We do a “white elephant” gift exchange at our family Christmas party every year. It’s a lot of fun once the stealing starts. No gift you’ve selected is securely yours until everyone has had a chance to “steal” someone else’s unwrapped gift or select an unclaimed one. Often you find yourself engaging in some impromptu sales and marketing, hoping to pass off your item so that you can select something different. Because some gifts are better than others.
It’s okay to turn up your nose at a white elephant gift because the undesirability is built in to the activity. It’s part of the fun. But scorning a gift carefully and lovingly purchased just for you is downright rude. And hurtful. And in some cases…really, really dumb.
In Christianity we talk about salvation as being a gift, which it is. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It’s a gift in contrast to something that is earned. “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.” – Romans 4:4. But I suspect that some have the impression that because this thing we call salvation is a gift, it is extraneous and unnecessary and that refusing it will mean nothing worse than foregoing on the Star Wars measuring cups or the ceramic goose cookie jar.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
One of the primary reasons people reject Christ as Savior is their blindness to their need of saving. Either they don’t believe there is a God to be accountable to, or they consider themselves good enough to merit salvation on their own. So the gospel does not compel them. They find it easy to disregard the message of the cross as a peculiar exercise in humility for those inclined to subjugate themselves, or a fanciful, guilt-laden tale propagated by religious institutions bent on subjugating others.
There is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees recorded in Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel. Jesus had just performed a miraculous healing giving sight to a man born blind and the Pharisees had their self-righteous knickers in a twist because he did it on the Sabbath. In responding to the previously blind man’s expression of faith…
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” – John 9:39-41
There are those who are blind and know it and seek after sight. And there are those who are blind but think they are not and dismiss any suggestion to the contrary. The Pharisees were as spiritually blind as the man was physically blind but their pride and arrogance kept them from admitting it. They refused to acknowledge their desperate need for a healer and a savior…as they were looking at him. They were “those who see” and their refusal to humbly acknowledge their need resulted in judgment – they were subsequently kept from seeing.
The gift of salvation secures for us eternal bliss in Heaven with God, separated forever from sin and its horrible, painful, destructive effects. Hallelujah! But scorning the gift…I don’t even want to say it because it’s so terrible. Scorning the gift guarantees us eternal torment in Hell without God, separated forever from everything good. Everything. Eternally.
A prayer for the unbeliever
Precious Father God…you created each person to know you and have life eternal with you. And to freely love you, even as we are freely loved by you. It is not your desire that any should perish but that all would repent of their sins, turn to you in faith, and be saved. I pray your mercy on any reading this right now who have not yet made that faith commitment to you. Please open their eyes to see their sin and their need for a Savior, and stir them up to seek you, because you have promised that all who do will find you. Reveal yourself to them as the loving, compassionate Father you are, and help them to take that first step of faith towards you, and into eternal life.
Christmas Day is tomorrow, the day we celebrate the incarnation of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. As we exchange gifts with family and friends, may we be reminded of all the gifts we have received in him, twelve of which I have briefly touched on here…peace, belonging, freedom, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, knowledge of God, confident hope, wisdom, an inheritance, comfort, and joy. And salvation.
I pray that whatever God has for you in your life right now, you are journeying through it with him. And if not, that you stop right now and ask him to come alongside you and be with you forever. Because he will, but he will not force himself on you. God has a sack-full of gifts for you that Santa can never match, but they’re not yours until you receive and open them.
Jesus is the Gift that contains all the others. Be praised and glorified today, O God, as we receive your indescribably unmatchable Gift.