Sunday, December 16, 2012

Celebrating overlooked Christmas gifts from God

For many Christians, the focus on gift-giving and merriment during this season seems to them to be taking away from the holiness and specialness of its purpose – to celebrate the birth of the Master Jesus. And there are valid reasons to be concerned. Focusing on materialism, on receiving material goods and the selfishness that can arise from that, are certainly by-products of the season that are unwelcome and surely do not contribute to our spiritual growth. One cannot, after all, serve both God and money as gods.

But the idea that we receive gifts, and give them, is actually at the core of the Good and Beneficial Message Jesus himself taught.

The arrival of Jesus was interpreted as a wonderful and supernatural intervention into the world by Ancient Gospel writers, and surely what followed the birth of this amazing Prophet and Spokesman of God was worth celebrating.

It’s an incredibly sad statement to make, but the gifts of Jesus’ teachings are often overlooked in all the praise heaped upon his birth, especially by those preachers who presume to speak in his name.

For many, it’s as if Jesus was born and then immediately died, and these are the only gifts worthy of celebration. But this neglects Jesus’ own words – words that he said would never pass away, that had great significance, that should be heard and understood. These gifts are as important, perhaps more important in some ways, than his birth, just as a child’s birth, while wonderful, is only the start of a life’s journey. What the child accomplishes is surely just as worthy of celebration.

Jesus, like the Prophets before him, pointed always to his Father, his God and our God, and to the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and understanding offered by the Father and Creator of the Universe. Surely, these are also gifts worthy of praise and celebration this Christmas season.

King Solomon asked God for wisdom and understanding to become a good king, and God gave “a wise and discerning mind” to him in return. We, too, can have these gifts by asking God for them. The brother of Jesus, James, assures us that if we lack wisdom, God gives it generously.

Knowledge and learning (often proposed as enemies of faith) are in fact valuable gifts from God, and we should call upon God to strengthen and encourage them. They are things that Scripture teaches is something to be sought, not avoided. The Pslamist asks God to teach him “good judgment and knowledge.” The Proverbs teach us that it’s an intelligent heart that seeks knowledge, and that it is “pleasant to the soul.”

Jesus condemned the Pharisees for taking away the “key to knowledge,” and failing to guide others to it. This, sadly, is a fault many modern preachers are also guilty of doing, by not allowing the Scriptures and the Prophets, and Jesus, speak to us of knowledge and other valuable gifts we possess, thanks to God, our Creator, who created us to seek after them and not deny them as gifts worthy of possessing.

Scriptural References:

“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. … Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” 1 Kings 3:5-12  

“He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding” Daniel 2:21  

“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” Psalm 119:66 

“Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly.” Proverbs 16:22 

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Proverbs 1:5 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.” Hosea 4:6

“For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you” Proverbs 2:10-11

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

“For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.” Ecclesiastes 7:12 

“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge.” Luke 11:52

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