I am a difficult person to buy a Christmas gift for. I think that I hold that in common with many men in this Newport Harbor Area.
What we want, we have the resources to buy, and we purchase it at the point we want it. Or what we want is too big or too difficult for us to get so we don’t have it as much as we might want to have it.
So you are stuck with buying people like me ties, golf balls, and cologne — items which probably don’t turn you on because they are so prosaic, so common. Yet they are safe gifts to give. Or you give gift certificates or cash which seem sort of antiseptic.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t need anything or want anything. It is just that a new car or a substantial pay down on the house mortgage or a semester’s tuition — those items which would really make a difference — are simply out of the ball park.
In the larger area, those things for which we so much yearn no one can obtain them for us either. I’d exchange, and I know you would too, every gift you would ever get during the next ten Christmases to make the Orange County bankruptcy go away. I think of Fran Findlater whose son, Jim, at age thirteen, suffered a severe gash in his left leg which was broken when he was hit by a car as he rode his bicycle. Since then, two years later, he has had five operations and still needs to make regular visits to the doctor to have his bone development checked. He and his mother are the innocent victims of this Orange County financial debacle.
Awarded an insurance settlement of $60,000 two years ago to help with his future college costs and medical needs, Fran was going to put that money in a major bank in a certificate of deposit earning two percent interest until her son turned eighteen. The day she went to court for a final settlement, the judge recommended that she invest the money in what was then a brand-new county fund specifically for minors who received money after accidents. The county fund paid nine percent interest. You know what has happened to that fund, and you can imagine the rest of the story.
I’d give up every future Christmas gift imaginable to give that kid back that investment, to bring peace in Bosnia, somehow to reverse the epidemic of binge drinking on our college campuses, and the horrendous increase in drug usage among our youngsters. But no waving of my Christmas magic wand, no Santa Claus can bring those gifts.
There are just so many wallets, briefcases, bathrobes, and slippers that a person like me car use. So we are back to the same old dilemma. What Christmas gift do you buy for someone who basically has everything he needs?
I have given a lot of thought to this in the last few years and few days and have come to a massive conclusion. There’s one gift I need, and I need it 365 days a year. I need it every bit as much as the air I breathe, the water I drink, the food I eat, the shelter over my head, and the love of my family. In fact, it is a gift that is much more important than any or all of these. And you need it also. It’s a gift that is available to all.
What heads my Christmas wish-list, both when I think about it and the rest of the year when I sort of forget about it, is my organic, basic need for Christmas Grace! Yes, the one gift that keeps on giving is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which made its advent into the world most dramatically in the coming of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.
The angel described this gift to a confused first-century Jew by the name of Joseph who was confronted by the fact of his fiance’s pregnancy by the Holy Spirit. He said:
Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:20-21)
Again an angel declared it a few months later to shepherds giving midnight watch over their sheep on those Judean hills.
Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)
The Apostle Paul articulated this same word as he wrote to his friend Titus in Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
One of the most difficult messages to preach each year is the Christmas message. Why? Because so many of us have heard it so often. We live in a day of quick-action news briefs. If there is anything I don’t want to do it is to bore you with old stories and canned repetitions that put you to sleep. I want to stimulate you, excite you, and I feel I am playing a losing game when I compare my modest resources to all of the stimulative devices, both legitimate and illegitimate, of the mass media world we live in.
Yet it is Christmas-time again. I have thrilling news for you. That is, it’s thrilling if you can momentarily forget that familiarity which breeds boredom and hear the good news as I need to hear it and you need to hear it time after time. These words of the Gospel song express our need:
Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above
Of Jesus and His glory, Of Jesus and His love.
Tell me the story simply, As to a little child,
For I am weak and weary, And helpless and defiled.
Tell me the story slowly, That I may take it in
That wonderful redemption, God’s remedy for sin.
Tell me the story often, For I forget so soon
The “early dew” of morning Has passed away at noon.
Tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story,
Tell me the old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.
It’s the story of Christmas grace, better known as “Amazing Grace.”
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Yes, this is the gift I need this Christmas. I need it every day of the year that is just now coming to a conclusion, and I will need it every day of the year to come. It is the gift of God’s amazing grace.
