What is the wonder of Christmas?
To me, the wonder of Christmas is a gift given by the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty God, the Giver of Life to poor creatures that have no hope of ever being able to do anything to deserve this gift. It is a gift that must be accepted as it is given, with no strings and a full understanding that repayment is impossible.
It is hard to express the sheer humility I feel when faced with my own unworthiness. However, there is a parable in the Bible that paints the picture beautifully.
Most of us are familiar with the parable of the The Prodigal Son. But last week as I was preparing for the Sunday school lesson it hit me that the Prodigal Son is a Christmas Story. It is a story about a gift given that was undeserved, about a gift that could never be repaid but most of all, it is the story of a father's love. It is a story of our Father's love for us and the gift He has offered to us all.
Read: The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32
The Younger Son
The son has a pretty rotten attitude towards his dad. Usually one would have to good manners to wait until someone is dead before trying to claim their inheritance. He basically says, “Hey, I know you're not dead yet, but I think your rules are stupid and I could do much better on my own. I want to go do things my own way.”
In much the same way we say this to God when we choose to go our own way. We tell Him, “I got this! Your rules are just too much and I want to do things my own way!”
To no one's surprise, the son leaves home, squanders the money and hits rock bottom.
So why are we so surprised when it happens to us? Why are we shocked when we discover we cannot make it on our own?
Nothing makes going home seem like a more viable option than hitting rock bottom. Nothing makes your pride more palatable than having nothing left to lose. So the son decides to return home.
Can't you see him rehearsing his speech all the way home? You know he did because what he says to his dad is the exact same thing he said to himself!
Can you feel his tension mounting as he nears home?
His palms begin to sweat.
He feet start to slow down and he begins to think maybe this wasn't such a great idea.
He starts feeling a little queasy.
He mouth goes dry...then he sees him. The far off image of his father in the distance and he stops.
There is a moment of intense fear that happens when we face our mistakes head on, when we surrender to the outcome whatever it may be. For this son, that moment is now. He sees his father, and knows the moment of truth has come. Ready or not...
Imagine the father's hurt. Imagine what it would feel like if your child said to you, “I can't wait til I'm 18 so I can get out of here and away from you! If you are going to leave me anything when you die, can you just give it to me early so I can leave?”
The father doesn't want his son to leave, knows he's making a mistake but knows that by keeping him there against his will is only going to build resentment. So with a heavy heart, he lets him go.
And if I were this father, I can't help but think I'd be angry. I might even let myself grow bitter out of my hurt.
But not this father, THIS father watches for his son every day. He stands at the window, then at the door. He stops in the middle of his work during the day because he thinks he sees his son coming down the road. He just wants his son to return so he watches for him and longs for him. He loves him from afar because that is as close as he can get.
And one day it happens, he sees him! He abandons all sense of decorum (men in Biblical times did NOT run...it was undignified) and runs to meet his son that has come home. Never mind he's filthy, never mind he smells like he's been sleeping with the pigs, HIS SON IS HOME! And he WANTS to be there!
The father doesn't care where his son has been, he doesn't even ask any questions. He immediately gives orders to get him cleaned up and get him looking like an heir again. In his joy, he throws a party celebrating the son that was thought to be dead, but is alive; lost and now is found!
God, our Father, doesn't care where we have been. He longs for us just as this father longed for the return of his son. He looks for us, He sends us messages, He calls to us, He pleads with us and when we come to our senses, He runs to us!!
The Prodigal Son is all of us, the father is God. We have done nothing to deserve the gift of mercy and grace we have received through Christ Jesus. But the offer stands. God doesn't make us come grovelling to Him on our hands and knees. He knows our hearts and when we turn towards home, he RUNS to meet us where we are. I'm sure if that father had known his son had turned toward home, he would have met him with a donkey, picked him up and carried him the rest of the way home.
This is a picture of Christmas! An undeserved gift that cannot be repaid. A gift for which we are so grateful it changes the rest of our lives. A gift that has changed us so much, we should WANT to share it with others.
When we choose not to share this gift we become like the third party in our story, the older son.
The Older Son
There is one in every family...at least one. That person that just can't stand to see others having a good time. I call them Debbie Downers or the Cold Bucket Brigade because they always have something ugly to say even in the best of circumstances.
Everyone is having a great time at the party when the older son comes in from the fields and hears the music. He asks someone what's going and is told his brother is home and his father is having a party. Immediately, the older son is furious! He is flabbergasted that his dad would honor his good-for-nothing younger brother when he did nothing to deserve it. What a jerk, right?
Truth is, we all have some older son in us all.
On the surface, the older son looks like a spoiled brat. But think about it...he's been there with his dad through everything, saw how much his dad hurt over the younger son's actions obviously knew what his little brother was up to and grew more resentful by the day. Then the brother comes home and BAM! He's forgiven, it's like nothing ever happened and they are having a PARTY! Sound fair to you?
How do you react when someone who has hurt you walks back into your life, claims to have found Christ and asks you for forgiveness?
How do you respond to the fact that God forgave them just like He forgave you?
What is your reaction when you hear about child molesters, serials killers and rapists? I have caught myself saying things like, "There's a special place in hell for people like that." That's my older son rearing its ugly head.
Did you know that when that child molester, rapist, serial killer finds Christ there is a party in heaven? Doesn't that just get your goat? But the wonder of Christmas is that the gift of salvation is indeed for anyone who will accept it.
The gift of Christ is for everyone. If it's good enough for you, it's good enough for them. Who are we to discriminate and decide who we will and we will not tell? Can we say for sure who will accept the gift and who will not? Do we truly believe the gift is for everyone?
The wonder of Christmas is the undeserved gift that keeps on giving...that is, if we pass it along. Who will you pass the gift to this year?