, yes; just as socks are good for a child, too. But what if you got nothing but law for Christmas?  Opening gift after gift just to find demands for full obedience and threats to transgressors with temporal and eternal punishment, we might not like Christmas anymore either, for the Law beats people down to despair. But it must be given…the child needs socks…Moses needed to preach to the people God’s holy will lest they blindly walk their unsocked feet into the frostbite of sin. John the Baptist, a man who followed the prophetic legacy of Moses and other prophets, needed to preach the same thing. He needed to give Israel and all mankind socks…the law…in order to prepare them for their next gift. They needed to know that they were sinners who needed to repent and be saved, for a truly effective Savior was coming!

No, there is something much greater that was coming. John the Baptist described it this way, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.” So then, what is this package? Is it socks again? No, let’s open it. It is grace, God’s undeserved love; and truth, the ever-true reality that the demands of the Law made of us would be done by someone else on our behalf to save us. This gift is the God-man, the only begotten of the Father, the Word of God incarnate. He brings grace and truth which will have an abiding place in the world. He will bring grace, the fulness of the assurance of free pardon. And He will bring truth, the Word of the Gospel which proclaims grace and mercy. And He will be the sum and substance of the truth and faithfulness of God. This came through Jesus Christ, who came down in His own person, not only to preach the Gospel, but to be the very core of the Gospel and make its proclamation possible. 

You see then on that first Christmas night a wonderful gift was given that would make us love this observance forever. This gift, cooing in a manger, is a gift that keeps on giving, never wearing out like a sock would. Jesus is full of grace and truth, never running out; and out of the fullness of Jesus we all, all believers, have received, and grace for grace. The fount of mercy flowing from this child never dries up; ever and again fresh grace and mercy appears over and above that already received. Because sin abounds from us and ever again brings on transgressions, therefore grace and mercy must abound still more. Though we use up grace daily, there is always anew and rich supply on hand from the inexhaustible store of God. The river of grace flowing from the Savior is always full of water. This gift in the manger would be your gift on the cross, where blood was shed that your sins, every wicked thing you’ve ever done, would be taken care of. This gift will never wear out.

And the last important thing about the opening of this gift must be mentioned. Some children have as their love language (a term that we use to denote as expressions which make people feel appreciated and loved) the language of gifts. They know their father loves them based on the gift they received. And for our intents and purposes, we all have this love language when it comes to our Heavenly Father. We know that He exists, but we know so by faith. Having never seen our Father face to face, if we only ever got socks from Him, if we only ever got law…what would we think of Him? Jesus then, this gift that saves us, this gift that keeps on giving, He is the love language of the Father, the love language spoken to us through His gift of His only begotten Son. This gift, Jesus Christ, is mediator, He speaks to God on our behalf, offering His life death and resurrection as the way to make God pleased with us; and Jesus brings the Father’s loving words to us, declaring Him as the loving Father that He is.

So don’t worry, there aren’t only socks this Christmas. There is the most blessed gift you’ll ever find this Christmas. Rejoice! Say, “Wow! Thank you!” For the gift that has been opened, fulfilled, received, is the Word of God incarnate, full of grace and truth, given to you. He is the gift that keeps on giving that never wears out. And He is the love language spoken to you by your Heavenly Father.

Let us now ponder this gift of love in our next hymn:

(What Child Is This?)

Now comes the aftermath and sharing, the part when the kids go to school and tell all their friends about their Father’s gift. We read this in our next section:

(Read 1 John 4:9-16)

