His Gifts"If we’re just as obedient and just as faithful, He’ll use us in ways that will open our lives to unbelievable wonder and adventure."
Before online shopping, there was the “Sears Wish Book.” When I was a child, I couldn’t wait for the catalog to arrive each fall because that would signal the impending holiday season. By Thanksgiving, the catalog would be dog-eared and mangled, the contents of its pages either circled or scissored out. I would then have my parents sit down for a thorough explanation of each item, and I would then strategically place the reference to each item I wanted throughout the house. They couldn’t escape.
As I matured, my parents tried to find ways to teach me that Christmas is about the spirit of giving, not receiving. One Christmas, my mother came home and announced to my two brothers and me that she had met a family that needed our help. The Salvation Army had given them a Christmas tree and some food, but there wasn’t anything to put under the tree. So, we were instructed to go into our bedrooms and choose at least one good toy to give to the family.
I chose my prized dollhouse. It was placed in our car for the trip to the family’s home, along with the items my brothers had contributed. When we arrived, the young mom who answered the door whispered, “The children are in bed.” We slipped in and placed our toys under the tree as the mother quietly wept.
That was the year I became convinced that Christmas was about more than my catalog. But I still had it all wrong. It’s lovely to receive gifts at Christmas, and it’s even better when you see someone’s face light up when we give something to them. But the true blessing of Christmas is found apart from anything we do. The true blessing of Christmas is found in discovering and opening God’s gifts, the perfect ones that come from above (James 1:17). And there are so many.
When Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, he knew the baby wasn’t his. When he confronted her for an explanation, Mary explained that an angel told her she was going to give birth to the Son of God. He didn’t believe her wild story, of course, but he still wanted to avoid disgracing the girl. So, while he was undoubtedly confused and fearful, Joseph decided to quietly divorce Mary.
That’s when an angel came to Joseph and confirmed Mary’s story. Then the angel told the young man that he shouldn’t be afraid. “For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20-21). The angel’s message had first been prophesied by Isaiah ages before. “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (7:14).
God had promised that frightened and lonely young man that He would be with him. What a gift. Because of Christmas, we too need never be alone. In fact, the birth of Jesus ensured that we would never be alone again. Christ spoke to this very point just prior to ascending into Heaven: “I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). While the events of this past year have left many of us confused, isolated and fearful, we can rejoice this Christmas in the fact that God gives us the Gift of His Presence.
But there’s more. The arrival of baby Jesus was planned by God down to the tiniest of details. The angelic announcement, the virgin birth, the manger bed, even the name chosen for the baby were all carefully orchestrated by a loving God. That first Christmas, God set in motion His meticulous plan to reclaim the lost. Jesus would make a way for us to receive God’s grace and forgiveness and escape the penalty for our sin. This Gift of Salvation is completely free. It is ours just for the asking. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8 NIV).
And don’t forget the shepherds. They were out in the fields keeping their watch at night, when suddenly an angel appeared and announced the birth of a Savior. A choir of angels then joined in, singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” (Luke 2:14).
Now, for years I couldn’t understand why the angels announced peace to a group of men who were in about the most peaceful place on earth, right in the middle of a field on a mountainside. There were no lights and no noise. Just sheep. But the angels promised to them a Gift of Peace because, even when there is no activity around us, our hearts can be filled with turmoil. And that’s the same peace that you and I can experience. Through Christ, we are promised peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and the peace of God (Phil. 4:7).
Finally, there’s the Gift of Hope. Jesus was born to an unassuming small-town girl and a carpenter. The angels appeared to a ragtag bunch of shepherds who were just going about their business. They were all common people, lacking any position or significance in the world. Yet because they were obedient and believed God, they were swept up into God’s plan for mankind.
Today, God still uses ordinary people like you and me in the same way. If we’re just as obedient and just as faithful, He’ll use us in ways that will open our lives to unbelievable wonder and adventure.
The “Sears Wish Book” isn’t printed any more, but that’s okay because I’ve learned that a great Christmas doesn’t depend on what gifts you get or what amazing gifts you give. It doesn’t depend on hosting fabulous parties or even successful church events. It doesn’t depend on you at all. It simply depends on receiving and then opening God’s gifts. And you don’t have to wait until Christmas morning to do that.
Commissioner Jolene Hodder is National Secretary for Program and Spiritual Life Development at The Salvation Army National Headquarters in Alexandria, VA.