One of the things I like to do at Christmas-time is to read a children’s book called “The First Christmas”. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated storybook which not only tells the story of Jesus’s birth but also very simply explains that - “Now, every year, we remember that first Christmas by giving gifts to people we love. They remind us of baby Jesus, who was God’s very precious gift to us all.”
I have read the story (and still do) to my young sons many times, and I’ve also read it at church and (believe it or not) in a Nando’s restaurant to a team of sales people at a Christmas lunch – people on other tables were actually leaning in to listen!
On Sunday 20th November, all three of our services will be given over to support “Operation Christmas Child” – a fantastic scheme run by the Christian organisation Samaritan’s Purse. Here at EBC we use the shorthand name “Shoebox Sunday” because the general idea is that we all buy and bring presents to fill special shoeboxes which are then distributed around the world to children who would otherwise receive no gifts at Christmas.
What a wonderful idea! How brilliant that a child in poverty, whom we’ll never see, will give that wide-eyed look, the beaming smile, that we know so well. One of the great joys at Christmas is the joy of giving – as Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).
Here’s some more food for thought – more words from Jesus that we should keep in mind as Shoebox Sunday approaches. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’s life, we find (in Chapter 25) that Jesus said this –
“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
When I think about Shoebox Sunday, I can’t help but think that giving a Christmas gift to an unknown, poverty-stricken child is just like giving a gift to Jesus. So please come bearing gifts and join in the party - it is, after all, His birthday we’re celebrating.