The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, but it is most likely not December 25th. Based upon the supposed birth date of John the Baptist, who was born six months prior to Jesus, many Biblical historians suggest that Jesus was born in the fall (perhaps during the month of September). Others cite that the shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night, which was something that would have been done during the warmer weather of spring (maybe March or April) rather than in the cold of winter. December 25th was selected by a Roman Emperor around 300 AD to be the date upon which the birth of Jesus Christ would be recognized. The reason for choosing this date was to coincide with existing holidays and rituals. The intent was to maximize the recognition and celebration of Christ’s birth among the people by incorporating it with festivities that the people already enjoyed.
The date when we celebrate Christmas is not as important as the reason why we celebrate it. Jesus teaches us this lesson as it pertains to the Sabbath day - the focus is not to be upon the day itself but rather upon how we worship and honor God on that day. The same is true for Christmas. While the date itself may have questionable origins, the motivation of our hearts to celebrate and remember the birth of our Savior is certainly justifiable. For the countless numbers of people who have left Christ out of Christmas, the holiday is nothing but an empty tradition that often brings about more grief than joy. But for those who recognize it as Jesus’ designated birthday, Christmas holds a special significance and meaning.
One of the customary practices at Christmas is the exchange of presents. Christians attribute this custom to the Wise Men who brought the newborn baby Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They gave these valuables to Him as an act of worship and a display of love. The Bible further teaches us to be generous givers and to think of others more highly than ourselves. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive. In keeping with His teachings, we as believers exchange gifts with one another at Christmas. In so doing, we both remember and honor the birth of our Savior and demonstrate His unending love for each other.
The Christmas tradition of gift giving can be a wonderful thing. It creates an anticipation and excitement unlike anything else. However, if we are not careful we can allow the gifts we receive to obscure the reasons why we give them. For many, Christmas has become more about the material stuff we get than about the birth of Jesus.
I. The Gift Giving Fallacy
In America, we tend to judge a gift buy how much money it costs. Based upon this standard, we often try to purchase things that are more expensive than we can afford. The desire to impress others with the gifts that we give them can lead us to spend a lot of money. The average American will spend $830 this year on Christmas gifts for friends and family. Some will spend a lot more than this, while others much less. Regardless of the amount we spend, it can create a financial burden that takes away from the joy of the season.
The truth is that often the very best gifts are those that cost the least. Some of my favorite gifts over the years have been quite inexpensive. As a small boy, I remember getting a little red tape recorder for Christmas one year from my parents. My sister and I used that thing to record songs, shows, our own radio program, and all sorts of things - we completely wore it out. It was one of the best gifts I ever received. Looking back, I now realize that it cost a lot less than most of the other gifts I got that I can barely remember.
When I started my own family, those first Christmas holidays with kids were so special. I can remember buying high-dollar toddler toys and gadgets that made sounds and had flashing lights sure to delight. Yet, often our little ones like the box that the toy came in or the wrapping paper and bow more than the gift itself. An imaginative child can have a lot of fun with a cardboard box - I sure did back in the day…
I have learned that often the best gifts don’t cost a great deal of money… some don’t cost an money at all. Still, every year around Christmas I find myself battling with the urge to spend more than I should to impress people who don’t need to be impressed. If I allow it to, this materialistic pressure can lead to undue stress that saps my joy for the holidays. I must remind myself that the amount of money spent isn’t always the best measure of how much you love someone.
II. The Most Valuable Gifts
The most expensive thing that most people own is their house or their car. But if you asked the average person what possession is most valuable to them, they might answer a photograph, a drawing, a book, a poem, or some other small trinket that was given to them by someone special. The most valuable things we own are not necessarily the most costly. Rather they are those items that cannot be replaced - things that no amount of money can buy. As we contemplate the gifts that we plan to give this Christmas, perhaps we should take this into consideration.
I recently read a list of Christmas gift suggestions that touched my heart. I’ve added a few additional items of my own to it. The list reads as follows…
To my enemies… tolerance.
To those who have wronged me… forgiveness.
To the rejected… kindness.
To my friends… brotherly love.
To those in need… charity.
To my spouse… faithful affection.
To my children… a godly example.
To myself… respect.
Some of the most valuable gifts we can give include our time, our attention, our love, and our affection. Every year my mom gives a sequined calendar to my wife. She takes the time to sew all of the colorful sequins on it in a beautiful pattern. Every year I look forward to receiving this new calendar, even though it isn’t actually given to me. It probably costs very little to make, but I know that it takes my mom a great deal of time to make. That’s what makes it so special...
III. The Gift of God
In Acts chapter 8 we read the story of a magician named Simon. While this is not usually thought of as a Christmas story, I think there is an application to what we are talking about today. In the years following Pentecost a man named Simon was practicing magic in and around Samaria. The crowds were astonished and amazed by his talents. Soon he had become quite well known among the people.
Philip the evangelist, who had been chosen as one of the original 7 deacons, travelled to the area preaching the name of Jesus and the good news of God’s kingdom. Many men and women, including Simon, believed what they heard and were baptized. Simon was so intrigued that he began following Philip around and observed numerous signs and wonders. Though he was a gifted magician, the things Simon saw defied his understanding. He couldn’t duplicate them himself.
Upon hearing that the people in Samaria were receptive to the gospel message, Peter and John came up from Jerusalem to join Philip in his ministry. They discovered that the people there, though the had been baptized in water, had not yet received the gift of the Holy Spirit. They had intellectually believed in Jesus, but had not repented in a meaningful way or placed dependent faith in the Savior. Peter and John began placing their hands on the Samaritans and praying with them, that they might receive salvation and be filled with the Holy Spirit. As radical and immediate transformations began to take place in these people’s lives, Simon was even more amazed than before. This was much better than any magic trick he’d ever done.
Envious of the apostles and eager to perform this miraculous feat for himself, Simon offered to pay Peter and John a large sum of money in exchange for the authority to impart the Holy Spirit to people by laying his hands on them. Simon thought that he could purchase this special ability for himself. Perhaps if he was to add this act to his magic show, he could revive his dwindling career and compete with the jaw-dropping miracles that were now been seen everywhere.
Peter - never known for holding his tongue - harshly rebuked Simon’s request by sternly telling him that the gift of God cannot be bought with money. Perhaps we need a firm reminder of this as well. Salvation and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is a gift that no amount of money can acquire. Simon learned this lesson the hard way, and so do many of us.
This Christmas we need to remember that the gift of God isn’t for sale. It isn’t something that we can't purchase, but rather it is something that was purchased for us. Jesus paid a high price for it - one that we could never pay ourselves. And now, having forever defeated sin and death through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, Jesus freely offers this gift of salvation to all who will receive it. Like so many of the best gifts, its value cannot be measured in dollars. It is a gift that money can’t buy. Have a Merry Christmas.