“Hey, my parents got me the newest gaming console for Christmas. You should come over and play it with me!” This is an example of aftermath and inviting. It’s an expression of appreciation that children can give when they really love the gift that’s been given them. Now what if you got a child a gift, they only use it once, and then it sits in the closet of their bedroom collecting dust until they find it when they move out. It would make you laugh, that’s for sure; but it might also be a tad bit frustrating. Now what if it were a more serious gift such as an heirloom from your parents. What if they didn’t appreciate that? Wouldn’t that be frustrating? Our Father in Heaven has given us the gift of love—an heirloom that He wants you to share with all of your friends, saying, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” And are we sharing it with our friends, asking them to come over to talk about it? Are we asking them to come to church to hear about it? Are showing it in our actions toward them? Are we cherishing it enough ourselves let alone trying to get others to cherish it? Are we using it regularly or are we letting it collect dust in our closets until some momentous change in our lives forces us to see lying there? This is the gift that many have waited so patiently and joyously for! This is the gift that keeps on giving and shows us that our Father loves us! If we are guilty of not sharing it with others and not even cherishing it ourselves, then perhaps it would pay to examine its worth yet again.

“In this the love of God was manifested toward us…” in other words this is the gift that God has given us. What is that gift again? God sent His only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, in the world so that we might live through Him. This is the gift that God has given us. This is the greatest expression of love. This love is further defined: “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (that is payment) for our sins.” The gift once more: God gave us the gift of love, and it looks like a baby in a manger who is heralded by angels as peace on earth and God’s goodwill toward men. It looks like the glory of Israel and the light to lead the Gentiles. It looks like a twelve-year-old being about His Father’s business on our behalf. It looks like the Father’s Son anointed by the Holy Spirit. It looks like a miracle worker who turns water into wine to save a couple from a life time of shame. It looks like one who heals the sick and dying, who raises the dead, who casts out demons, who calms wind and wave, who preaches the Gospel, who rebukes false teachers, who is the glorified Son of God in whom the Father is well pleased. This gift of love looks like the perfect lamb of God who was sent to take away the sins of the World. This gift looks like a cross and empty grave, telling you that your sins are forgiven, and your eternal life is secure.

So then, in evaluating the saving love of God that has even saved you from the punishment that your failure to share and cherish it deserves, God guides you back to it daily for forgiveness, and says to you once more, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The love which God showed to us in Christ is the eternal type and pattern of perfect love. For that reason, God through John the apostle asks us to become imitators of it. If thus, if so greatly, with such a wonderful love God loved us, if we have received the benefit of His unmerited favor in such rich measure, then it cannot fail, His love must inspire us, we must feel the obligation of passing on some of His love to the brethren, at least by way of reflection.

Excellent, it’s bound to happen. But what if you’re not convinced that your friends will love your Father’s gift? You’re concerned that they might not see the value in it that you do. After all, you can’t even see your Father face to face, remember? Not to worry, for God through the apostle John once more lays out the mind-blowing proof that might just give you a little bit of Christmas confidence to share your gift with your friend. This is John’s proof of how this works: No one has seen God, sure; yet it is obvious that He exists through our actions of love worked by Him, for He abides in us. Jesus, that gift of ours, lives and rules in our hearts. He works acts of love that will get your friends to notice, getting you perhaps one step closer to inviting them to hear the Word of God and the love that’s shown from its pages. Also, another proof to boost your confidence is that the Spirit in the Word is proof of this love that He abides in us. The Spirit works through the Word! He got to you in the Word, and so sharing the same Word with your loved ones may lead to them having the same blessed gift for themselves. And finally, if you are afraid of them doubting the gift you so anxiously waited to get, the gift you were so excited for when you opened it, the apostle John says that they, the apostles, themselves have beheld the witness that the Father sent the Son, the Savior of the world, to the world. They have seen this Savior act to save man throughout His ministry, they even saw His death and resurrection. Their point then: those confessing Him as the Son of God has God abiding in them. This Christmas gift is no joke. It is something your friends need to come and see. For it will show them that God has loved them so dearly just as He has loved you!

Pray than that when you tell your loved ones and neighbors about the love of Christ, whether for the first time or as a reminder, that they may experience the Christmas plan just like we did. That way they along with you may wait with excitement to open your new gift of Heaven as you cherish the opened gift of the Baby Jesus sent for you to save you. Amen.