This grace is God’s unmerited favor. This grace is the free gift of God. It doesn’t come out of my deserving. Even my own capacity to respond to it is due to God’s good pleasure. My variability to receive this essential, I owe to Him. God has given me the freedom to say “No” as well as “Yes.” It can lay there on the floor beautifully wrapped under the tree while I grab for the ties, golf balls, cologne and while I rip open the gift certificates. There it is — the gift of Christmas grace, the greatest need in all the world. It is mine for the receiving. Yes, there is the initial reception with all the fresh excitement and joy.
I am also privileged to reopen that gift day after day in the awareness that the very God who created me in His image to live a full and meaningful life has seen the mess you and I have made of that life. He has come and continues to come into my life in that amazing Christmas grace that so far eclipses that stuff which we package for each other and enables us to live with the reality that we aren’t going to get a new car, a pay down on the mortgage, reversal of the Orange County bankruptcy, the return in this life of that loved one we lost to death. But this Christmas grace enables us to live with the tough, hard realities of a cruel, difficult world, enabled to survive not somehow but “gracefully.”
This amazing Christmas grace expresses itself in at least four very specific ways. First,
Christmas grace is God’s identification with you and me. The word is participation.
Have you thought recently about what happened that first Christmas? It was a moment of dramatic change in God-human relations. It is not that God has not always been personal. His grace and favor have been present since the time of Adam and Eve. But grace in the Old Testament is a word that means kindness and graciousness in general. There is no tie of relationship between the parties concerned. It is that which is shown by a superior to an inferior, and there is no obligation on the part of the superior to show this kindness.
Grace in the New Testament takes on a whole new dimension of personal relationship. The coming of Christ brings grace in the Old Testament to close linkage with grace in the New Testament. It completes the story of the saving work of God, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David all experienced this covenant grace based on the Law. In the New Testament we find a new covenant that replaces the old covenant. Here we find the full revelation of that plan of grace which was implicit from the beginning in all of God’s dealings with Israel. It is the grace of the Old Testament formally manifest in God’s dealings with His covenant people that is now made evident in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Paul describes it in these words:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church, he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
What we are talking about is the Creator-Sustainer taking on human flesh. We are talking about God Himself walking a lifetime in our moccasins. We are talking about the very God of the universe crawling under our skin, coming into this world as a tiny baby, being nurtured in a family, in a home, experiencing everything you and I experience — fully human, fully God and tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
You see, Christmas grace involves what one person refers to as “the sleepy invasion.”
Think of the great invasions by humankind. Look at the ways in which we human individuals, with less power and greatness than the living God, would have invaded an enemy-occupied land. Think back fifty years to “D-day,” June 6, 1944. How recently we revisited that most-significant moment. Remember how in early dawn the greatest army the world had ever amassed began to land and assemble on the beaches of Normandy. Almost 5,000 ships, carrying over 200,000 soldiers, came upon that Nazi-captive continent. For days men and supplies, heavy artillery equipment, thousands of pounds of explosives were flown in to assist that massive invasion. Rumbling tanks, strafing bombers, swiftly moving armies marked that D-Day.
Compare it to God’s sleepy invasion. The stage was set. It was the “fullness of time.” The world had been in prison. Humankind had been caught in a web of sin and death, controlled by a network of forces and powers hostile to God and His people. God Almighty, the King of the universe, the Lord of all human history, the rightful Sovereign of the earth, was about to invade this rebel-ruled world. He was about to come and conquer the great enemies of sin and death and to triumph over the powers of evil.
Think of God and His invasion. He could have done it in a way so much more powerful than any army or any man could ever do it. He, who by one word could destroy all that is with a power much greater than the human mind, did it in a way so different than what one might expect. What do we see? What do we hear? These sensitive words of Darrell Johnson so tenderly describe this sleepy invasion: “And the only sound you hear is the gentle breathing of a baby sleeping in his mother’s arms. A baby. A baby. A baby.”
God invaded this planet, but he did so as a baby, as a man. His invasion was a sleepy invasion, and this is the wonder of Christmas. Will we ever fully plumb the depths of this event? Lying in that cattle trough in that cave that was used for a stable behind a hotel in Bethlehem of Judea was God, the Lord … Here is history’s turning point, the greatest event in all of history, and the only sign we have of it is a baby lying in a manger.
Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is the truth of the Incarnation. The Incarnation God became man. Second,
Christmas grace is God saving you and me from our sins. The word is Pardon!
The one fact of life we all hold in common is that none of us is perfect. We can approach this theologically and accept the biblical statements that none is righteous — no, not one. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death.
