Presence is more important than presents

Christmas is supposed to be the time of peace and goodwill. But when I visited my local shopping centre, I thought it was more like a time of frantic activity and stress. The place was absolutely heaving with people. And there was a certain tension in the air. People seemed to be under pressure, and likely to lose their temper and snap at each other.
We know why everyone was stressed. Everyone was there shopping for presents – the latest mobile device, the latest fashion, the latest games, the latest… whatever. And we’re under pressure to get all those presents for our friends and family. And do it quickly. And without spending our whole year’s salary in the process…!

Did you notice what’s happening to us?

By being so focused on buying presents – toys, goodies, stuff – we become an unpleasant presence. We’re no fun to be with. Because we’re stressed and annoyed and short tempered.

Why do we do this to ourselves? We are the most wealthy, healthy, comfortable generation of human beings that has ever existed in history! Why do we stress ourselves out buying more and more material stuff – stuff that we know will very quickly end up in the trash bin?
Surely it’s more important this Christmas to be present to each other – to visit with our friends and family, and make it not just a token effort – yeah, hi, merry Christmas, okay I’ve done my duty now, bye – but to actually spend time with them, and pay attention to them, so that they know we’re not with them just because of tradition, nor out of duty and obligation, but because we really, genuinely care about them.

Jesus is God’s presence with us

This is what God did on that very first Christmas. Jesus is God’s presence with us. That’s what it says in Matt 1:22-23, which references Isaiah 7:14.

22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.”

Jesus is God’s presence in two ways.

In his humanity, he is the one true Spirit-anointed king, who will rescue his people. That’s what it means for Jesus to be the “Messiah”, the “Christ” – it means he is God’s appointed king, descended from the line of King David, who will rule the world and save his people from the consequences of their rebellion against God.

This is why Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. In that passage, Isaiah rebukes King Ahaz for not trusting God. Ahaz was a son of David, and should have been a Godly king. But because he didn’t trust God, God judged him, and the nation he ruled over. Later, in chapter 9, Isaiah promises that God will eventually raise up a true, Godly king from the line of David.

Jesus is that king. This is why it was so important that Joseph marry Mary. Have you ever noticed how the angel addressed Joseph in Matt 1:20? “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…”

Joseph was a son of David! He was from the kingly line! He was from a minor branch, poor and humble – but he was genuine. So it was vitally important that he marry Mary, so that Jesus could fulfil Isaiah’s prophecy – and all other prophecies, there are heaps of them[1]E.g.: 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2; Psalm 89:19-51; Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-4 (cf. Matt 2:6).  – that the Messiah, the Spirit-anointed king and saviour of the world, would be a son of David.[2]Jesus’ Davidic kingship was so important to the Apostle Paul, he used it as a summary of the gospel: Romans 1:2-4; 2 Timothy 2:8.

But Jesus is more than just another human king. Even a Spirit-anointed, sinless human being could not do what’s needed to rescue the world from the consequences of us turning away from God. That needed God the Son to become human. Jesus is actually, literally, “Immanuel” – God with us – the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, becoming human.

Think about it – at the first Christmas, God gave us the gift of his presence. We treat God like an inconvenient relative. We come to church out of duty – “I don’t really want to be here, but I have to do this to fulfil my obligations to God, then I can go have fun for the rest of the week”. Or out of tradition – “I dunno, I’ve always some here at Christmas time, I suppose I might as well again”.

Jesus doesn’t treat us superficially like that. God takes the time and effort to come and live with us – to spend time with us, and pay attention to us, so he actually knows what our life is like. Jesus knows how it feels to be misunderstood by his parents – that’s what happened in Luke 2:41-52, when his parents left him behind in Jerusalem. He knows how it feels to be taken for granted – to do good, and have people not say thank-you – because it happened in Luke 17:12-19, when he healed ten lepers and only one came back to praise God. He knows how it feels to have his friends abandon him when he needs them – because it happened in Matt 26:56, in the garden of Gethsemane, when the disciple all ran away.

