A couple of times a month, we will have a guest blogger. Today, we have the privilege of having Tim Boswell. Whether it is an email, a blog, or a text, Tim writes with with such a thoughtful perspective. I am so excited that he is a part of this blog. Thanks Tim!
You pull it down from the back of the closet, still halfway wrapped in last year’s Christmas paper. Still hideous, you think. No way I am putting that on my wall. You’ll pop it in a fresh gift bag and bring it to the Christmas party, where the only problem will be your last-minute fear that you are actually re-gifting the present back to the people who gave it to you in the first place.
Come on, you’ve done this too.
This is the ultimate example of a gift not costing us anything. We didn’t pay for it, it’s nothing we want to keep, and it costs us nothing, not even any effort, to give it away. And this is a picture of the culture we live in, a largely me-first society, one in which even giving is mostly shallow—once a year, driven by duty, a surface-level sacrifice.
It occurs to me that the truth of Christmas is nearly the exact opposite of this. Near the start of the human story, when mankind rebelled against God, we sinned, we violated the relationship, and we should have paid the terrible price: eternal death and separation from God. Yet God, in his great love and mercy, chose to come to earth as a human being and pay the price himself in order to restore this relationship—a relationship that he instituted.
Do you see what is happening here? What kind of gift this is? The Lord bought back what was his to begin with. He owed us nothing; we owe him. Christ’s sacrifice is the most meaningful, most costly gift that could ever be given. He gave us life, love, and relationship with him, and when we threw it away, he paid the ultimate price to restore all of this so that he could give it to us again.
As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, “The perfect surrender and humiliation were undergone by Christ: perfect because He was God, surrender and humiliation because he was man.” This was the ultimate gift, and like any true gift, it is not earned. You do not have to prove yourself worthy to receive it, don’t have to be ‘good enough’ to tear off the paper. You just have to accept it. You have to understand what it is you are receiving, and then overflowing gratitude can’t help but follow.
In Genesis 3:15, Adam and Eve have just sinned against God, and God is in conversation with them and with Satan, who deceived them. This verse is sometimes called the “Protevangelium”—the first gospel proclamation, a story that runs from Genesis to Revelation. The Lord tells Satan, “and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers: he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (NIV). Most Bible scholars believe the last words reflect the fact that Jesus will be temporarily wounded by his crucifixion, but he will triumph and utterly destroy Satan, death, and sin.
Even here, moments before God will deliver his verdict to Adam and Eve and drive them from the Garden, he is already sharing his plan to restore mankind to relationship with him. The redemption is prepared before the punishment is even levied. Almost in the same breath, God is saying, “You broke the law, you broke my heart, and you must face the consequences. But all is not lost—for I will pay the price to buy you back.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship: “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock…. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
That is how much we mean to him. That is what the gift of Christmas is all about.
So feel free to pass along that ugly sweater or that unused fruitcake tray… but as you do, think about the indescribable sacrifice that underlies that birth in a manger so many years ago, a part of a plan put into motion and powerfully carried out by a God whose love for you surpasses all description.
And so, as another (tiny) Tim observed: God bless us, every one.
- Tim Boswell