We have received a mountain of gifts from far and wide ever since Eva was diagnosed with leukemia. Gifts are nice, especially at Christmas, but gifts present a spiritual challenge. Deep down we like getting things—that much is true, but deep down we don’t appreciate receiving gifts.
I want to earn or deserve what I get, not receive what are gifts of pure grace. I want things to come my way because I’ve been a good son, a loving husband, a faithful pastor—the grown up version of hoping the elf on the shelf has seen what a good little boy I’ve been.
So when my family and I receive gifts for no reason except that a cross-shaped trial has come into our life, I’m forced to grapple with the spiritual challenge of a true gift of grace. Not only have we done nothing to deserve such gifts (if we contribute anything it is only our weakness), but the suffering that has prompted them is a necessary part of Christian formation. Through our trial God has continued to empty us of ourselves that he might fill us with Christ, shaping us in his image and fitting us for our heavenly home.
To be shaped in the likeness of our Lord in his suffering would be gift enough, but we have also benefited through our suffering from the gifts of love and concern that have come from all manner of people far and wide. This is grace upon grace.
We bear a cross, yes, but we do not bear the cross alone. Only one person was required to bear the cross alone, and that was our Lord Jesus Christ. When he suffered, the darkness of evil was his closest friend (Psalm 88:18). The result is that we never bear the cross alone. When we suffer, we have innumerable friends supporting us and an all-powerful Friend sustaining us.
This surpassing gift is ours because of the gift given in the Bethlehem manger on Christmas long ago. Jesus Christ is the truest gift of grace—a Savior who rescues his enemies, a Counselor who suffers for us, a Prince who rules in mercy, a God who aches to dole out grace.
The light of Christ be with you all this Christmas.