The drama and meaning of Christmas will always grab our attention. Its story will be retold many times between now and Christmas day. What I want to focus on in this year’s Advent articles is the benefits, the gifts if you will, of following Jesus. Five specific God-given presents to unwrap and be thankful for this Christmas season.
The first gift of following Jesus, of being a Christian, is the gift of meaning and purpose for life.
I think everyone struggles with this at times – what is the meaning of it all? Even King Solomon, with all his wisdom and understanding, struggled with the seeming meaninglessness and absurdity of life. ““Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV)
There’s something in us that desires meaning. That the choices we make will have a purpose and make a difference.
There are many ways to bridge that need for meaning. Some build a life aimed toward wealth, power, and fame. Another way is giving ourselves to a grand cause, investing ourselves in something larger. Still another way is seeking quiet solitude and order in our little corner of the world to find purpose. No matter how well we strive after this elusive desire the results are often futile and meaningless.
True meaning and purpose are not found in our bank accounts, the influence we wield, the strength of our reputation, our success at achieving order and control, or any other measure we may employ.
In Jesus, we find a whole new way of meeting that desire. The greatest commands of loving God with our whole self and loving others are loaded with meaning and purpose. Paul wrote, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95) There is a vast multitude of possible good works, all of which in some way fulfill the commands to love God and love others. These are not good works to earn our way into God’s Kingdom or purchase His favor – but gifts we give out of the same love and compassion God gave us through Bethlehem’s manger and Golgotha’s tree.
We often look for God’s grand plan when we should be embracing the next step of faith He has for us. In essence, we unwrap God’s gift of meaningfulness and purpose each day. The difference between this way of discovering meaning and other ways is that we’re building God’s Kingdom and not our own. There is a verse in Isaiah that reads, “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.” (Isaiah 26:8, NIV) In this way, in this gift from Jesus, we find meaning and purpose in that which is outside of ourselves – in the name and reputation of Jesus and His kingdom.
Without this gift from God, life would be a vain drudgery, as many philosophers have lamented about. But with this gift, even a life that is “unsuccessful” and “unknown” in the view of others is filled with meaning and purpose in Christ.
We see this gift in the purpose of Bethlehem and a baby born in a manger. A gift of love given to the world. Not in some grand promotional campaign with banners, fireworks, and talking points. But the poignant scene of God wrapped in the helplessness of a baby. A baby whose purpose, born of love, was to give himself for us all. Those who choose Christ are given a gift of purpose and meaning as we walk out this new life of loving God and loving others with every step we take.