and this morning when I got up and began my drive to Wedowee First Methodist....I knew in my heart...that God saved the best present ever til last. When I topped the first hill on Hwy 431....the undisturbed snow, in a pasture with a barn,....was breathtaking. I have to ask how people can see this splendor....and say there is no God. How great is our God? I filled the pulpit in Wedowee this morning....at their 8:30 and 11:00 services. Rock Mills called church off this morning due to ice...but no one called from Wedowee...so I went on....and what a blessing I got. The 8:30 service was very small....8 counting me.....but you know....God says...wherever two or more of you are gathered......and we took Him at his word and had church. At the 11:00 service there were around 25 present. The roads off the main roads....were so icy and terrible. Anyways....my sermon today was called "The Greatest Gift" and I thought I would share it with you....btw...as of an hour ago...it was still snowing outside...and it is bitter cold. Christmas is supposed to be a time of giving. And that means Christmas is a time of shopping. Ever since the wise men from the east showed up at the stable carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh, people have been exchanging gifts at Christmas. Of course, it’s much more complicated today than it was for the wise men. For one thing, they didn’t have to contend with shopping malls, all packed full of parents going from store to store to store, desperately searching for the correct Wii game or an IPad. The magi didn’t have to worry about sizes, or colors, or return policies. There were no scooters in those days, no life-size Barbies, and definitely no robot dogs. Just plain old gold, frankincense and myrrh. Well, this year, just like every year, millions of people, both children and adults, will open millions of gifts. Some won’t fit. Some will be the wrong color. Many will be returned, regifted, or exchanged. But there’s one gift that meets everyone’s need, one gift that will never wear out, never breaks or needs repairing. A gift that is appropriate for a small child, or a teenager, or an adult, or a senior adult. Boy or girl, man or woman, it makes no difference. The gift we all need, the most valuable gift of all, is that baby in the manger. The one that this whole season is about. On Christmas, we are supposed to celebrate the fact that God gave us the gift of His own Son, Jesus Christ, so that through faith in Him we could be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life. We read it in John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” So this morning, the day after December 25th, I’d like to make three points about this gift, this incredible, priceless gift. First, the gift is Jesus Christ himself. The gift God offers us is to know Christ…not just know WHO He is…but to know Him as a friend, to have fellowship with Him, to have a relationship with Him. The gift God offers us is to be known and loved by Christ. In John 15:15 [Jesus is speaking and says: ] “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” He goes on to say in John 17:13 - “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Let me ask you a question: Have you received this gift? Do you have this kind of relationship with Jesus Christ? Do you know Him as a friend? Is He someone you can talk with, confide in, seek counsel from? Do you feel at ease in His presence, like you would with a close friend, or do you feel like you have to rush around cleaning up your spiritual “house” before you can welcome him in? If the answer is “no,” if you don’t have this kind of relationship with Christ, the good news is that you can. All you have to do is ask. Come to him in prayer; confess your sins, ask His forgiveness, ask Him into your heart. That’s all you have to do. Maybe you’ve never heard the Christian life described in this way before. Perhaps it sounds a little strange to talk about spending time with Jesus Christ, as if He were a flesh and blood person, someone you could see and hear and touch. Well, no it isn’t like that. We don’t claim to see visions or hear voices. But that doesn’t make our fellowship with him any less real. Christ is present with us. His Spirit lives in us. He speaks to us through the Bible. And we speak with him through prayer. I John 1:3 tells us - “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” – People sometimes think of Christianity as nothing but a set of burdensome responsibilities. Doing things you’d rather not do. Like going to church, when you’d rather be home reading the Sunday paper, fishing, or golfing. Some people see the Christian life as a lot of rules, a lot of “do’s” and “don’ts” (mainly “don’ts”). Or if they view Christianity more positively, they might see it primarily in terms of the benefits it can bring – improved relationships; stronger marriages; guidance in raising children; emotional strength to deal with difficult circumstances. And that’s true, but even this misses the mark. The essence of Christianity isn’t rules, or “do’s and don’t’s”, or even blessings. The essence of Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, the Christian life brings many benefits – joy, peace, hope. But they all come through Christ, they all flow from our relationship with Him. Your greatest gift to your children isn’t the bazillion boxes wrapped in colored paper, on Christmas or their birthday. The most valuable thing you can offer them is a relationship; your love and care, your time and attention, your commitment to always be there when they need you. Right? Everything else flows from that. In the same way, God’s greatest gift to us is a relationship with Jesus Christ, and a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. My second point is that This Gift Has Great Value. Although there is truly nothing more desirable than knowing Christ, many people just can’t see it. Their eyes haven’t been opened. They look into the manger, and they don’t see a king. They don’t see the Savior of the World. They don’t see “the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,” as the Hallelujah chorus puts it. They don’t see anything special at all, because they don’t have eyes of faith. All they can see is an ordinary human being. And so, they pass by the child in the manger and instead seek after the gold, and the frankincense, and the myrrh sitting at the side. They don’t want the baby, they want the presents. Which do you value more, the toys and trinkets of this life that will all eventually crumble into dust, or a relationship with Jesus Christ that will last forever? In Matthew 13:44-46 we see that "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Knowing