Well, here we are. It’s only days before Christmas. Most or all of the shopping is done. Christmas cards have been sent out. The wrapping is practically completed and final plans have been made for the big day. You’ve endured the traffic and the long lines. Holiday parties and performances have been attended, and your endless list is being marked off one by one as you’re accomplishing all the to-do’s and purchasing all the must-haves. Or maybe you’re laughing as you read my assumptions, knowing you’re not even close to being finished and chuckling about how you’re still waaayyy behind. But I fear, on the other hand, that many of you are feeling heavy during this holiday. Pain and discouragement may be breaking your heart. You’ve been putting your game face on to hide your disappointments and concerns. Whatever your circumstances, Christmas is almost here. The day has almost arrived. We are all craving the treasured moment when we can finally take a deep breath, relax and find some enjoyment. But let me ask an important question. Did we miss something? In the hustle and bustle around town; in the crazy striving to get it all done; in the effort to hide our pain; in the searching to find the best gifts for those we love, have we failed to see the Gift that was meant for us? Did we miss the Baby? Did we forget about the Savior?

Every year, I hope to maintain the spirit of the season. I start off in early December with the best of intentions and the perfect plan – remain calm, stay centered, carry on peacefully. But every year, as I begin to press harder, tackle more, and strive to be everything, I become overwhelmed and pushed to the limit. Ahhh! How does this happen to me every time?! I could put on a front to you as I write this, give you the impression that I am always full of patience and joy, that I constantly stay focused on what really matters. I could write that I gather our five kids each night by the fire to sing Christmas carols, as I hold my Bible and read lessons about the birth of Jesus. I could make you believe that Christ is constantly at the forefront of my mind. That I never snap at anyone, take my stress out on my husband, act impatient in long lines, or honk at someone who takes too long at a green light. But that would be a lie. That just wouldn’t be true, my friend, so I prefer to be real.

The truth is that I get overwhelmed. I feel the stress of this time and act on it. I take on too much and suffer for it. Every year. I’m still trying to figure out why. My best guess is simple: I am human. I am flawed. I am a sinner. This is just who I am and who we all are. It certainly keeps me on my knees as I constantly ask God to forgive me for the many ways I disappoint Him. And guess what? Because of what is often forgotten…because of the Baby, the Gift… because of my Savior, Jesus Christ, I am forgiven. I am loved anyway. I can begin again. Praise the Lord!

“We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” 1 John 4:13-16

I am so grateful for this love! This love so full of mercy and compassion for me. I know I don’t deserve it, but it sure comforts me to know that I have it. This matchless love is mine because the little Baby was born and grew up to be the Man who died for me. How can I spend so much time on so much else, when this incredible Gift is right there in front of me every day? Think about all the presents purchased during this season and how much time is spent deciding what each person should receive. How great thought is put into what they may really want and what will truly benefit them. Most of us hope to make each gift special based on the receiver’s personality and lifestyle. Our desire is not only to bring joy, but to fulfill a need in their lives through our offering.

The same is true with our Heavenly Father. He knew what Gift we needed. He put great thought into what would benefit us the most. He based it on our personality and lifestyle, hoping to bring joy but mainly to fulfill the greatest need we would ever have. He brought us a Savior! He knew we needed a personal relationship with Him. He wanted us to stop striving and accept how loved we are simply because we were born. Knowing we would continually fail and need forgiveness, He sent His Son to pay for all our sins. And so desiring for us to spend eternity with Him in heaven, He made the ultimate sacrifice in order to achieve this. It is in this season that we celebrate this beautiful Gift and in this season that we so often take it for granted.

I remember a sweet little story I read in The Original Chicken Soup for the Soul. Dan Millman writes the adorable tale told by a volunteer at Stanford Hospital about a little girl named Liza and her five year-old brother. Liza was very ill and suffering from a very rare and serious disease. This same disease had almost taken her brother years before, but he had survived. Because of this, the little boy had developed the antibodies that were needed to fight Liza’s sickness. Liza’s doctor explained her needs and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. The volunteer remembers, “I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, ‘Yes, I’ll do it, if it will save Liza.'” As they drew his blood, the brother lay in the hospital bed next to his sister, smiling as she quickly showed signs of improvement. But soon after, the boy became pale and his smile disappeared. With a shaky voice, he gazed up at the doctor and asked, “Will I start to die right away?” The volunteer remembers, “Being young, the boy misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood.”

