A PRESENT OF PRESENCE: The Gift that Keeps on Giving
I love Christmas time! I have such fond memories of singing Christmas carols, reuniting with family, opening gifts, and eating (or should I say “overeating”) crazy delicious foods. When I became an educator, December was a month full of Christmas themes, activities, and parties. Celebration was in the air!
On the last day before Christmas break, it was not uncommon for students to bring presents. I taught both elementary and secondary students. It didn’t seem to matter. I can remember the anticipation on their faces as they waited for me to open the special gift they had selected. I never knew what to expect; however, one thing I knew is that each student hoped I loved their gift. You know what? I did! It didn’t matter if it was something I could eat, wear, or hang up, knowing the present was given from a place of love was all that mattered to me.
All of those presents are long gone now, and most of them I don’t even remember. Christmas, however, isn’t about presents that fade but about a presence that lasts forever. God’s Christmas gift to us came first as the babe in a manager but remains always as Immanuel—God with us. Matthew 1:23, Luke 2:11-12 Jesus is the gift that keeps on giving!
When most of us accept Christ as our Savior, our first thought may be, “Thank goodness I am not going to Hell!” This is VERY true and is certainly something for which we should be thankful. However, Jesus doesn’t save us and then say, “Adios! I’ll see you in Heaven!” Jesus said He came to give us a life that is full, abundant, and overflowing with joy (John 10:10).
If you have lived any length of time at all, you know this doesn’t necessarily mean we will live an easy life. Before Jesus went to the cross, He told His disciples they would face tribulation and suffering. In the same breath, however, He reminded them they could be courageous and confident because He had overcome the world. Jesus promised His followers He would always be with them, and that promise pertains to us as well (Hebrews 13:5). His presence is the gift that keeps on giving.
Why, then, do many Christians lead joyless, unfulfilled lives? Why are we consumed with the commercial side of Christmas without celebrating the real purpose of Christmas? Why are we not experiencing God’s presence in our lives? I think there are two culprits: (1) we haven’t opened our present; and (2) we aren’t using the gift we have been given!
1. Open your present!
Sometimes I think we don’t want to bother God with our lives. For some believers they get so busy that they simply forget to involve Him; for others they want to do their own thing without any interference from Him. In Psalm 139 David reminds us of one key truth – God is everywhere we are and knows everything about us. While this may sound a bit intimidating, it isn’t. God’s presence is such a gift! What a shame it would be for us to have access to Him and not claim it! Opening the present of God’s presence is the gift that keeps on giving.
· When we feel weary and exhausted, God gives strength. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
· When we become fearful, God rescues. (Psalm 34:4)
· When we are tempted, God provides a way of escape. (I Corinthians 10:13).
· When we worry, God provides peace. (Philippians 4:6-7)
· When we are angry, God listens. (Psalm 116:1-2)
· When we sin, God forgives. (I John 1:9)
· When we suffer, God protects. (Isaiah 43:2)
· When we are brokenhearted, God comforts. (Psalm 34:18)
We were never meant to walk this journey alone. Christmas is about Immanuel, God with us. Open your present!
2. Use the gift!
No gift can be appreciated if it isn’t used. We have all received gifts that magically disappear after Christmas for one reason or another. Unlike a discarded Christmas present, the gift of God’s presence must be accessed over and over again. For example, let’s say I buy my husband a stylish shirt for Christmas. He opens the present and says he likes it, but he never wears it. Unfortunately for him, he loses out on multiple opportunities to look fashionable (in my opinion)! Likewise, if we open the present of God’s presence but then never seek Him when we are weary, worried, or tempted, we will never experience His strength, peace, or deliverance. Are you experiencing God’s presence? Are you utilizing the gift you have been given?
As we celebrate Christmas, don’t forget to open and use the gift God has given to you! The present of His presence is a daily reminder we are never alone.
· When you wake in the morning, He is with you.
· When you brush your teeth, He is with you.
· When you walk through the classroom door, He is with you.
· When you stand to teach, He is with you.
· When you eat lunch with your colleagues, He is with you.
· When you drive home, He is with you.
· When you grade papers, He is with you.
· When you lay your head down to sleep, He is with you.
This is His gift to you, given out of love. Immanuel, God with us, is the gift that keeps on giving!