“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Merry December! If your neighborhood is anything like mine, I started seeing green wreaths mixed in with orange pumpkins on front steps, all while colorful autumn leaves still clung to tree branches. The legitimacy of “Christmas Creep” aside, we love the anticipation of something wonderful, and for many the holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year!” Adults and children alike look forward to cherished traditions, over-indulgence in treats, and spending time with family and friends. And what is undoubtedly central to all these festivities? Presents…
Carefully wrapped presents nestled beneath a sparkling tree are beautiful, and most of us love the guessing game involved in trying to figure out what is hidden inside each box and bag. However, the whole point of gift-giving is to finally unwrap the long-awaited treasure. Paper is torn, lids are opened, and we may finally behold the secret gift contained inside.
One of my favorite verses in all of Scripture is found in the Gospel of Matthew: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matt 27:15). Such a brief sentence, but one that perfectly encapsulates the purpose of Christ’s incarnation and the Gospel message! The older I get, the more I appreciate the relevance of this verse, not just at Easter when we specifically focus on the Cross and the Resurrection, but year-round. There is that old, childhood curiosity about secrets—what was behind the curtain, being hidden away? In this case, the curtain hid the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat, which housed the “testimony” of God’s Law. It was here that the Lord promised Moses to “speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Ex 25:22) and where Aaron and subsequent high priests would enter once a year to make atonement for the entire nation. God’s Word is very clear about who may enter into God’s “holy place”: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4). Yet Scripture is also very clear about a truth that we all know personally: “everyone has sinned, we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom 3:23, NLT). You nor I go through life blameless; we have all chosen our way over God’s way, and we stand unworthy to enter into God’s glorious presence. And the rightful penalty for our sin is death— “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). Our hands were dirty and our hearts defiled, and yet Christ “entered once for all into the holy places . . . by the means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). Christ was—and is—the only one with perfectly clean hands and a completely pure heart. He himself bore our sins, paid our price, and bought our freedom. At Christ’s death, the temple curtain was torn apart because the barrier between a fallen humanity and the holy God had been repaired.
We hear so much talk about “the real reason for the season” and calls to “put Christ back into Christmas.” What can get lost in all of this discussion is not even so much the who, but the what of this holy-day. After all, what is the main point of Christmas? What are we really celebrating? It is the sheer incomprehensibility of the Incarnation— God the Son, the very “image of the invisible God” who from, through, and to are all things (Col 1:15; Rom 11:36). Immanuel come to dwell amongst us, “born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). God’s present to us is ultimately the gift of himself—the restoration of a right relationship with him, possible because and through the atoning sacrifice of his son, Jesus (Col 1:19-20).
“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor 9:15)
by Cynthia Wilbur