Such a precious story. One of limitless love and sacrifice. A son willing to give his life. The narrative does not give many details, but I can only imagine what Liza’s parents were going through that day. Their daughter was so ill. She was in need of saving. They knew their son possessed what was necessary for her survival, so he was asked to be brave, to step up and help. Although what was requested of this little boy was not life-threatening, he did not know that. He was willing to lay down his life for his sister. Her needs were more important than his own, and he knew the joy and relief it would bring to his parents.

Reminds me of another story. One of another Son. A Father asks the Son to make a sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, for those He loves. And just like the little brother, Jesus Christ stepped up to save the world. Oh, the Gift. The Baby that was born because His Father so loved the world. Does this Gift have meaning for you? Could this Gift change your life?

Maybe this Christmas you are feeling heartbroken and wounded. Life is not what you hoped it would be, and you look toward your future with uncertainty and fear. You are hurt by what you’ve lost or distressed by what you feel you’ve been denied. Take heart, this Baby was born for you.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid’
…Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13:6, 8

Some of you may be feeling regretful this Christmas. You’ve made mistakes and maybe you’ve hurt people. You want to make a new start and turn things around, but you don’t know how. You worry that your past actions will define your future. Take heart, this Baby was born for you.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the
Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Colossians 1: 13-14

Maybe this Christmas you’re down on yourself. Confidence is low. You look in the mirror and don’t like what you see. You worry you don’t measure up to your standards or the ones of those around you. Another year that your dreams have not come true. No matter how hard you try, you feel that you fall short again and again. Take heart, this Baby was born for you.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Could you be worn out and beat up this holiday season? Are your feet tired of walking? All the work, the effort, the trying to keep up with all that you are responsible for has you wondering if you can fulfill all that is asked of you. You’ve been placing too much emphasis on material things, success or appearances. Something inside of you is empty as you feel, deep down, that you’re not living the life intended for you. You wonder that maybe there is a better way. Take heart, this Baby was born for you.

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?”
Romans 8: 31-32

Perhaps you have no idea what you really believe. You hear people talk about a Savior. You listen to others say He is a Gift, but you don’t think you need one. You’re just fine on your own – definitely not interested in a bunch of rules and certainly not desiring to change for anyone else. I don’t need Jesus, you may be thinking. But what if life is meant to be so much more? What if the seemingly impossible could become possible? What if your days could possess a level of joy and peace that you’ve never experienced before? What if life was no longer about pursuing and achieving in order to be accepted, and you could feel loved and adored exactly the way you are?

“Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
Psalm 25:4-5

You can carefully choose the best present for a loved one, but if they do not reach out and unwrap it, utilize it, does it have any real meaning in their life? Even though the giver may have the greatest of intentions, what good can an unopened gift really provide? Your Heavenly Father sent the greatest offering to us in His Son Jesus Christ, but unless we open our hearts and choose to receive Him, we will certainly miss what was so lovingly intended for us. At the time that Jesus was born, most people missed it. They didn’t see the value of the birth. They didn’t understand the magnitude of the Baby. They just weren’t paying attention. We are certainly guilty of this, aren’t we? What could happen if we started paying better attention? What if we embraced the true value and magnitude of the Gift?

So, maybe you’ve been frazzled and harried lately. Maybe you’re relieved that 2014 is coming to an end. It’s ok, tomorrow is a new day. A brand new year is right around the corner. A fresh beginning is yours, my friend… if you know whose you are; if you believe what you’re worth; if you simply remember the Gift…the Joy of salvation that began with the precious birth in a lonely, cold manger. Let these last days before Christmas and all the days after be what God intended them to be for us – a loving appreciation for the Savior, Jesus Christ. Let’s soak up each moment knowing the love we have from God. Breathe in His acceptance, His adoration, His healing, His encouragement, His strength. It’s all there in that beautiful Gift! Can you feel it? Do you see Him? He’s always been there waiting. Don’t you think it’s time you choose to open it? My friend and treasured child of God, a world of blessing waits for you.

Merry Christmas!