This can be approached existentially, looking carefully at our human predicament. We have a feel for right and wrong, even when biblical revelation is discounted. We can identify good when we see it in others and bad when we see it in others. In those moments of self-reflective candor we can observe ourselves doing things we should not do and leaving undone things we should do. Where does the “should” come from? Is it some neurotic urge of psychological unhealth. Yes, in some cases, “oughtness” is culturally conditioned in neurotic and even pathological ways by parents and society which function as “superegos,” determined to control that inner “id” in a way that separates one from true humanity and wholeness of healthy “ego” expression.
That is reality. Stop. Wait. Even that distortion is an evidence of a fallen nature and need of salvation. We must be saved from others and their distortion as well as ourselves and that evil from within. God keep us from playing psychological games, denying the reality of sin and broken relationship with the very God of the universe.
The old preacher, Vance Havner, warned against “firing God.” He wrote:
Of all the illusions and fantasies and farces of human history, the biggest mirage of all is what we call progress. Just because we split the atom and are back from the moon, we’ve given God His walking papers. We have decided we can work out our own salvation and that science has the answer to sin.
How foolish is our human tendency. What we need to do is admit our sin. What we need to do is receive Christ’s pardon. That is Christmas grace. That is amazing grace that saves us from all that is wretched. It saves us from those gross sins that everyone would call despicable and those even much more subtle signs of self-righteousness, self-centeredness, egotism, and pride for which Christ died.
King David who lived his life fluctuating between gross sin and horrendous pride penned words so appropriate to our need in Psalms 32:1-5.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” — and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Christmas grace is God empowering you and me to live the way He created you and me to live. The word is Power!
Life is not easy, is it? Everyone is telling me how to live with “gusto.” The methods they prescribe leave me exhausted. What is called fun can be dizzying. That which produces the highs I love so often leaves me with my nerve endings burned out.
So often I am missing the peace of God which passes all understanding. Jesus promises peace. No, it isn’t the lack of conflict. He has never told us life would be serene. It is a constant battle. We live in a world in which Satan is alive and well. Ours is a spiritual struggle. But our Savior has promised the “peace of God which passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The Bible is talking about wholeness, completeness, calmness of spirit in the very center of the daily storms of life. Jesus said, “‘Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives'” (John 14:27).
During the O.J. Simpson trial, we heard a lot about Rosey Grier, who ministered to O.J. while he was in jail.
Back in the old days, Rosey Grier had it all. A star defensive tackle first for the New York Giants and then for the Los Angeles Rams, he was loved by reporters and loved by fans. Athletic success brought with it fame and the friendship of the famous. Remember him there that night in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Sirhan Sirhan thrust that pistol through the cheering crowd, gunning down Senator Robert Kennedy? Rosey grabbed the pistol, threw the assassin onto the table, covering him with his enormous frame, protecting the Senator from more shots and the assassin from being torn limb from limb by the crowd.
Rosey Grier continued to be a celebrity with all the joy and pain that status produces. There was a first marriage and a divorce. Then there was a second marriage which ended that day in 1978 when Rosey stormed toward the door, shouting at Margie, “I don’t need this. I am leaving!”
His heart ached with heavy pain. The same kind of gloom and depression settled in which he had experienced ten years earlier with the death of Kennedy. But he recovered. His life was once again filled with glamour and adulation. His night club audiences cheered his act. He was a much-sought-after guest on television talk shows, hosted his own show, and appeared in several movies. But the admiration of strangers didn’t fill the emptiness in his heart after his divorce from Margie.
Though they’d lost all love for each other, they managed to develop a “civil relationship.” They spoke to each other only when they had to and then only by phone. The only authentic contact was the one thing they loved the most — their son, Roosevelt Kennedy Grier.
One Sunday morning a friend called and urged Rosey to turn on his television to hear a black preacher named Fred Price. Something about Price and his message connected. Grier, deciding he must take a closer look next Sunday, picked up Li’l Rosey and drove to Price’s worship service for what he thought would be a routine morning in church. That day both the 47-year-old father and the 7-year-old son surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ.
Rosey discovered a new kind of love such as he had never imagined. Li’l Rosey, his eyes still shining from the experience at church, asked his dad, “Can Mom come to church with us next week?” Still hurting from the bitterness of the separation and divorce from Margie, a huge part of him wanted nothing to do with her. Yet a small voice inside told him that if his faith was real, if his new love was real, he would have to consent to his son’s request. Though still feeling cold toward his ex-wife, she did begin attending church with him and their son. After several months, Rosey Grier was amazed to watch as Margie too committed her life to Christ. Now all three had been reconciled to God — but not to each other.