And, since Jesus is God, when Jesus knows, God knows. This is the first reason God gave us, on that first Christmas, the gift of his presence in Jesus. He – God – wanted to spend time with us, and pay attention to us, so that we know he actually cares about us.

Do you believe that? Can you, this Christmas, celebrate the fact that in Jesus, God knows your life, and cares about you? Or so you actually want him to butt out of your life and leave you alone?

Jesus came to save

Because the second reason God gave us Jesus is: to save us from our sins. This is the second command that angel told Joseph in Matt 1:21:

… you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus did not come to give us presents, to give us toys. That’s Santa Clause. Santa comes to give toys to good boys and girls. Jesus comes to rescue bad boys and girls, and uncles and aunties and grandmas and granddads. Because we can’t rescue ourselves.

To ‘sin’ is to personally insult God by ignoring him, by acting as if he’s dead, and irrelevant to us. Think of it like this. Imagine a close family member – father, mother, son, daughter – doesn’t turn up at Christmas lunch. And there’s no phone call or text message to explain. So you phone them, to check whether they’re okay. They don’t pick up the phone. You’re really worried, so you drive round their place. And they’re in their house, watching TV. So you knock on the door, and call out to them “hey – are you okay? We missed you at lunch”. They ignore you. You keep knocking and calling out. And the next thing you know, they’re on the phone, calling the police on you, saying there’s an intruder trying to break down their front door…!

How would you feel? At least hurt. At least worried. Why are they treating you like this – ignoring you, treating like a complete stranger? And if they keep behaving like that, week after week, month after month, you’d be right to get angry. They can’t ignore you like that. You’re their family.

This is what we do to God. We ignore him, shut him out of our lives, and when he tries to make contact with us, we get angry with him and tell him to get lost.

We can’t do that. He’s our heavenly father, our creator. If we keep doing that, he gets mad.

That’s why we need Jesus to save us. Only he can deal with God’s anger at us. And he did it by dying on the cross, and rising on Easter day.

We need Jesus like a drowning person needs a lifesaver. Imagine you’re at the beach this summer. You get caught in a rip. You’re being swept out to sea. You’re waving your arms. Salty water fills your nose, your mouth, your lungs.

But then you hear the roar of an outboard motor. And the surf lifesaver’s boat pulls alongside you.

How would you feel if the lifeguard in the boat said “swim! Swim! You can do it!”

No, I can’t do it! I need you to rescue me – to get me out of this mess that I’ve let myself into! The lifeguard needs to come from outside, bend over, pick us up, and deposit us in the boat. Only then will we be safe, saved from drowning.

Jesus did not come merely to teach us. He did not come just to give us an example to follow. He did not come only to encourage us. He came from outside us – from heaven. He bent over to become human and participate in this sin-stained world.[3]See Philippians 2:5-11. And he did that to lift us up, out of the sin we’re drowning in, and takes us to safety – to eternal life with him.

Have you put your trust in Jesus? Has he rescued you from drowning in your own sin? Or are you still peacefully drifting away from shore, enjoying the view, enjoying the ride, but heading deeper and deeper into eternal death?

God’s presence is more important than presents

Christmas is supposed to be the time of peace and goodwill. We’re so worried about buying presents, we forget God’s ultimate gift of his presence, in Christ Jesus.

Jesus is the ultimate Christmas gift. Because he is God, paying attention to us, caring about us, understanding what life is really like for us. And he is God, come as God’s ultimate king, to save us from the consequences of turning away from God.

Enjoy God’s gift this Christmas – his gift of his presence in Christ Jesus.

References   [ + ]

1.E.g.: 2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 2; Psalm 89:19-51; Isaiah 9:6-7; Micah 5:2-4 (cf. Matt 2:6). 
2.Jesus’ Davidic kingship was so important to the Apostle Paul, he used it as a summary of the gospel: Romans 1:2-4; 2 Timothy 2:8.
3.See Philippians 2:5-11.