12-21-2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Times, apparently, are changing.

“Regifting”—giving away a present that somebody gave to you first—has often been viewed negatively. It sounds ungrateful…or insincere…or lazy. Recently, however, a survey found that 3 out of 4 Americans now say it is socially acceptable to regift—and last year consumers regifted an average of 4 presents.

Four presents each! Really? Are we just getting too picky?

How many of you have ever “regifted”? Have you ever given someone else a gift you received—because maybe you did’t like it or want it or need it?

Regifting can be good, of course, when the gift has genuine value…is in the original store packaging…fits the new recipient perfectly…is rewrapped properly. Just make sure you remove any personal notes the original giver might have included to you!

But let’s talk about spiritual regifting! That’s when you’ve been blessed so, in turn, you can bless others. That’s when you’ve received the gift of grace, so you have grace to share with others.

Spiritual regifting does not subract from your grace account so it can be added to someone else’s. Spiritual regifting multiplies grace, so others can enjoy what you enjoy. In the end, spiritual regifting means you both enjoy the gift.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Jesus said (Acts 20:35). That’s what spiritual regifting is about—passing along to others the gift of God’s grace which we’ve received.

For the past few weeks we’ve been looking at God’s gift to the world. We’ve been talking about God, the “Radical Giver.” It’s the story of extravagant grace. We’ve been reading about this gift in John, chapter 1.

John 1:11-16 (NIV) 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… 16 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another (NASB: grace upon grace)

If you believe this is God’s Word—that this is more than just a “story,” that this is the answer for a world broken and ruined by sin, that this is God’s light for every heart lost in darkness—then you can see the very real hope and promise that is revealed in Christmas.

The answer to the world’s problems are found in Jesus. The cure to social ills and spiritual sickness comes when we receive (believe and accept) the Savior whom God sent into the world.

So these opening verses of John encapsulate the story of redemption:

  • how God came to the world he had created—Jesus in human flesh to help humans out of the mess they’d made of the world;
  • how many refused his offer—but others accepted it and received the right to be God’s children;
  • and how God continues to pour out “grace upon grace” and “blessing after blessing” on us today.

That’s how we see it—as believers.

But I have to be honest and tell you that skeptics see it quite differently. They’ve heard the promises— peace on earth, good will toward men; light in the darkness; hope to the hopelessbut they just don’t see the promise of Christmas fulfilled.

They look at the terrible condition of the world today—and they can’t help but wonder: What difference did it really make that Jesus came? Where is the promise? Where’s the peace? The good will? The hope?

We know the world is a mess…maybe more of a mess today than ever before. Today’s headlines are full of the very things we believe Jesus came to rid the world of: Eight children stabbed to death by mother, Hostages killed in coffee shop, 148—mostly children—killed in Pakistani school, Boko Haram kidnaps 172.” Every tragedy, every atrocity, every injustice seems to mock the promise of Christmas.

We believe Jesus came to save mankind—to set the world free from the strangle hold of sin; to replace human hostility and conflict with hope and justice; to bring peace and good will between God and man—and between people.

So why don’t we see more hope, more promise? In a world reeling with bad news, why don’t we hear more Good News? Maybe you’ve wondered some of the same things:

  • If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, why is there still so much war and chaos and turmoil?
  • If Jesus is the answer, why are people still so confused? Still questioning? Still asking?
  • If Jesus is the way, why are so many still lost, wandering in the wasteland?
  • If Jesus is the truth, why is there still so much deceit and deception? Why do so many live a lie?
  • If Jesus came to give abundant life, why do so many still live hollow, empty, superficial lives?
  • If Jesus brings light into the world, why do people still live in darkness?
  • If Jesus came to set us free, why are people still enslaved? captive to habits and addictions?
  • If Jesus is the Healer, why do so many medicate themselves to cover their despair?

I’ll tell you why.

It’s because the gift of God’s grace is only part of the story. God so loved the world that he gave…but will the world receive? Before we see “peace on earth, good will toward man,” there are three steps:

  1. God gave the gift. Jesus came to confront hopelessness and despair.

He stepped away from heavenly glory and stooped down to touch and heal this broken, sin-sick planet. He laid aside his majesty, holiness, and awe to clothe himself in human weakness.

The Creator inserted himself in creation—coming as a human being, born as a helpless, vulnerable baby.

But there’s more! It’s not just about the Word becoming flesh. It’s not just about Emmanuel, God with us. It’s not just about the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

It’s also about us. About you and me—and the whole world. How the story plays out depends on what people decide to do.

We—the whole world—need to receive God’s gift. (v 12)

  1. We receive the gift. God gives, but will we receive (believe and accept) his gift of grace?

God gives us a choice!

Jesus could have conquered the world by force. He could have led an army of angels to retake all the territory that had been lost to the devil. He could have overwhelmed evil with the blazing light of his terrifying holiness.