All this was happening just at the time Rosey had begun praying for a new wife. Upper most in his mind he wanted a woman who would be loving toward his son. God began to answer his prayer in an unusual way. As he prayed, imagining his son with a new woman, he was troubled by a recurring image. There was Li’l Rosey with this new woman, but the new woman was Margie. This happened so often that he slowly realized that something was happening. After all, she was a “new creature in Christ,” according to what the Bible said.
He began to pray, “Let me see Margie in a new light.” He said, “It was as if she was a different woman altogether and as if he was a different man.” Something new was happening in his heart. “I began to fall in love with her all over again,” Rosey chuckles. “How better could God answer my prayer for a loving mother for my son? Who could love him more than his own mother?”
On June 8, 1981, Rosey, Margie and Li’l Rosey were reunited as a family. Today we know Rosey Grier as this “gentle giant” who has discovered that Christmas grace, which is God’s empowering to live as He created him to live, and he is having such a significant ministry to others.
This is the gift I need this Christmas. How about you? Too many times I have bought into the value system of this world. Too many times I have blown my fuse emotionally, physically, and spiritually, overloading my circuits in ways that look so successful. They leave me burned out or bored.
Are you fulfilled? Do your successes bring you happiness? Or are you seething with a deep inner anger at the futility, the vanity, and the emptiness of your existence? Are you just plain bored?
There is an alternative. The alternative is Christmas grace, God’s gift of wholeness, God’s gift of empowerment.
You are privileged to march to a different drum beat than that of this world, the drum beat of God’s unmerited favor. It enables you to exchange the value system measured in success by the things you own, what fame you have, what popularity is yours, and what pleasurable sensations you experience, and what financial security you have, for God’s empowerment. You don’t have to lean on these glass crutches which can so quickly shatter. You don’t have to be jerked around by other people and events beyond your control. It is a life lived empowered by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ who gives you enough strength to live one day at a time in the service of your Lord and the service of others, knowing everything you have and every breath you breathe is simply a temporary gift of God that, quite soon, will all pass away. Fourth,
Christmas grace is God enabling you and me to face death with the hope that comes from Christ’s promises for the future. The word is Promise!
As a pastor I live in constant contact with death. Some of these are those who we would consider having died “too young.” Some of these are older persons battling life-threatening cancer. The only difference between those who have died and those that were struggling and you and me is a simple matter of time. Sooner or later, unless Jesus Christ returns first, we too will go. It is this amazing grace I need in order to face the inevitable specter of death, not somehow but triumphantly. Jesus came to give promise.
I stumbled across a passage in the Scripture this week in the paraphrase called The Message by Eugene H. Peterson. Let me read to you his translation of Luke 21:34-36. Jesus was sharing it with His disciples. Let me share it with you as my Christmas prayer for you and myself that you and I can live with this kind of expectancy, this kind of promise, year round.
But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, every-where, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.”
Jesus participated in everything in which I participate with great empathy. Jesus offers pardon for my sin. Jesus gives the power to live. And Jesus promises me life beyond this life in His presence for eternity. And the same is true for you also.
That, my friend, is Christmas grace, God’s gift, His unmerited favor.
What gift do you want most this Christmas? When all the gifts you receive are used up and gone, there will still be one gift left unwrapped unopened, tucked in the corner behind the dried-out tree — the gift labeled “Christmas grace.” Will you open that most precious gift of all, God’s gift to you, experiencing it to its fullest and share it with others?
Today I am calling all of us who have drifted away from Him back to the Savior. But, just as significantly, I am inviting those who never have made this commitment to accept God’s free, unmerited grace today. If you want to say “Yes” to Jesus today but don’t know how, pray this prayer after me:
God, if there is a God and your name is Jesus Christ, I commit all I know and don’t know of myself to you. I know I have done things I shouldn’t have done. And I know I have left undone things I should have done. Please forgive me, Lord. I repent of sin and genuinely want your forgiveness. Thank you, Jesus, for your grace! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you have prayed this prayer today, tell someone else who loves Jesus that you have done this. Today is a brand-new beginning for you. It is a transformational moment with rich dividends both here and for eternity. My prayer is that this Christmas will be a time of spiritual renewal for all of us and for some a time of brand-new spiritual birth in Jesus Christ!

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