A typical Christmas picture in many movies – and in some real homes – is a living room with a decorated tree and presents under the tree. Excited children (and sometimes adults) eagerly await Christmas morning to unwrap the presents. They look at the shapes and sizes and wonder: “what’s under the tree for me?”
In some of our homes, there are trees and gifts each Christmas time. (Probably not as fancy as the picture, but they are there!)
In other homes of ours, there is no tree and there are no gifts.
But actually, there is!
In the barest of rooms, for the poorest of households, there is a tree… or there can be a tree. And under this tree are some incredible gifts.
When you gaze at this tree, you gaze in awe!
When you open these gifts you are amazed!
Some people don’t like the tradition of Christmas trees – maybe some of us here don’t. I understand why. Some people don’t like the tradition of Christmas gift giving – and I understand why.
I’ve come to like both, because to me, they are symbols. The tree is a symbol. The gifts are a symbol.
A little over 2 000 years ago, a tree was cut down. It’s branches were cut off to make a pole and a beam. It was assembled into a shape we know well – a cross used for Roman crucifixion.
On that cross, a man named Jesus was crucified. It was a shocking event because Jesus had done no wrong, only good. It seemed to be a total failure of the justice system as an innocent man was executed, brutally and publicly.
But as shocking as it was, this day became a day that is now remembered by millions as Good Friday. And the Roman calendar was redefined in terms of his birth – into BC and AD.
We remember this man Jesus and the tree that he hung on for good reason. For more than his life-changing teachings… for what happened next and for what it all achieved.
Jesus died on that tree. But three days later, as promised, he rose from the dead. As hard as both Romans and religious leaders tried to cover up the truth, they couldn’t. Jesus was seen by over five hundred people who bore witness to his resurrection. His death and resurrection changed everything for those who believed in him. An explosion of transformed lives became known as the Christian church. Thousands, and later millions, experienced forgiveness, freedom and glorious transformation.
That ugly cross, that blood-stained tree, has now become a glorious symbol! What previously represented death now represents life!
In a sense, that tree became more beautiful than it ever was before being cut down!
So I’m happy to see beautified trees in homes and public places!
Some of us won’t have a decorated Christmas tree in our homes this year, but the tree of Jesus – the cross of Christ – can be in all of our homes. This tree is far more spectacular than the most magnificently decorated one. It stands tall above all others. And all are welcome to gather at the foot of this tree!
This Christmas, I don’t want to ask you if you have a decorated Christmas tree where you live… I want to ask you: do you have the tree of Jesus in your life?
You can… we all can… because Jesus died and rose for all mankind!
And beneath this tree are the most spectacular gifts you and I could ever receive! Gifts that the richest person on earth cannot buy! Gifts worth more than all the treasure in the world!
Today I want to unwrap three gifts that you and I will find at the foot of Jesus’ tree. To help us remember, I’ve used three words that start with the letter F.
The first gift we can unwrap is the gift of
Truth is, none of us are perfect; even the nicest of us have done wrong. All of us have sinned and all of us need forgiveness.
And all of us can receive this through Jesus. This is one of his gifts – freely available to all who put their faith in Jesus.
This is a constant theme throughout the New Testament writings; here are two examples:
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses.”
Acts 13:38-40 NIV
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
Romans 3:23-24 NIV
At the foot of Jesus’ tree, you and I can unwrap the incredible gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness of ALL our sins. When we put our faith in Jesus, God declares us “NOT GUILTY”. Forgiven!
That’s an awesome gift! And it gets even better!
The next gift is
When we look at the world around us, we can see a great deal of evil as well as a great deal of good. It’s hard to tell who’s winning sometimes. Even in our personal lives, there is sometimes a struggle – to do the good that, deep down inside, we know we should do… and not to do the evil that, deep down inside, we know we should not do.
Jesus came to set us free from the grip of evil – this is another gift we find at the foot of his tree. Here are two ways that this is written about by Paul, a man who knew both bondage and freedom:
“For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 7:18-19, 24-25 NIV
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves…”
Colossians 1:13 NIV
What an incredible gift! Set free from the grip of evil… delivered from the oppression of the devil… and then given freedom and citizenship in Jesus’ Kingdom! No longer enslaved or addicted to destructive behaviour, but free and empowered to do what is right!
And it gets even more amazing with the third gift:
It’s great to be forgiven. It’s great to be set free from the grip of evil. Those two incredible gifts would surely be enough. But Jesus offers even more! He changes our status from enemy to friend! And even more than that, he offers adoption as children of God!
One of the lies some people believe about God is that he does not have time for “sinners” – those who do wrong. That is how some religious people think – they think you have to be good and then God may listen to you.
But Jesus was called the “friend of sinners” – he was known for spending time with people who were far from God. He said things like:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 5:31-32 NIV
To borrow an expression from Facebook, Jesus “sends us a friend request”. When we put our trust in him and “accept”, our status changes to “friend”!
More than that, when we put our faith in Jesus, we are adopted by God! He does not merely forgive us and tolerate us in his mercy – he embraces us, adopting us as his own children!
As the apostle John wrote:
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…”
John 1:12 NIV
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
1 John 3:1 NIV
Three incredible gifts:
This Christmas, let’s “unwrap” these amazing gifts!
One last thing… it is one thing to be given a gift… it is another thing to accept it… it is another thing to open it up and use it! These gifts have been given to us to be received… to be experienced… to be enjoyed!
This Christmas, please accept these gifts from God. Please open them up and enjoy them!
– Confess your guilt to God and receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness!.
– Take hold of the freedom Jesus has won from you and live in it!
– Embrace the Father and let him embrace you as he offers you adoption and live in his love!