Educators are warned about taking gifts from students, but I did get an interesting e-mail this week from a student, coincidentally just a few days before her final exam in speech class. She wrote, "I am planning on making some holiday treats for my teachers and wanted to know if you were allergic to anything or prefer something without chocolate."
I responded, "I am allergic to aspirin, so don't use that. And chocolate is a gift from God."
Gifts are a significant part of the Christmas season. I remember last year standing and talking with the convenience store clerk near our house. She told me another customer had been by and gave her $100 as a tip. I stood there rather sheepishly wondering if she wanted the same from me! But we do normally think of people at Christmas we might not think of at other times, such as the mail carrier or hairdresser or the like.
Giving is a significant part of the original and biblical Christmas. Even the smallest child can recite John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son . . ."
We were born into the world in order to live and hopefully make a contribution. Jesus was born to teach us about God and show us how to live, to be sure, but he was also born to die. John said in the Revelation that he "was slain from the foundation of the world" (13:8). This means that in eternity past God the father understood what he must do to effect our salvation, and the awesome price required.
The shadow of the cross was over Jesus even in Bethlehem. The baby was wrapped in swaddling clothes, very similar to the grave clothes used in that day to bury the dead. Surely the magi had another use in mind, but one of the common uses of myrrh was to embalm the dead.
The artist Holman Hunt is perhaps best known for his painting of Jesus holding a lantern and knocking on a door. But he painted another scene in 1873. The lad Jesus was wearied from working in Joseph's carpenter shop, and he went to the door to stretch his muscles. The setting sun facing him cast a shadow of a cross on the wall behind him. Mary in the background saw the image and froze in terror, recalling the prophecy shared with her about her son's future.
When we consider the depth of God's love for us at Christmastime, it makes any sacrifice in serving him on our part seem so trivial. As Isaac Watts wrote, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all."