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Christmas Memories
John 3:16 

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas this year? I received several very thoughtful gifts this year. Susan and Stephen went in together to buy me a complete set of Topps 2000 baseball cards. My Mom and Dad gave me several gifts, but my favorite one is this lighthouse tie I'm wearing this morning. Jamie gave me a book written by Richard Hatch entitled, 101 Survival Secrets: How to Make $1,000,000.00, Lose 100 Pounds and Just Plain Live Happily." Hatch was the winner of the hit TV series, Survivor. These gifts were all special to me because of the thoughtfulness that went into selecting them. 

Susan and Stephen know how much I like baseball cards. My collection goes back to when I was eight or nine years old. They also know that I haven't been buying any cards this year. The tie is great because of the name of our Church. And Jamie knows how much I enjoyed watching Survivor this summer.

Richard Hatch was the guy on the show I loved to hate. After he won and started doing the talk show circuit, I cut him some slack. I'd decided that he was just being arrogant and obnoxious to keep the others at arms length so he could win the game. But after reading his book, I've reverted to my original conclusion.

Secret 78 illustrates my point. The secret is, "Selfishness is a virtue." Hatch wrote, "For example, if you give somebody a gift, it's because you want that good feeling that comes to you from the act of making someone you care about happy." (Hatch, 84) (Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html )

Do you agree with that statement? Is selfishness a virtue? Do we only give because of what we "get" out of giving? If not, then wdo you give? 

Over the holiday season, my ministry to our local church and the Internet community has primarily focused on the Christmas theme. This year, a couple of people emailed me, telling me about their most memorable Christmases. As you are thinking about why you give gifts, listen to these stories.

Shelley Batty of Molatta, Oregon was the oldest of two brothers and a sister and often bore the weight of being the "big sister." When Shelley was eight, her Dad had been out of work for a while. As Christmas approached, money was tight. Shelley and her siblings didn't know exactly what was happening but they knew things weren't normal. 

Their meals were a little different but the biggest difference was their Christmas tree. It was a sad "Charlie Brown" tree. Under the tree, there weren't any multicolored boxes or any exquisite bows. Instead they had one present. But it was a huge box. The kids tried for days but they could not guess what it was. 

Christmas day finally arrived and anticipation consumed all the children. As always, their Dad read the Christmas story from Luke before they could open their presents. After the reading, he put the big box in the middle of the floor and directed each child to stand by one side of the present. He told them that the gift was for everyone and they had to share it nicely. Then he gave them the motion to open their present.

They ripped the wrapping paper faster than a chainsaw. Inside was a refrigerator box. When they looked inside the large box, they discovered that there was something else inside that refrigerator box. Large appliance boxes with medium sized moving boxes inside of them. Inside the medium boxes were other boxes and then shoe boxes and even more boxes until they finally arrived at the tiny jewelry boxes! 

Believe it or not, but at the bottom of all those boxes was a book called "Things to Make with Boxes." The children made forts and castles, cars and airplanes, boats and trains, sets and scenery for make believe plays, and all sorts of cool things. 

Today their parents still have a box full of snapshots of all the things they made with their boxes. "The four of us are now straddling 40." Batty said, "If asked individually for our best Christmas memory, you will get 4 variations of the story of a box full of boxes."  (Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html )

Why was this Christmas so special to parents and children alike? What made the gift so special? 

Yolanda Lopez shared with me a special Christmas memory from the year her father left her family. Times were so hard, that her mother left the kids at home to call her sister, to ask for some help. Yolanda's mother must have been desperate to ask for help. She was a very proud woman, who refused to go on welfare. They didn't have a phone at home, so she walked nine long blocks to call, but to no avail, her sister wasn't home. When she hung up, lots of coins came out of the coin box of the phone! 

Yolanda's mother gathered her apron together and raked in the coins. As she walked down the street towards their apartment, the neighborhood Baker saw her, and waved his hand at her to come inside. When she did, he gave her a pull cart filled with doughnuts, bread, a pie and anything else that he could think of putting in it. He even topped off the cart with a jug of milk! 

Yolanda's mother continued on the way home, when she saw a red fire truck in the window of the Ben Franklin Store. She used the coins to buy the truck for Yolanda's young brother, but didn't have enough money to buy anything for anyone else.

How do you think Yolanda responded to her brother getting a gift while getting nothing for herself? "We were happy just to have something to eat!" Yolanda said. "We were happy that our brother had gotten a gift."

Today, as she looks back on the experience, Yolanda says, "Now, remembering this, makes me appreciate our mother more, for what she went through for us. She could have left us too like our father did, but she was faithful. And God is faithful. He always provides."

Why wasn't Yolanda upset that she didn't get a toy like her brother did? Why was this Christmas so memorable to her? As she reflects back on the "non gift" she received, why does it make her appreciate her mother more? (Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html )

Let me tell you one more story. In 1995, a brother, and his sister, decided to revive the spirit of Christmas' past and exchange gifts. She was doing well financially, he wasn't. She was a prominent accountant at a large corporation, and he, though older than his sister was still establishing himself in his career.

On Christmas Day, he was simultaneously excited and heart broken when he opened her present--1996 season tickets to all the San Diego Chargers home games. He was excited because it was a great gift and he was an avid sports fan. He was heart broken because he knew what was in the box she was about to unwrap--two pot holders.

He watched the disappointment on her face when she searched under the pot holders to see if she missed something--she hadn't, the pot holders was it. 

Later, he caught a private moment with his sister and confessed his embarrassment. She handled it graciously. "Considering your income, we gave comparable gifts," she said, "besides, the way the Chargers have been playing lately, its not so great a gift anyway." They laughed, but he wanted to make it up to her.

He spent his spare time over the next few weeks going through boxes in his parent's attic. On her birthday in mid-January, he presented a scrap book to her as a birthday present. Inside was pictures of them as children, growing up together. The cover bore the title, "The Greatest Christmas Present I Ever Received."

Inside the cover, he attached a note. It said that though the football tickets were great presents, the greatest Christmas present he ever received was his little sister, who he loves very much--Happy Birthday!  (Fresh Illustrations, http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html )

The pot holders, you'll have to agree was a pretty lame gift. But the scrap book was priceless. But why? What made the scrap book so special?

The presents I received this year that I mentioned, the Batty family's boxes of boxes, Yolanda's "non gift" and this scrap book all have something in common-the givers didn't give to make themselves feel better-they didn't just go throw money at their family members, they gave something much bigger. They gave of themselves.

Our text today begins with, "For God so loved the world, that he gave . . ." Loving and giving seem to go together. Especially when you give of yourself. Let me finish reading the verse, "his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." It was a gift with a purpose-to save our souls.

What a perfect gift God gave-He gave of himself? He didn't give it to make Himself feel better, he gave it so He could redeem you unto Himself. Have you accepted that gift? 

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