Anticipating Advent: God’s Perfect Gift

After opening the small collection of presents beneath our tree, Dad announced that there was one more for all of us to share. In those days many of our presents came in boxes from kind aunts or faraway friends: useful and edible gifts like socks, a box of chocolates, or a can of popcorn. But Dad said this last gift was from him and Mom. It was too big to wrap so he would have to go and get it. I was only five, but how well I remember that moment now so many years later–the dimly lit room, the shining tree, and the excitement of anticipation. In a few minutes Dad came back with the best thing we could have ever imagined: a toboggan! It was taller than Dad, with its long, beautifully polished, honey-colored wood curling at the top–the perfect sled for all of us five children to ride on at once.  At the time we lived in northern British Columbia and the snow was deep all winter.  We rushed into our warm things and then outside where Dad pulled us behind the Jeep Wagoneer up and down our driveway all that magical Christmas Eve.

The next morning my mom backed over the toboggan because it had been left behind the car. It was completely crushed, and so were we. There was no money to replace it. So that was that.

My children never like hearing this story –“it’s so sad!” But as an adult, as a parent myself with the responsibility of preparing gifts for my children, this memory is one I cherish. It is a picture to me of the gifts the Lord plans for his children and the delight he takes in our joy. And it reminds me of this truth which we are taught every year:  all the presents we give and receive at Christmastime eventually break, grow old, or lose their power to delight. But God’s perfect gift, planned from ancient times, orchestrated with perfect care, and revealed at just the right time, never breaks or grows old. That gift is Jesus.
~Hosanna Lovegren

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“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 1 Corinthians 9:15

Anticipating Advent — The Gift I Needed

The world wanted something very different than what we were given on that first Christmas day. We can no longer imagine life without that Gift, and it is only through receiving It we understand anything about the world around us.

I can’t even remember most of my Christmas gifts as a child, but I distinctly remember the year I didn’t get what I wanted. A remote controlled car. And I wanted it badly. There was never much extra money growing up in the house of a Christian school teacher so there was no reason to think that it would happen, but somehow I was convinced it was going to anyway. And when the presents made their way to the tree, there was the package. The exact size, shape, and heft of the longed for car. There was no name on the box but, of course, this was for me. I visited that box often in those days before Christmas eve.

And then it was finally time. I can’t remember if the box was handed to someone else, or if it was just an empty decoy, but I do remember feeling overwhelming betrayal. A larger box emerged from the bedroom for me. It was too big, too heavy, too everything to be that car, but I’d seen enough cleverly disguised gifts to give up hope. I instantly allowed myself to soar again to the heights of anticipation. But what emerged was an aquarium.

Years of conditioning had instilled in me a sincere desire to be thankful for whatever I got. To be that kind of kid. Years of knowing that others consistently got bigger, better, more valuable presents should have allowed me to put on a better act. This was not only the biggest gift I had ever been given, but more expensive than the car I had coveted. Yet the disappointment was so overwhelming, the anticipation had gone on so long, that I mumbled thank you, then went to my room to process a grief that should have been reserved for the loss of something more. My mom came to tell me how disappointed my father was, and I reached deep into my sixth grade self and rejoined the family. I set up the aquarium in the study and afterwards lied that I truly was delighted.

Over time I would come to love the wonder and discovery of that aquatic world as I spent countless hours developing relationships with the inhabitants. While my brother was in Vietnam we kept a map in that same study, and I would wander between the mysterious contours of an unknown place and the familiar tank. That was the year we found out my father had cancer and for the next three years until it finally claimed his life, the tank was a diversion. I fixated on every nuance of lives in the tank I was responsible for while my own life often seemed untended and unnoticed. That gift was exactly what I needed.
~Brian Vander Haak, Taipai, Taiwan

The God For Me

“I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross… In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.

But each time after a while I have to turn away. And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.

That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of His.”

—John Stott, The Cross of Christ

It is interesting to read of Pastor Stott’s turning toward the image of the crucified Christ, away from the smiling but detached Buddha.  As I did not grow up with images of the crucified Christ, I find it very difficult to see paintings, statues, or watch movies depicting the Crucifixion.  I want to turn away in discomfort at the agony portrayed. It is too overwhelming to behold.

But I must turn back and face Him. I cannot look away in horror.

He is not detached.  He is completely and unutterably attached to me–by His grace–by His will–by His giving of Himself–indeed by the nails themselves.   That is my God hanging there.

~E. Gibson

Breathed His Last

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed His last.
Mark 15: 37   

Breathed His Last?
Jesus.. Son of Man?  Son of God? …last breath?….dying?
This man born in a stable, who was worshiped by shepherds and angels?
This man who taught with such authority?
This man called “prophet of the Most High?”
This man who said “I AM………..”?
This man who had such love and gentleness?
HE ……… breathed His last?
How could this be?
Why would God allow His SON, His ONLY Son to die?
His Son in whom He “was well pleased?”
For ME???  That My sins might be forgiven, and wiped away?
For Me,      that I might be reconciled with the Father?
For Me,     that I might have peace with God?
For Me,     that I might have Eternal life?
WOW!       Hallelujah!!!!!
Praise and thanksgiving to the LORD Jesus Christ,  LORD of Lords and KING of Kings!

~Pam Herbert