The Gift We Really Need

My message at Eastbrook’s Christmas Eve services was entitled “The Gift We Really Need.” You can watch the video below or through the Eastbrook app, listen to it via our audio podcast, or read the entire text below the video. Join us for our next sermon series beginning in January, “Unschackled,” from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/248670268#t=12m24s

What kind of gifts do we want?

What kind of gift are you looking for this Christmas? When asked what we most want for Christmas this year, one study indicated:[1]

  • 41% people said they wanted a gift card
  • 15% said clothes or electronics
  • 10% said books or eBooks
  • 9% said furniture or appliances
  • 5% said toys or jewelry

It’s no wonder that more people are looking for gift cards because when you see what Esquire magazine reported as the most popular Christmas gifts for children over the last 30 years it was more entertaining than enlightening:[2]

  • 2017: Cozmo the robot – no idea what that is
  • 2014: the snow-glow Elsa doll from Frozen
  • 2010: the first iPad was clearly the winner
  • then there’s Elmo, who is basically the Michael Jordan and LeBron James of Christmas gifts with 2013: Big Hugs Elmo doll that hugs you back
  • 2011: Let’s Rock Elmo doll that sings back to you
  • 2008: Elmo live doll that talks back to you
  • and all the way back in 1996: Tickle me Elmo, who laughs when tickled
  • 1989: the original Nintendo Gameboy
  • 1983: Cabbage patch dolls
  • 1982: BMX bikes

Maybe you remember some of those things.

Now all of these things might be interesting, but the truth is that we want those sort of things, but we also want something deeper. Ask twenty people around you what they really want for Christmas and you may hear things a little deeper than Elmo, Cozmo the robot, or a gift card. You may hear people say they want:

  • a friend, a significant other, a child
  • enough money to pay their bills
  • health insurance
  • healing in a broken relationship
  • freedom from an addiction
  • a fresh start
  • peace on earth

You can’t wrap most of those things up and put them under a tree. It reminds us there are a lot of things that we want, but there are other things we know that we really need.

What kind of gifts do we need?

And it’s usually around that discussion beyond wants and into needs that we begin to enter the deepest territory of our lives as human beings. The psychologist Abraham Maslow identified 3 categories of needs:[3]

  • basic needs: physical, material, and safety needs
  • psychological needs: belonging, friendship, and accomplishment
  • self-fulfillment needs: reaching one’s highest potential in life

And here is what we discover fairly quickly: we cannot provide all of these needs for ourselves.

It’s not something we can simply acquire – with our own resources, or our credit card or paycheck – but it must come from beyond us. Of course, this is where a lot of people begin talking about God.

Renowned author, Philip Yancey, tells the story of his friend, Tom, who found himself in one of those places of need. He writes:

I met my friend Tom, whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years.  Tom was a hard-drinking, lovable partygoer who stopped going to church soon after college.  Last year his live-in girlfriend decided she wanted to attend church because of some crisis she was going through.  Tom reluctantly agreed.  That morning he sat down and started playing his guitar.  Thinking of church, he resurrected three hymns from his distant memory.  “Those are beautiful—what’s the music?” his girlfriend asked.  Tom explained the words to the hymns.

They chose a church out of the phone book, and to Tom’s utter astonishment, that Sunday the congregation sang all three of those hymns.  It so rattled Tom that he completely turned his life around. 

Listening to him tell the story, I couldn’t help laughing in surprised joy.  I have a memory of Tom so drunk that he fell over….And now here he was, weeping, telling me how God had changed his life.  Think of the “coincidence” of those three hymns being played the one Sunday that Tom dropped in to church.  Was that a miracle?  It was certainly grace.[4]

God’s grace is a gift like that, coming from beyond us, right into the place of what we most need. It comes in many forms all across the hierarchy of needs: material needs, relational needs, emotional needs, and spiritual needs.

God becoming the gift for us

This is where the wonder of Christmas erupts into our world like a volcano of God’s unstoppable grace that we never expected.

Other religions address the deepest human needs by pointing either to a God who is almost laughably human, as in the ancient Greco-Roman religion, or a divine essence that is increasingly removed from being human, as in the far-eastern religions like Buddhism.

But the God of the Bible is not like that. God does not simply gives us gifts we need, but this God actually becomes the Gift we most need. Christmas is all about that. Jesus is, as one Scripture says, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Jesus shows us what God looks like, acts like, speaks like, and loves like.

The deepest human need undergirding all needs – whether basic needs, psychological needs, or self-fulfillment needs – is the need to connect with the divine. And only a hyper-personal God who relates to us as real persons can meet that need. Neither a god who is laughably human nor a god who is esoterically removed will work for this.

Only a God who can show us what it means to be human from the inside will do. Only a God like Jesus will do.

Think with me about Jesus for a few moments as this greatest gift of God for us.

  • His birth: glorious, yes, with angels announcing it, but also very straightforward, like the birth of all of us
  • His life: miraculous, yes, with healings and powerful words of wisdom, yet also quite mundane with friends and enemies, hunger and feasting, temptation and joys
  • His death: not exactly heroic, but full of rejection, isolation, unjust accusation and suffering…things with which we all can relate. His Cross is the epitome of what the God of the Bible is all about: sacrificial love in real, rugged, flesh and bone entering the worst life can throw at us and bringing good life out of it; that’s a salvation, that’s deliverance, that’s healing, that’s gift.
  • His resurrection: well, not something we can relate to now, yet woven into the greatest hopes of our world, whether it’s the arrival of Spring after Winter, or the hope for a new beginning after our failures

Here is the gift we most need at the hands of the only One who can provide it: God Himself. That one word description of the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah says so much more than we could ever fully understand: “the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (which means God with us)” (Isaiah 7:14 & Matthew 1:23, ESV). This is God, who has come to live with us, Himself the gift we most truly need.

Here is the gift we really need: God has come to live with us.

So, let me suggest a few things this Christmas Eve about how we respond to God.

  • Respond with thanks for the gift
  • Respond with gifts for others because of God’s gift
  • Respond by giving yourself as a gift back to God
  • Look at the response card – don’t do nothing. Respond to the gift.

[1] “2017 Holiday Shopping Survey.” WalletHub. https://wallethub.com/credit-cards/?v=20#survey.

[2] “A Timeline of Top-Selling Christmas Gifts…Ever.” Esquire. http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/g702/top-christmas-gifts.

[3] “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html.

[4] “Grace.” Philip Yancey. https://philipyancey.com/q-and-a-topics/grace.

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