Christ is worth more than anything else in this world; in fact, knowing Christ is worth more than everything else in this world. We will never be disappointed by Him. He is that treasure; He’s that pearl of great value. God’s gift to us, this child in the manger, is worth more than anything else we could ever possess. Does your life reflect that truth? Do you know Him? Are you seeking Him? If you are then you can claim 2 Corinthians 9:15 this morning - “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” The third, and most important point is that the gift must be received. It’s available to everyone, but God doesn’t force it on anyone. We have to receive it. We have to take the package, and open the box, and accept it as our own. We each have to make the decision to receive Jesus Christ into our lives. John 1:12 tells us “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Not all who heard about him, or agreed with his teachings. Not all who attended church. Not all who tried to follow the golden rule. But all who received him. Some people imagine that God’s love has to be earned; that we have to do something special to deserve His forgiveness, that we have to somehow be good enough to merit His acceptance. But a gift you have to pay for is no gift at all. Now, maybe you opened that gift years ago, but lately it’s been sitting on the shelf. You’ve been too busy, or too distracted, or too hurting to give Christ the time and attention you know He deserves. Or maybe for you that gift is still under the tree, wrapped and ready to be opened. My appeal to you this morning is this: Don’t leave Christ on the shelf; don’t leave Him under the tree. Take him into your heart and into your life, even today. That gift from God has a tag with your name on it. What better day than the day after Christmas to renew your commitment to Christ; or what better day than the day after Christmas to begin a new life of fellowship with Jesus Christ, a new life of joy and peace and love? My friend, Mary bought the cutest book for her grandkids at LifeWay Christian Bookstores. It is entitled, "What Does God Want For Christmas." Last Monday night after I got back to her house with her goodies from our bible study party (she was home sick), she asked me to read the story out loud to her and as I did she opened each little box in the book as I got to that part. The final gift is number 7 and after you read that part in the book you open the tiny box and see the gift God wants for Christmas....it is so very touching. After I went to bed I laid there and thought about Christmas....and all the past weekends I have had during this holiday time....when I had my whirlwind 2 programs and 1 Open house. What was I thinking? As the holidays rapidly approached (there were eleven days to be exact) many of us were scurrying around like little mice trying to make all of the necessary preparations for our families and friends. I had lists made everywhere....there is the Walmart list....full of foods I still needed to buy, I had scoured the countryside looking for the perfect decorations to hang, and, of course, the perfect presents to buy. I spent so much of my time thinking about, searching for, and buying, presents for family, friends, and even myself. I wasn’t spending a lot of time thinking about what I wanted. I am the kind of person who loves to GIVE presents.....but don't necessarily have to have one. I am the kind of person that if I see something I want....I get it....or I do without it. Don't get me wrong....I LOVE getting presents....I love things someone made for me because it shows me you spent time on me( One of my all time favorite gifts my daughter Kat made by taking pictures of places we had been and writing scripture on the borders of the framed print. They are in my bedroom and some of my prized possessions). I love pins and pendants that are unique, sparkly, and shiny. My other daughter, Amy and her husband Steven excelled here with a teacher/music Brighton pin. I smile everytime I wear it.) I love unusual candles. I ADORE Christmas ornaments. I love scarves (especially pashimas)....I love books and CD's. I love to have mani's and pedi's. I love to be pampered. I love to spend time with people I love. I am really NOT difficult to buy for....you just have to put some thought into it. I spend all year asking, and thinking about, what other people in my life would like to receive. It thrills me to get to be a blessing to others. I love to see the joy on the faces of my husband and our kids as they open a gift they wanted. I get excited thinking about the happiness the gift I am giving will bring to friends. My joy of Christmas is found in the sharing. What about God? Do I think about what God would like to receive for Christmas? Do you ever think about what the One who gave everything for us would like to have for the holiday? Sadly, no, or at least, not enough, and I wonder if others do either. In the midst of the busyness of the season and the concern for self and others, it is easy to assume that since God doesn't need anything, there is nothing to offer him. It is true that God needs nothing, but there are things God desires. Sure, the Almighty could merely speak and any desire would be fulfilled, but part of God's desire is that we would be the source of that fulfillment so he waits for us to respond. So what does God desire. The first thing God wants for Christmas is us. He wants our heart, our love, our attention. Like a mother, or father who is less concerned with the cost or quality of the gift, but is filled with joy to be remembered, God is not looking for a bigger gift in the offering plate or some extravagant gesture, but is blessed when we remember him. It is true that ultimately it IS the thought that counts, but how that thought is expressed can be important. So how can we express our thoughtfulness to God? Allow me to offer a short list to stimulate your creativity.
Love one another.
Love someone you consider other.
Love mercy, justice and humility.
Work for all three.
Share the compassion and grace God has shown you.
Pray for peace.
Work for peace.
Make time to be with God.
Make time to be with people.
Feed the hungry.
Clothe the naked.
Visit those imprisoned by law or by life.
Be good news to poor and captive.
Encourage the brokenhearted.
Proclaim the year of the Lord.
Embrace the Gospel.
Live the Gospel.
Be the Gospel.As these next few days pass quickly let me say, may the joy of the coming new year be yours. May it come to others through you, and may you feel the joy of the Lord as he rejoices over you this holiday season. God bless you all today and in to the coming new year!