It’s Christmas Eve and we’ll open our final gifts from God’s word. With highs in the upper 70s, it doesn’t feel much like Christmas to me. Every year, I long for temperatures that invite cozy sweaters, fuzzy boots and bundling up by the fire. Not. Happening. We just returned from helping a favorite ministry throw a Christmas Eve party with hot food and gifts for the homeless people they feed physically and spiritually every Saturday morning all year long. We’ll go to Christmas Eve service and then gather in our living room to read the Christmas story, share a specific gift of ourselves we believe the Lord is asking us to give Him this year, and take the Lord’s Supper as a family. Then together, we’ll peruse the Gospel for Asia website and select several gifts to give others in third world countries – gifts that can change their lives by giving them a means to care and provide for their families, but more importantly, the gospel message in care and provision for their eternity.

Even as I share the details of our traditions with you, it occurs to me how silly disappointment over the weather must be to someone who just lost a loved one or is facing your first Christmas without that special someone. Or to someone who doesn’t have a job and isn’t able to provide the Christmas you hoped you could. Or someone for whom the holiday season brings another bout of loneliness and depression. If this is you, I want you to know I love you, and I’m so sorry you’re hurting. I wish I could somehow bring you comfort right now. I wish I could look you in the eyes and somehow fix your circumstances or do something to give you peace and joy. I may not be able to, but Jesus can, so my prayer and blessing for you today, tomorrow and into the New Year is this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

This really is what I want for you! As we unwrap our last three gifts from Matthew 1:18-25, I pray this is exactly what the Lord does in you!

Gift Five – “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

TRUTH: Jesus is the greatest gift of all.

When I pause for a moment to take my eyes off myself and my desire to create magical moments and unforgettable memories in frigid temperatures, my heart knows the truth of Christmas as a celebration of one Person and Him alone: Jesus. No matter what your or my days hold today and tomorrow, as cliché as it may sound, Jesus is the greatest gift of all! He is Messiah and Savior of the world, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life and the blessed gift of the Father for the forgiveness of our sins and salvation by grace through faith in the Christ of Christmas. He is the Prince of Peace and Immanuel: God with us.

When Jesus was brought forth it was for the purpose of saving His people from their sins.

QUESTION: Have I received the greatest gift of all?

(If not, please read The Problem Jesus Fixed and The One Way of Salvation.)

Gift Six – So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us” (Matthew 1:22-23).

TRUTH: God is with us.

It had to go down like this to fulfill scripture! God did and will do whatever is necessary to fulfill what He’s spoken. He’ll speak to whom He needs to speak to; He’ll go before us to those who need to partner with us in the impossible He asks of us.

There is a bigger plan beyond each one of us and our loved ones and the safest place for us is smack in the middle of His will, even if it’s scary – scary for us personally or scary to us when it’s someone else. His plans will always require faith! Mary had to be a virgin; it had to be impossible so it could only be God. It had to be unbelievable so it would require faith, because without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Whatever He asks of us we can be sure it will require faith! Faith in HIM – not ourselves or others. Mary and Joseph had faith in God and His spoken word to them. They obeyed the voice of the Lord, and in keeping their eyes and faith and trust in the Lord, He did a mighty work in and through them together.

All this.

Every detail of how things played out was done to fulfill God’s plan. What details are we questioning? What details are we mad about or doubting? What details do we resent or regret? Perhaps all this is being done to fulfill God’s plan. And we know that God works all things together for good for those who are the called according to His purpose! HE is trustworthy. He is faithful. He is working His plan. He sees. He times. He sets things in motion and brings them to fruition perfectly. And we can rest in Him because of God with us – Jesus in us. God with us.

God is with us. He is in me, and He is in those He saves. When we are with other believers, we encounter Him. What the Holy Spirit conceives in us is God with us that others may encounter Him in us. Jesus.

QUESTION: If I really believed God is with me, what would I do differently?

Gift Seven – Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25).

TRUTH: God’s word wakes us up and demands obedience.

Joseph woke up and did what the Lord told him to do. He did the hard thing. He did the God thing. In spite of what people might think, he did the thing the Lord told him to do. He obeyed.

Listen, God is a God of mercy and grace. He is slow to anger, quick to forgive and abounding in love. But He sets things up for His purpose and for our good, and what He asks of us He expects us to do. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command because He knows His blessing that comes with it. He wants us to obey for His glory and our good. And He instructs, equips and empowers us to give Him our yes and follow through with trust and obedience.

Like Joseph, many of us need to be aroused from sleep. In sleep we find rest; we refuel and receive. But in sleep we can avoid and escape. Sometimes I feel like I’ve allowed myself to be lulled into a state of unresponsiveness because I just want to do what I want to do. Do you ever feel that way? It’s easier to get on Facebook than inconvenience myself with real connections. It’s easier to post a perfect picture on Instagram than share the messiness of life together – my mess or someone else’s. It’s easier to connect in the disconnected world of electronics and fantasy than to experience the uncontrollable circumstances and feelings and risk if living life fully engaged in messy lives in a messy world. I – and maybe we –need to be roused from sleep and do as the Lord tells us. The hard things. The God things.

QUESTION: What is the Lord waking me up to that requires my obedience?

Mary brought forth Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

We always open one gift on Christmas Eve. What about you? If you haven’t already, will Jesus be the gift you open and receive today?

To receive we must only believe:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9-10).

To receive the greatest gift of all we need only believe!

Lord, for each person who needs to encounter Jesus Christ today, reveal to them the mystery of the gospel. Thank You, Lord, for the gift of Your Son to save us from our sin. May You receive all the glory in our Christmas celebrations!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!