Christmas 2023 may be over but eternal gift giving is just getting started! We just watched children rip open presents Christmas morning, certain to break or stop playing with new toys in a few days. Jesus gave us a gift that lasts forever – Himself. When we serve others in His name and share the Gospel, we’re passing along His eternal gift. Regifting is normally considered tacky and cheap, but not in this case. No gift endures longer and costs more than eternal life with Jesus. Leading someone toward Christ will never fall apart or wear out.
The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to think eternally, yet there’s no time of year where we’re more tempted to operate in the here and now. Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the Lord’s never-ending provision and promise, but even Christians and churches fall victim to America’s myopic, consumer-driven versions of those holidays. This world doesn’t offer anything eternal. We can only find security and joy in eternity. For weeks, we fought traffic and mall crowds to find that “perfect” gift that won’t last. In our rush, we missed countless opportunities to give gifts that keep on giving.
Most Christians have gotten caught up in the commercialization of Christmas, so it’s no surprise the celebration of Jesus’ birthday has become secularized. Every year, more stores and ads default to “Happy Holidays” and “Merry X-mas”. Christian Christmas cards get tougher to find. We hear less talk of our Savior than Santa. Christmas has become another glaring example of society’s efforts to erase Jesus from the picture – having already systematically removed Christian influence from government, courts, and schools.
How Jesus Gave Eternal Gifts
Our giving spirit should continue after Christmas because Jesus’ gift giving never ceases. When Christians are engaged year-round in giving eternal gifts, we look like Christ and point people to Him. Nearly every time someone recognized Jesus and acknowledged Him as the Messiah, it was because of His acts of mercy and compassion. It’s no different today. Non-believers recognize Jesus in us when they see His love flowing through us. They assume that if someone is willing to help, then they may be a source of hope. It’s our actions (Care), followed by our words (Share), while understanding God alone can reconcile someone to Himself (Prayer), that open eyes to see and ears to hear who Jesus is.
But eternal gifts are incredibly expensive. They may cost us everything. The price is spelled out in John 12:25 (not coincidentally, 12:25 is the date we celebrate Christmas) – “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross”. He paid the ultimate price so we must be prepared to die as well – to our selfish desires and worldly expectations. Non-believers see the futility of their self-centeredness when we die to self. And we must do so joyfully, finding the courage to give eternal gifts by looking forward to eternity. There is eternal joy in giving eternal gifts, but only temporary happiness in receiving temporal gifts.
How Christians Can Give Eternal Gifts all Year
Demonstrating the love and grace of Jesus to the seemingly unlovable, impossible except by the Holy Spirit, gives observers the best chance of opening God’s eternal gift of His love and grace. Redemption and reconciliation are the presents our friends, neighbors, and coworkers need most, even if they weren’t on their Christmas list. Whether they know it or not, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As Christians, our response to the commercialization of Christmas shouldn’t be getting caught up in it or combatting it. Retailers will always seek to maximize profits during the holidays. But we serve God, not money, so our goal should be maximizing eternal returns by introducing people year-round to their sole hope for life after death. We should be investing in eternal gift giving through…
- Prayer – Imitating Mary rather than Martha and sitting at the feet of the Lord in worship, Bible study, and prayer. Through those disciplines, we gain faith the and strength to remain calm in the midst of storms by “fixing our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
- Care – We must lead people toward Christ in the way He modeled, demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is (the Gospel). We awaken even “enemies” of the cross (those trying to take Christ out of not only Christmas, but every facet of our society) to the truth of God’s word through countercultural acts of kindness. Determining where to direct our compassion, we should consider “Where Would Jesus Be” (WWJB) and go to the places and people who are suffering (materially and spiritually) and searching for eternal answers.
- Share – Learning how to convey the Gospel as beautifully as C.H. Spurgeon who wrote, “As the wealthy believer cannot be true in his fellowship with his poor brethren unless from his wealth he ministers to their needs, so it is impossible that our Divine Lord could have had fellowship with us unless He had given to us from His own abounding wealth and had become poor so as to make us rich.”
However, Christians are only as good at eternal gift giving as their churches are…
How Churches Can Give Eternal Gifts all Year
People won’t recognize Jesus in His Church either if churches don’t embody His love and compassion for the “lost”. Pastors can’t “out-preach” Jesus, who had the perfect words, yet still led with acts of service. America’s churches currently devote less than 1% of their time, energy and budget to local missions. For 1900 years, churches served globally as the food bank and homeless shelter, the first place people thought to go to for help. Surveys show most Americans see churches today like faith-based businesses, uncaring and judgmental. As the evil spirit said in Acts 19, “Jesus I know, and Paul and I know about, but who are you?”
Churches could once again become highly effective at giving eternal gifts, blessing those with no (eternal) presents to open during or after Christmas, if they would return to…
- Teaching Eternal Gifting – Pushing members to serve compassionately and share boldly (multiplication), which is far riskier than simply telling them to invite friends to church to hear about eternity from a pastor (addition). Few churches today provide congregations with evangelism training or personalized, intensive discipleship.
- Tracking Eternal Metrics – Church activities should be designed around personal growth (e.g. footprint expansion through disciple multiplication) rather than institutional growth (e.g. nickels and noses) goals. Attraction and retention strategies encourage church hopping and shopping, contributing to the common perception of churches as commercial enterprises, not eternity brokers.
- Maintaining Eternal Focus – Checking the proverbial box by organizing seasonal events does more harm than good. Families are still hungry and hurting after the holidays, but most churches are back within their “4 walls” celebrating their “kindness”– and the community sees that hypocrisy. Making Christmas last all year through ongoing, relational poverty alleviation initiatives in the community treats each and every individual, regardless of their social or financial status, as eternally valuable.
Unless a church’s actions reflect an eternal perspective, the world won’t believe it has the answers to eternal life.
It’s Your Turn…
How can you (and your church) #GiveAnEternalGift this week and throughout 2024, even after you’ve taken down the Christmas tree?