He could have done all that and more, but he devised a more complex plan. He offered a gift for people to accept of their own free will.

God’s plan relies on a radical idea—that love is stronger than hate, that weakness and humility can overcome brute strength, that sacrifice can cover sin.

Rather than conquer the world by force, God came in the form of human flesh—Jesus came to suffer and die a humiliating death. He chose to sacrifice himself in exchange for us.

From the glorious heights of heaven to a humble hill called Calvary, from the splendor of his throne to a rough-hewn wooden cross, there could be no more dramatic shift in position—from power to weakness, from glory to shame, from righteousness to sin, from one extreme to the other.

So God gives an amazing offer—but he doesn’t force us to take his offer. He doesn’t back us into a corner or twist our arm. He could exert his power and influence to force us to do the right thing, but he chose instead to give us the opportunity to respond to his love rather than be manipulated by his power.

Rather than choose for us (moving us around like pawns on a chess board), God left the decision in our hands. Individual persons—each with free will—must decide if they want to receive the gift of grace.

This is the story of Christmas. The astounding message of love. This is God inviting you to come to him.

Part of the reason the world is still a mess is that many have refused to accept God’s gift.

But there is another reason: many haven’t heard. They might have heard about Christ, but they don’t really know who he is. Or they might have a distorted view of Jesus because his followers don’t always represent him well.

Sheldon Vanauken (author of A Severe Mercy): “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians—when they are sombre and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug in complacent consecration, when they are narrow and repressive, then Christianity dies a thousand deaths.”

Lee Strobel writes about four kinds of Christians that caused him to avoid Jesus: in-your-face Christians (angry, judgmental), greeting-card Christians (with platitudes and shallow clichés), holier-than-thou Christians (smug and self-righteous), cosmetic Christians (skin-deep spirituality; hearts and attitudes unchanged). [God’s Outrageous Claims, p 61-62]

We must ask ourselves: Have I really received the gift? Am I being changed from the inside out? Transformed into his image from one degree of glory to another? If we’ve really received the gift, then we have something to offer the world. Then we can pass the gift on to others.

And that’s the third step for peace on earth, good will toward man…

  1. We share the gift. Will we show Jesus to the world—by what we say and by what we do?

The story of Christmas is not only about receiving God’s gift. It’s also about what we do with it. Will we “regift” the blessing we’ve received and pass it along to someone else?

If the world still has problems (and it does), God calls us to address those problems by passing the gift along. We’re supposed to spread grace to a world in pain…to share hope with a world in despair.

It started with Jesus who came into the world to bring light in a dark place: In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. (John 1:4)

As the prophet Isaiah said, The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isa 9:2)

In the same way, Jesus expects us to carry on his work: …As the Father has sent me, I am sending you. (John 20:21)

The One who said, I am the light of the world (John 8:12) also said, You are the light of the world… Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matt 5:14,16)

So how do you let your light shine?

A Sunday school teacher asked her class if they could tell her what a saint was. The kids offered a couple of ideas—a good person, someone who lived in Bible days… Then one boy, remembering the beautiful stained glass windows in his grandma’s church. “I know!” he said. “A saint is someone with the light shining through him.”

That’s a pretty good definition! Your light shines when you let Jesus shine through you! When you are changed and mortivated by his life and love…when you act like him and talk like him, that’s when his light shines through you.

Jesus didn’t say, “Let your light shine before others so they may see how good you are and put you up on a pedestal and pat you on the back.”

No! Jesus said when people see our good works, they will glorify our Father who is in heaven.

When you let the light of God’s grace shine through you, that light should redirect hearts toward God! Jesus says we can have an impact on the world when we let our light shine to the world.

One example [Lee Strobel, God’s Outrageous Claims, p 68] was written by a man who used to have absolutely no interest in spiritual matters. He had a casual relationship with a Christian neighbor—talks over the fence, borrowing lawnmowers, stuff like that. Then his wife was stricken with cancer, and she died just three months later. Here’s part of a letter he wrote afterward:

I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. And after the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I did not walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night.

He did not speak; he did not even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over to me and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.”

I go to church now. My neighbor’s church. A religion that can produce the kind of caring and love my neighbor showed me is something I want to find out more about. I want to be like that. I want to love and be loved like that for the rest of my life.

We can bring hope where there is despair. We can let our light shine in the darkness. Instead of anger and hostility, peace and love can win out …

Because God has given his gift of grace; because we receive the gift; because we regift the gift.

You and I can push back against hatred, abuse, scandel, and prejudice. We have an answer for fears, hostility, and rage. We can fight against hunger, suffering, pain, and injustice.

We are to be peacemakers. We are to be “Light bringers.”

We are to regift God’s gift.