I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!
Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-9
I have a friend who’s a non-practicing Jew. Last year, he asked me the following question: “So are your parishioners upset about Starbucks not putting Christmas decorations on their holiday-themed coffee cups?”
I said, “No! In fact, the only Christians I know who are upset are those Christians who are upset about Christians being upset!” Or something like that… The point is, every Christmas season we hear about some new battle in the “War on Christmas.” While there may be battles worth fighting in that particular war, a trivial thing like a coffee cup or a cashier saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” isn’t one of them.
If we’re going to get upset about something related to the “War on Christmas,” let’s get upset about that very anti-Christmas, anti-Christian song that plays on our radios round the clock during Christmas season. I’m talking about the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”: “He’s making a list/ He’s checking it twice/ He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”
Nice children get toys, the song says. Naughty children get lumps of coal.
Think about it: According to this song, Santa isn’t the giver of gifts. He’s in the business of doling out rewards and punishments.[†] You’ll get rewarded if you behave well—if you perform good works.
By contrast, when we talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gift of forgiveness, grace, and salvation, good behavior and good works have nothing to do with it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is a completely free gift.
I admit we Methodists, of all people, often struggle with this idea. We get confused because we talk so much about what happens after salvation—that process called sanctification. As a pastor, I talk about it, too. But please, please, please… make no mistake: The gift of salvation—forgiveness of sin, eternal life, adoption as God’s children—is not conditioned by what we do after we’re saved.
Consider a Christmas gift: What if you forget to send a thank-you note right away? Or, when you do, the note is poorly written or insincere? Or what if you never send a note at all? Will the gift-giver come to your house and take the gift away? Of course not! If the gift-giver tried to take it away, then he or she was just proving it wasn’t a gift after all.
In fact, we have a name for those kinds of “gifts”: they’re called wages.
A wage is a payment for services rendered. If God paid us what we deserved to be paid, based on what we do, we wouldn’t be able to read this: because God would have wiped us off the face of the earth already.
No. The gift of salvation isn’t given because we deserve it. It’s completely free.
The gospel of Jesus Christ begins with this premise: Every single one of us is on the “naughty” list. We are, in other words, sinners. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Or maybe a better question is, “What is God going to do about it?”
Think of the God’s gift of eternal life in Christ as a present under the tree. The giver has written your name on the tag. He purchased it for you because of his great love wants you to open it. But he won’t force it on you. He wants you to receive it freely. It’s your choice.
Are you ready to receive this gift? Begin by praying the following prayer:
Almighty God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness. I know that because of my sins I deserve nothing better than death and hell. But I also know that you loved me too much to leave me this way. I am sorry for my sins and with your help I am turning away from them now. I believe that your Son Jesus is Lord. I believe that through Jesus—through his death on the cross and through his resurrection form the dead—you are offering me forgiveness and eternal life. Enable me to receive that gift now. I promise, by your grace and power, to be a faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of my life—in this world and in the world to come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer, please let me or someone else know. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to help you as you begin this journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
† This idea, along with some of the language, comes from “The Gift that Never Stops Giving,” mockingbird.com, Accessed 11 December 2015.