The Greatest Gift"If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it."
When my daughter was three years old, I was so excited to get her a big dollhouse for Christmas. I did a lot of research, I checked all the stores, I found the exact dollhouse that seemed perfect for her and bought one of the only ones I could find. I was so excited to give it to her! I wrapped up the big box and put a beautiful bow on it, and when she woke up Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait for her to open it so we could play with it together. I had it all planned out. She was just getting to the age in which Christmas morning could be so much fun. I could hardly sleep on Christmas eve.
But my plan was dismantled when she unwrapped the big box and looked at it strangely. She quickly moved on to the next wrapped gift. I realized she didn’t really understand what it was. So, I opened the box, thinking we would play with it together and she would realize it was her dream Christmas present. I was surprised to realize there were hundreds of pieces that needed to be put together! Not only would this take hours, but to my horror, I noticed that many of the plastic pieces were cracked or broken. The beautiful dollhouse was not salvageable. It would need to be returned to the store, which of course, was not open on Christmas Day.
My perfect gift idea had failed. I kicked myself for not thinking of setting it up in advance. I spent the rest of the day disappointed. I had done so much to buy the perfect gift. Though there were others under the tree, this was the one I was excited about giving. This was the one I thought would please my daughter the most. And I felt defeated.
Our tradition of giving gifts at Christmas finds its roots in the biblical story of Jesus’ birth, particularly in the gifts the Magi brought. Though we know little about them personally (not even their name or their home country), we know enough to be amazed at their gifts. Beyond their costly presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh, we know they traveled a long way at great expense of time, resources, and comfort. It is estimated that the journey, the time spent away from their home and families, took between two weeks and three months. It would have been costly and risky to carry all the resources. They would have spent a great deal of time on foot or on camels—neither of which are particularly pleasant over long periods. They did all of this to bring gifts to an obscure foreign king who had no country, land or influence. And they did all of it because of a sign in the sky.
We can marvel at the extravagance of their gift to our humble Messiah, but Jesus makes it clear that He doesn’t expect any less from His followers. It is costly to follow Jesus. This is a theme throughout the Gospels. Peter, James, and John had to leave their fishing businesses. The rich young ruler had to sell all he had, which proved to be too much for him in the end. Matthew had to leave his tax collecting job. Matthew 16:24-25 says this: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.’”
Salvation is both costly and free at the same time. There is literally nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less than He already does. Even in our rebellious, selfish, sinful lives, God loves us perfectly. We can receive that freely as a gift. And yet, though grace is free, following Jesus is costly. It costs us our life.
Sometimes we offer lesser gifts to Jesus. We might give money to Christian causes. We might volunteer at church three times a week. We might even read the Bible every day, sacrificing time we could use to do something else. But if these are offered as gifts apart from our whole lives, we will be defeated in giving Jesus what He truly desires.
Even after I returned the broken dollhouse, got a new one and set it all up, I realized that my daughter didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I hoped she would. I realized my gift was more about me and what I had wanted as a child than it was about her. We can also do this to Jesus. Giving our hearts to Jesus means that Jesus oversees who we are. He has a say in what we do, how we treat people, and even how we think of ourselves. We are his loved children. The beautiful thing about giving Jesus the gift of ourselves is that as costly as it is, the return is even greater. The abundant life that we receive when we follow Him is worth it. Abundant life isn’t about going to heaven someday—although that is part of it. Abundant life is about knowing and experiencing Jesus right here, even in the messiness of our everyday lives.
Have you ever given Jesus the gift of your whole self? What are you holding back? Is there anything you won’t do for Jesus? Fortunately for us, He is strong enough to carry our fears and insecurities, and He loves us enough to guide us gently and lovingly. Giving Him our whole self is the greatest gift we could give this Christmas.
Captain Catherine Fitzgerald serves as the Corps Officer in New Albany, IN.