My wife and I have been working on a couple special gifts, an afghan for a grand daughter that Kathy has spent many, many hours on, and a desk for a grandson. If you count your time they end up being very “expensive” gifts, but the time is really a “labor of love.” It is a joy to put in the time and effort because you are really incorporating your love for the person into the gift you are making. It is also a great reward to see them receive it with excitement and joy.
I think of another, infinitely special gift that God prepared for us, and the “labor of love” that went into making it available to each one of us. I’m speaking, of course, of the gift of salvation through the gift of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God didn’t have to prepare the gift. Rather, He spent some 4,000 years preparing the world to receive the gift. From the time that sin took place in the Garden of Eden, God worked to prepare a people through whom the gift would come, and He prepared the world conditions to be just right for the time He would send His gift to the earth to be “wrapped in the likeness of man.” In fact, as Paul tells us, this was God’s plan before He even created man: “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself…” (Eph. 1:4,5).
So, as history unfolds, it is really “HIS-Story” of how He worked out the details for the arrival of our gift–how He chose a man, Abraham, through whom he would develop a nation (Gen. 12:1-3) and from that lineage how He chose another man, Judah, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, as the royal line through which this promised gift, the Messiah (“seed of the woman” of Gen. 3:15) would come (Gen. 49:8-10). Then God chose a king for this nation from the family of Jesse, who was of the tribe of Judah and lived in Bethlehem, where the Messiah was to be born (I Sam. 16:1; Mic. 4:2). God made a covenant with David, saying, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (II Sam. 7:16). The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah also wrote: “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit” (Isa. 11:1); “….In those days I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth, and He shall exercise justice and righteousness on the earth” Jer. 33:14-16).
After the time of the kings and prophets of Israel and Judah, there was a strange silence from heaven for some 400 years? Had God given up on sending His gift, seeing the wickedness of mankind? No, God was very actively setting the stage, even using pagan world powers to do so. When the Persians overpowered the Babylonians, who had taken the Jews and Jerusalem captive and scattered the people in 586 B.C., the new ruler, King Cyrus decreed that the Jewish exiles were free to return home, fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile would last 70 years (Jer. 25:11,12). Cyrus’ decrees specifically gave the Jews permission to rebuild the temple and to requisition supplies from local authorities. He even returned items the Babylonians had looted (Ezra 1:7-11)! In the book of Proverbs, Solomon had written: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Pr. 21:1). The story of Cyrus and his decree is a prime example of how this is all HIS (God’s) Story—how God was at work preparing the world for His “Love Gift,” the promised seed (Gen. 3:15; Gen.. 22:6-8) that would defeat the enemy Satan, and provide forgiveness for sin through being sacrificed on our behalf.
During the “silent period” (between the last prophet, Malachi and the Angel of the Lord—pre-incarnate Christ—speaking to Zacharias the priest [Lk. 1:11-17]), no one did more than Alexander the Great of Greece (356-323 B.C.) to shape the culture into which the “seed” would be born. He conquered Palestine in 333 B.C. and brought with him Greek learning. Everywhere he conquered he also introduced Greek as the common trade language, which would not only provide a very expressive language to use for the recording of God’s Word, but would aid in the spread of the Gospel. Then, as the political influence of Greece faded away, Rome began ruling the Mediterranean area, bringing an emphasis on commerce and trade and travel and building a complex road system (“All roads lead to Rome”). Travel became much easier and would also aid in the spread of the Gospel. There was a greater world consciousness. Rome also did a lot of taxing, which too would work out some of the details of the coming of “The Gift,” especially in where He was to come—Bethlehem. The virgin Mary, whom God chose to be the “woman” through whom the “seed” would come to the earth, lived in Nazareth of Galilee, some 90 miles north of Bethlehem, where the Messiah (Christ) was to be born (Mic. 5:2). But God directed a godless ruler to require everyone in his empire to return to the town of his ancestors and register for taxation purposes. Mary was an ancestor of David (a son of Jesse, the Bethlehemite), as was her fiancé, Joseph. So, they made the trip to Bethlehem just in time for her son to be born, and prophecy to be fulfilled.
Then, “When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). God had spent about 4,000 years preparing the scene for the sending of His special love Gift—His only begotten Son. Amazingly, as He grew into manhood and began his public ministry, even his own people, the nation of Israel, the Jews, chose not to receive God’s love gift. It wasn’t quite what they had expected. They were hoping for a political deliverer to free them from Roman oppression. John writes: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him” (Jn. 1:11). In fact, they plotted to kill Him—some way to treat such a special gift! He was arrested, falsely tried, and crucified—but all part of God’s plan to provide the other gift that He came to impart, salvation from the bondage to sin. “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor. 5:21). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (I Pet. 2:24).
Talk about a “labor of love” in providing a gift! “By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins” (I Jn. 4:9,10). Have you received God’s love gift? Although those to whom He initially came, His own, the Jews, did not receive Him, God’s Word promises: “But as many as received Him, to them, He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (Jn. 1:12). If you have never done so, why not, at this Christmas time, receive the gift of God’s labor of love, ask Jesus Christ to be your personal Savior. If you have already done so, thank God “for His indescribable gift!” (II Cor. 9:15).
Wishing you a very blessed Christmas, and a joyous and fruitful year ahead, should the Lord tarry His coming,
“There has been only one Christmas—the rest are anniversaries” (W. J. Cameron).