Guest Blog Post: Opening God’s Gift

By Pastor Jeff Kentel, Luther Village on the Park Chaplain

We’ve arrived at that time of year again. We see the lights and decorations all around and we say, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” We hear Christmas music playing all over the place. One song, called “Christmas Time”, expresses the wish that every day could be like Christmas. And in the words of another song, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!” We admit that Christmas is special! There is no time in the year like it – Christmas is for sharing, kindness, generosity, warmth, laughter, peace and joy. It’s no wonder that people have often wished that every day could be like Christmas. Christmas, one could say, has the power to bring out the very best in human beings. But why? What is it that is so special about Christmas?

There are a lot of wonderful traditions associated with this special time of year – lights, food, decorations, music, giving, and good-will. Certainly, all these things are part of what makes Christmas fun and enjoyable. But as wonderful as these things are on their own or even together, there is a reason why these traditions were begun in the first place. There is something even greater that gives meaning to their expression. If we want to uncover what is so truly special about Christmas, we need to understand what motivated these traditions in the first place. All of the special things that we experience at Christmas trace their beginnings to one very important and historic event in human history. And this event is the birth of Jesus.

Well, what is so special about the birth of Jesus? And what does that have to do with me? Well, first of all, it has something to do with you because the birth of Jesus has something to do with all of us, because Jesus is God’s gift to all people – just as the angel announced to the Shepherds long ago, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.” “All people.” That’s a lot of people and that includes you and me. Every one of us is part of what the angel meant by “all people.” So that’s pretty neat. The announcement of the birth of Jesus – of who He is and what He comes to bring – is for you. The birth of Jesus is for you in a very special and personal way.

So what is so special about the birth of Jesus – that even two thousand years after His birth, people are still experiencing comfort, joy, and peace – while expressing kindness, caring, sharing, and benevolence?

Seven hundred years before the event, Isaiah prophesied about the birth of Jesus. Isaiah 9 tells us that this child would be the “Prince of Peace” and “Mighty God.” At just the right time in human history God literally “delivered” on His promise. The birth of Jesus is God keeping His promise to bring us things that we just can’t have without Him – the Love of God, the presence of God in our lives, and peace with God.

Some may dismiss the Christmas story as just that … a story. Some may think, “I don’t believe all this Jesus stuff – it’s no more real than Santa Claus.” If that’s what you may be thinking, you might consider how God went out of His way to make good on His promises to send this long awaited Saviour – this child that would be born. It’s a pretty big deal! God wants us to know and experience His love and His truth – to have the reality of the one true God in our lives.

For those of us that may be doubting the reality of God’s love in His gift of Jesus consider this: the birth of Jesus truly is a miracle because it contains the power to cause people to do the very same thing that they not only hear God doing in His Word but that they also experience God doing in their lives. It causes them to copy what God has done for them. How so? Earlier, I noted the need to understand traditions by what motivates them.  Take the example of Santa Claus. The tradition of Santa Claus today dates back to the historical figure of Nicholas of Myra who lived in the 4th century. He was a bishop in the early Church. When Nicholas experienced the suffering of people around him, especially children, he wanted to do something about it. Nicholas of Myra, who later to be known as St. Nicholas, would bring gifts to poor children – e.g. shoes. He did it for the love of the children, but most importantly, he did it because he himself had been given a gift – a gift from God – the gift of God’s love in Jesus. St. Nicholas died in early December and his practice of gift giving was repeated by others and eventually timed with the yearly celebration and observance of God’s gift at Bethlehem. If you trace the tradition back to its roots, we note how the whole tradition established by St. Nicholas or later known as Santa Claus, began because of God’s gift at Bethlehem. St. Nicholas was motivated to do what he did because of God’s love at Bethlehem. No gift of God’s love in Jesus … no gift giving by St. Nicholas.

Sunshine Centre Entrance and Dedication

Want more evidence of the realness of this gift? Here’s an example close to our hearts. Consider what we know as Lutherwood. None of what you see today, not any of the buildings, not even one person in any of these buildings would be here today if not for God’s gift of His love at Bethlehem. Benjamin Road, from Weber to Westmount, would be subdivision. Lutherwood, and all the services under its banner today, would not even exist if not for the gift of God at Bethlehem. Forty-seven years ago, a group of people who had each personally opened for themselves God’s gift of love at Bethlehem began talking about what they could do for youth because they wanted to do something to show the love that had been shown to them by God. Silent testimonies to this fact reside on many walls of Lutherwood’s buildings. What they say is “Dedicated to the Glory of God.” This “Glory of God” experienced by people, is the same glory of God proclaimed by the angels at the birth of Jesus. This glory of God announced by the angels on Bethlehem’s plain is the reason why we have a Lutherwood today. No gift of God’s love at Bethlehem … no Lutherwood.

If Lutherwood is not an example of what the angels meant by “Goodwill toward men” I don’t know what is. Today, some forty-seven years after the idea of Lutherwood was born, Lutherwood is now one of the largest social service agencies in the area – caring people, strengthening the lives of thousands each year in the region of Waterloo.

We are all recipients of the Lutherwood gift but even more important today, may we also be recipients of God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem for each of us.
The gift of God’s love in the birth of Jesus is what makes Christmas so special. Would you open this gift this year? And if you do – what will this gift look like in your life?

Something pretty special too, I hope.