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The Greatest Gift

The last days leading up to Christmas are normally very busy. A few cards to write and post and presents to find and buy. Making sure we have everything for Christmas dinner and the days following as we look forward to getting together with our extended family and friends. But this year it’s very different. Christmas plans have had to be changed; only small family gatherings are permitted and only on Christmas Day. Most shops are closed; pubs and restaurants are closed; travel is restricted; and we must stay at home.

Christmas is a time for giving and receiving. At Christmas we give special gifts to those we love. Perhaps you won’t be able to buy the presents you had planned to give, but the person who gives us the gift, and the love it expresses, are far more precious than the gift itself.

At the first Christmas God gave a very special gift to the people of his world. It is the greatest gift ever given. Then, as now, the world was a sad place with many troubles. The Roman Empire dominated many nations, and most people were poor. Jesus came, not to solve the problems of the day, but to solve the biggest problem we all face – our sinful hearts and lives. The message of the angels to the shepherds was, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord!” Our sins spoil our relationship with God and separate us from him. Jesus came to reconcile us to God through his perfect life and his death on the cross to pay the price of our sins. The name Jesus means “Saviour!” In love God, against whom we have all rebelled, took the initiative by giving his one and only Son to be our Saviour.

Opening a present from someone we love brings great joy. Parents enjoy watching their children opening their present and seeing their delight when they see what it is. The child’s instinctive response is to give their parents a hug and to tell them they love them. Have you ever responded to God’s gift of Jesus like that? Do you love him for giving you such an amazing gift? It brings great joy to God when anyone receives Jesus as their Saviour. This Christmas, like the shepherds, why not take time to receive Jesus, God’s gift to you, and to thank him for his love for you.

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Finding contentment

The lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led many people to reassess their situations. The length of the lockdown and continuing uncertainty about the future have had a significant impact on people’s jobs and young people’s plans for employment training and university courses. Many people are experiencing mental health problems. The “new normal” will be very different from the past. The impact of lockdown on many people’s lives has been negative.

During lockdown Billy Vunipola, who plays international rugby for England, has engaged in serious self-reflection. He has suffered injuries and experienced the disappointment of losing the Rugby World Cup 2019 final to South Africa. He says that during the Rugby World Cup “his head was in the clouds” and feels he has to grow up and set a better example to others. He feels that during the tournament he personally let England down and failed to support his brother Mako, who also plays for England. He has apologised to his team-mates and his brother and now wants to make up for lost time.

Billy, and his brother Mako, were born in Tonga. Their parents were Christians and from an early age they taught their children the priorities of life – God, school and rugby. Billy recognised that in recent years his priorities had changed and spoke to his parents. He said, “I always looked to blame someone else or something else and I finally realised, when I spoke to my parents, that I need to take ownership. Those guys never lie to me. It was hard to look at myself and I didn’t want to take ownership for things that I did. It’s hard to admit it sometimes and tell people around you that you are wrong.”

Billy has spoken about how he has rediscovered his faith in Jesus Christ. Despite being prevented from playing rugby, he has found contentment because of his faith in God. He said, “I went back to what I had been taught all my life about Jesus: whatever we do, whether we are playing rugby, or we’ve just woken up, we say thank you to God. Everything is a gift. Everything I have has been given to me; even my talent is a gift from God. I’m thankful for this gift. Knowing that Jesus is with me makes me a stronger person. I know that whatever I try to do, even if it doesn’t work out, I’ll always have Jesus to lean back on. I know there is more to life than winning and losing rugby games. Everything I do must be backed up by the love of Christ.”

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The Child who changed the world

Last weekend there was travel chaos at Heathrow airport. The airport was closed because of the heavy snow and icy conditions. Thousands of people arrived at the airport to find their flights cancelled. Many decided to wait hoping the situation would improve. The terminals were crowded with people and their cases as some slept the night on the floor. Old people and parents with children struggled to cope. The airlines were overwhelmed and help lines were jammed. The hotels were full and taxis were hard to find. The Christmas plans of many people have been cancelled.

It was like that in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph arrived. Thousands of people were travelling back to their home towns for the Roman census. Bethlehem was packed with people and the inns were all fully booked. Joseph desperately looked for a suitable place for his young wife to give birth to their first child. No one offered to help them. So in a dirty stable Mary gave birth to her first born son and laid him in the animals’ feeding trough. Hardly anyone seemed to notice, or care. Joseph and Mary gave their son the name Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins.” This child would change the course of history and bring great joy to millions of people.

Christmas is a busy time, even when there is no travel chaos. There are so many things to do. It is only too easy to overlook totally the One who is at the centre of it all. It is a pity that some people will not enjoy the holidays they have planned and that some families will not enjoy precious time together. Hopefully this can be done at a later date.

But will anything in your life change for the better this Christmas? Why not spend time thinking about what God did in sending his Son into the world? You could read one of the Gospels which tell the whole story. As you read, pray that God will help you to know him better. In John’s Gospel we are told “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him, but to those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”