Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
December 22, 2019
The best of all Christmas gifts
Though Christmas is not celebrated by everyone, it remains true that what God did at Christmas was for the whole world. The Bible makes this clear. In his Gospel, John says God sent his Son into the world that “the world” might be saved. In Luke’s Gospel, the angel tells the shepherds that the good news of Jesus’ birth was for “all the people.” So the birth of Jesus was God’s gift to everyone, and therefore the best of all Christmas gifts.
This means that each of us is equally loved by God. None of us is excluded from the love God offers to all people everywhere. When I reflect on this idea, I feel joy surging in my soul. The God who made me loves me. He knows me. He knows my name. I am a person, made in the image of a Person who is the Creator of all things. And that Person loves me, even me! That, beloved, is reason to rejoice!
What a miserable feeling overwhelms us when we are excluded. It hurts to be shunned, ignored or excluded, and most of us have memories of this kind of pain. When captains on the playground were choosing players for their teams, you were the last one chosen. You were an orphan, in an orphanage, praying for a family to adopt you, and nobody wanted you. You wanted to eat in a certain restaurant but you could not go in because of the color of your skin. You wanted to be a cheerleader but you were too fat. You had to turn around because the sign read “Members Only.” This list is endless.
The pain of exclusion is, however, not the end of my story or yours. Because God loves each of us, we have experienced also, hopefully, the joy of being included. The angel spoke to the humble shepherds about the “great joy” God would give them when they saw the baby Jesus. And so great was their joy that they returned home praising God for what they had seen. What joy is ours when we are accepted, affirmed and included. Few things beat the thrill of knowing you “belong” to a family, a team or a fellowship. In contrast, to be on the outside, and not belong, is devastating.
On one occasion I arrived late for a speaking engagement in the ballroom of a huge hotel in Dallas, Texas. Seated at round tables before me were 500 pastors and their wives, and I knew none of them personally. No one helped me find a seat. I felt most uncomfortable but dared to ask if the empty seat at a nearby table was taken. “Oh, yessir; that seat belongs to my wife,” a man said curtly with a look on his face that meant “Move on buddy.”
I looked for another vacant seat and asked if it was available. The reply was less than welcoming – “Yeah, sure; help yourself.” Neither of the men I sat between introduced himself to me; both ignored me and resumed talking to their friends. I began eating a salad while being ignored by seven or eight other people who were acquainted with each other. It was understandable – but painful nonetheless.
A few minutes later something wonderful happened. I felt two hands on my shoulders. Someone was standing behind me. I recognized the voice of my friend Dr. Elton Trueblood when he interrupted the conversations at the table with these words: “Please excuse me dear friends; I want you meet my friend Walter Albritton from Alabama. Do get to know Walter; you will like him.” The good doctor walked away, leaving me a bit embarrassed but filled with the great joy of being affirmed, accepted and included! His affirmation created for me the joy of belonging.
Such joy is what Christmas is all about – the joy of feeling God’s hands on your shoulders, making you aware that despite your sins He accepts you and loves you; the joy of knowing that you are included in his offer of redeeming love to the whole world. What wondrous news – that God’s love excludes no one and embraces “all people”!
For many years the Hebrews had felt excluded from God’s love. Their disobedience had brought on the wrath of God’s judgment – bondage in a strange land. The prophets gave them hope – the promise of a Messiah who would come and save them.
Finally, in “the fullness of time,” he came! Jesus was born as promised! The God whose name is Immanuel arrived; the one born in a cow’s stall is “God with us.” And the best news of all – the “gift” of Jesus is for all people! Especially for those who know the pain of being excluded, the misery of not belonging.
The shepherds must have felt unworthy of God’s favor. They had no reason to believe they were included in the Father’s love. The powerful and “important” people would probably have greeted the angel’s good news with skepticism. The shepherds received the news of Jesus’ birth with “great joy.”
Some brilliant people have trouble embracing the simple truth of the biblical account of the birth of Jesus. Is it a lovely myth or is it good news for everyone? Each of us must decide. I once had doubts but chose to let faith overrule my doubts. So for me the essential meaning of Christmas is that the great plan of God became a reality when Christ was born. Salvation became available to all people through the birth of Mary’s baby.
The birth of Jesus then is the best of all Christmas gifts, a gift of accepting love that all who receive it can share it with others. All around us are people who feel excluded from God’s favor. They wait to be shown they belong to God’s family. They are looking for more than a toy under a tree; they long to be embraced as brothers and sisters who are included in the Father’s transforming love.
Put your hands on someone’s shoulders this Christmas and know the joy of sharing the best of all Christmas gifts! + + +