How many Hallmark Christmas movies must one watch before it feels like Christmas? Or how many Christmas songs must one hear? How many presents does one have to buy for the Spirit of the season to take hold? How many parties and dinners must we attend to feel all Christmassy? How many decorations do we need around the house? Although there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these activities, the answer is none. Christmas isn’t about things, its about relationships.
By way of reminder. For our Advent series this year, we are focusing on the gifts we receive as we walk with Jesus. This week’s present is the gift of relationships.
Now, it may seem that relationships are more of a natural human trait than a gift from God. Everyone has relationships with others. Something most of us will experience during the Christmas season. To see the gift of relationship we receive through Jesus we must look at how relationships are balanced.
All relationships have a give and take balance. Often our relationships are based on a “this for that” agreement. It may have the veneer of something grander, but beneath the surface it is a simple transaction. Other relationships are unbalanced in the sense of addict and enabler. One taking everything, the other giving everything. One is hyper self-centered, the other is hyper other-centered. Perhaps lastly are the relationships where there is no give and take, simply self-centeredness which occasionally gets near others but only for their own benefit. All of these are shallow relationships with no lasting value or purpose.
In the drama of Christmas and Golgotha, God shows us an entirely new foundation for relationships that is based on love, truth, and grace. God’s invitation avoids the error of “this for that,” addict/enabler, and shallow self-centeredness. God invites us to know Him even though we have nothing to offer and He is giving everything. He doesn’t enable our addiction, He frees us from it and heals our brokenness. And His greatest desire is for us to love Him and love others – breaking the shell of self-centeredness.
This gift of Christmas invites us into an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus. One that digs deep and is never dependent on “this for that.” God doesn’t weigh our prayers or our devotions to determine His love for us. Neither is the relationship built on some kind of spiritual high or false freedom. God, instead, breaks our chains so we may choose to freely love and freely follow Christ. The expectation is that we will extend to others that same foundation of love, truth, and grace. First to our spouse, to our families, to our church brothers and sisters, and ultimately into the world.
This often means tearing up old foundations through repentance and forgiveness before the new foundations can be laid. And what if the other person doesn’t accept this? We love them, forgive them, pray for them, do for them just like Jesus loved us, forgave us, prayed for us, and did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.
This new and stronger basis for relating to God and others is a gift God gave us through Christmas. The cornerstone of this is Christ. Not only of our faith but everything we do, including how we relate with one another. Perhaps it can all be summed up in this one verse, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NASB95)
Unfortunately, this is only a taste of this gift of following Christ. To dig deeper, I suggest exploring the “one another” scriptures sprinkled throughout the New Testament. For instance, “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NASB95) When this is in full force, we encourage others and are encouraged by others. More give and receive than give and take. Kind of like Christmas, where gifts are freely given and received.