Christmas 2010 - The Gift of God's Presence
Christmas time is known as a time of giving in many parts of the world. Those who have been influenced by the followers of Christ down through the ages often exchange gifts with friends and family around Christmas day. Sometimes this is simple family warmth and generosity, but sometimes it is in remembrance of God's gift of His Son in the Incarnation.
God is the original gift-giver, of course, and many of His gifts to us are described in Holy Scripture. The Father is a giver of gifts, the Son is a giver of gifts, and the Holy Spirit is a giver of gifts.
Some of these gifts are about our eternal salvation--our redemption, our forgiveness, our eternal life:
A place in the family of God: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1.12) and See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (1 John 3.1)
A guaranteed new immortal body in the future resurrection: and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (1 Cor 1.22)
Eternal life: And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5.11)
A warm acceptance and favor with God which did not earn and cannot lose: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1.4)
Some of these gifts are important to our hearts, health, and happiness during this life:
The experience of God's love: because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5.5)
Comfort and hope: Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thess 2.16-17)
Confidence in the truth and heart of God: And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5.20)
Revelation and understanding of the gifts of God: Now we did not receive the spirit of the world, but we received the Spirit that is from God so that we can know all that God has given us. (1 Co 2:12).
Things to enjoy in this life: As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. (1 Timothy 6.17)
Deep satisfaction of the deep needs of our souls: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. (John 4.10)
A new, capable, loving, and free spirit in our souls: for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1.7)
Every practical resource we need for becoming more like our Lord and our Heavenly Father in this life: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1.3)
Some of His gifts involve pain, persecution, and hardship--but these produce good fruits in our lives and in the lives of those we love:
Suffering because we honor the Living God and share the message of His love in our sometimes-hostile communities: For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phlp 1.29)
Difficult trials in which the warm tenacity of our trust in Christ reveals His truth and reality--which helps others to see His glory: In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet 1.6)
Testing of our confidence in God, which produces a strength that develops fullness and wholeness in our hearts: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (Jas 1.2-4)
Fatherly correction--painful but productive: My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” ... For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Heb 12.5-6,11)
Sacrifice which yields more than is lost: Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mk 10.29-30)
And then there are His gifts of opportunities and resources to serve Him and others--to spread the message of grace and experience of forgiveness to all:
A ministry that can heal the breach between people and God: All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (1 Cor 5.18ff)
Special abilities to be able to make important contributions to God's mission of saving and healing the lost and broken: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. ( 1 Cor 12.7) and As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pe 4:10).
Evidence in our lives and efforts to help others that shows that God is approving of our work and words: The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one (John 17.22)
The supreme example of humility and service in the life of Jesus: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. ( John 13.15)
But there is a special set of gifts which is most appropriate to remember at the holiday in which we celebrate the coming of the Son of God to be born as a baby Jesus so long ago. This set of gifts is almost difficult to believe, because what they reveal about the heart and purposes of God is so beautiful and powerful. It speaks unfathomable love to our hearts, deeply encourages our souls, and provides an transforming experience that will last into eternity.
This set of gifts is about God dwelling inside our hearts, inside our lives, and inside our living community.
In the opening book of the Bible, God created the Garden of Eden and placed the first human couple in it, to care for it. God Himself visited the garden and walked in companionship with Adam and Eve. The beautiful harmony was broken by sin, and we were driven out of the Garden and away from the intimate presence of the good-hearted God.
Since that time, God has provided a way to restore that harmony--through His precious Son the Lord Jesus--and has been constantly inviting us to return to intimacy with Him. He has promised to dwell with us, to live in our midst, and to make His home in our lives.
God's dwelling among us is a consistent theme in scripture, and the description of the New Future--the New Heavens and New Earth described in the last book of the Bible highlight this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. (Re 21:1–6).
This has always been God's intent: to invite us to share His life, to enjoy His companionship, and to experience the richness of His presence. And this He has done, in the gift of His presence in the indwelling of the New Covenant:
God's promise to dwell in the midst of our world: I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (2 Cor 6.16)
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the invisible and living assembly of believers: Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3.16)
The presence of the Holy Spirit in the individual bodies of believers: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Co 6:19)
The presence of Christ in our hearts: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3.14-19)
Even the Father makes His 'home' in the hearts of believers who love the Son: Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. (John 14.21-23)
This is an amazing truth--that God is somehow present in our lives in a way different from His presence through the universe!
One commentator on this last passage puts it this way:
"Jesus responded by contrasting the reactions of his followers and the world. Jesus would reveal himself to “all who love me” and “do what I say” (14:23). This is the third time obedience is stressed as the key response of the true believer (cf. 14:15, 21). A life molded by Jesus’ teaching is proof positive that one loves him. These are the ones who experience God’s love and to whom Jesus promised that he and the Father would “come and make our home with each of them” (14:23). While Jesus was preparing a future “home” (monē [3438, 3665], 14:2) in heaven, he and the Father would also make a present “home” (14:23) in the life of the believer. This takes place through the Spirit, called both the “Spirit of God” (Rom 8:9a, 14; 1 Cor 6:11) and the “Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9b; Phil 1:19; 1 Pet 1:11). As the Spirit indwells the Christian (14:17), he is the presence of the Father and the Son. At the same time, it can also be said that the triune Godhead dwells within the believer! In a very real sense, this is a touch of heaven, an anticipation of the final reality expressed in Revelation 21:3—“Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. " [Osborne, G., & Philip W. Comfort. (2007). Cornerstone biblical commentary, Vol 13: John and 1, 2, and 3 John (216–217). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.]
May this Christmas season bring you more and more understanding and experience of the presence of God in your life. May you reflect on this reality and understand the implications of it. May you draw strength from this knowledge in times of difficulty and persecution. May you abound in thanksgiving for His presence at your meals, your prayers, your family time, your worship, your work, your Bible reading, your singing--and in the middle of all challenges you face in your life of witness for Him.
Glenn Miller, 2010