By Rev SEIK PITOI
CHRISTMAS time is upon us again. For many, gifts and presents are foremost in their minds. What will I get for my loved one? Is it fishing gear for grandfather and a new sewing machine for grandma? A bicycle for junior and a pretty dress for the young lass? What about that overseas holiday destination your wife has been hinting at all year? The ideas of course will have to match with the pocket and it can make for quite an interesting exercise.
For some families, though, Christmas time is not all that celebratory. One reason is if the family has lost a loved one just before Christmas. Sadly, when that day of great joy arrives, a lot of tears are shed because that special person is missing at the family dinner table.
I had my experience of that in 2015 when my mother, Lady Daga Leva Pitoi, was called home to glory – on Dec 25. As people were wishing one another “Merry Christmas”, I took a call from my cousin, Rabona, who quite callously said: “hi cuz, aunty died this morning.” “No, not today”, I complained. “This is supposed to be a happy day!” Thankfully, with my loving congregation of Gordons United Church at my side, the pain of that loss became bearable. As we approach another Christmas, my heart goes out to those who have just lost a loved one.
But it is gifts that I want to discuss. We all know that the essence of Christmas is that God gave His best gift – His one and only Son – to become our sacrifice and the way to eternal life with God the Father (John 3: 16; 14: 6). So to emulate God, we try, within our human limitations, to give good gifts to one another. But is there anything in Scripture that tells us what God would like us to give Him for His “Christmas?”
Tucked away in the small book of Micah are some verses that hint at this:
Micah 6:6 to 8 says: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Micah lived about 700 years before the birth of Christ. He was a country boy from the little town of Moresheth a few miles outside Jerusalem. Scholars tell us that he lived about the same time as his fellow prophets Isaiah and Hosea. He was a no-nonsense, straight arrow kind of guy who loved the common man but hated corrupt politicians. He condemned religious and political leaders who used their position to take advantage of other people. He was a prophet of social reform. Interestingly, the situation in the days of Micah were no different to ours.
To see what God wants for Christmas in the book of Micah, let’s analyse the above verses:
Verse 6 – Quality of Sacrifice. The people have heard Micah’s words of warning and now they want to know if God wants quality of sacrifice. A yearling calf was considered the prime age for sacrifice. Perhaps God will be pleased if we give him the very best that we have. But the answer is no.
Verse 7a – Quantity of Sacrifice. If it’s not quality he wants, then perhaps it’s quantity. The idea is to impress God by offering a thousand rams at a time and then creating a river of oil flowing through the streets. So, will our elaborate sacrifice convince God of our sincerity? The answer is no.
Verse 7b – The Ultimate Sacrifice. Child sacrifice is immoral and was forbidden by God, yet practiced by the pagan peoples around Israel. The people are suggesting that if they offer their firstborn sons, the Lord would be pleased and would forgive their sins. Again, the answer is no.
Apart from the immoral suggestion, what is wrong with the rest?
Those answers only deal with the outside. God wants your heart. You can be a missionary and have a hard heart. You can be very religious and yet be far away from God. God rejected every offer made by the Israelites because they wanted to make a deal and God wanted their hearts.
The correct answer then is found in verse 8. This verse has been called the heart of Old Testament religion and the greatest verse in all the Old Testament. It sums up what God really wants from you and me. It tells us exactly what God looks for in your life.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Act Justly – The Hebrew word is mishpat. Often in the Old Testament this word is applied to God’s own character. God is just—He is absolutely fair and righteous in all his dealings. Justice means “not ripping people off”, telling the truth because you know God!
Love mercy – This speaks of the way we treat others. The Hebrew word is hesed, which means “loyal love” or “patient love.” It’s sometimes translated “His mercy endures forever.” Think back across the last 12 months. How has God treated you this year? Has God blessed you? Then bless others. Has God forgiven you? Then forgive others. Has God lifted you up when you were down? Then lift others up when they are down.
Walk humbly – The word “humbly” speaks of an attitude that is the opposite of pride. Humility is having a right view of yourself because you have a right view of God. Humility does not mean saying, “I’m nothing; I’m useless.” That’s not humility, that’s self-pity, which is really another form of pride.
And what is pride? It’s having too large a view of yourself because you have too small a view of God. When your God is big, you will be small, and pride will be impossible. Humility says, “God made me and I belong to him. Every good thing I have in life is a gift from the Almighty. Some have more, some have less. I thank God for what I have. I will honour Him with it.”
So, what does God want for Christmas? Firstly, I believe He wants your heart. Not your religious activities with their outward trappings. He wants your heart – period. But wrapped up with your heart, He wants to find three qualities that will make you stand out in the coming year. They are: acting justly and fairly to all, showing mercy to those round you, and walking humbly with your Father into the new year.
- How about we wrap those special gifts and give them to Him for Christmas?