For the past couple songs, we have talked about gifts. We talked about the gifts we do and should give. We talked about the gifts we desire. Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without talking about the greatest gift of all. Like I said at the end of yesterday, that gift came wrapped in swaddling cloth and lying in a manger.
Any truly great gift is not just precious and valuable but also necessary. So to share the value of this gift we would first need to go thousands of years further into the past. It all began in a garden. Out of the dust of the ground, God shaped the greatest of His acts of creation. He then breathed life into his creation and gave him a name: man (Adam/איש). From this man, God then created woman. Of both, God said, “It is very good.” In both God had placed his image. Now, I have heard different theories, ideas, and explanations of what exactly is meant by “image” but sometimes we try too hard to complicate the simple. In modern use, the word we translate as “image” in this story (צֶ֫לֶם – Genesis 1:27) has two meanings: 1) shadow 2) reflection. If a shadow doesn’t go where I go, it isn’t my shadow. It might be someone or something else’s, but it is not mine. If a reflection doesn’t look like me and do what I do then it isn’t mine. It might be someone or something else’s reflection, but it is not me.
In the same way, Adam and Eve were the image of God in that they went where God went and did what he commanded… until they didn’t. God did not want robots or automatons who simply followed Him because that was what they were programmed or created them to do. He left them a choice, and that choice came in the form of a tree in the middle of the garden. Each time they saw this tree, Adam and Eve made a choice to follow and obey the One they loved. Each day they made a conscious choice to continue being image bearers of God. Then one day the Serpent conned Eve into trading away that image for the illusion of something even greater. In turn, Eve convinced Adam to join her in this abandonment. They traded away the image of God for a lie and all they got for their act of rebellion was shame and death.
God came to them and asked each what they had done. Of course, both Adam and Eve both tried to pass the blame instead of owning up to their actions. God then informed them of what the consequences of their actions would be. Even in the bearing of this bad news, however, God gave them a hope, a promise. God said that there would be war between the humanity and sin (the woman and the serpent) but that one day a descendant of Eve would be born who will bring a crushing end to this war.
Eve had children, her children had children, and humanity grew and expanded and covered the earth. Each and every one of these descendants was an empty vessel. They were shaped to be image bearers but that image was lost. Each successive generation continued in their rebellion against God. But down through time, God also continued to reiterate that there was a Savior coming. He prepared a way for this enmity to be reconciled. He created a way for the lost image to be restored. He prepared a means for the war to end.
In the far-off land of New Guinea, there is a culture of people called the Sawi. These Sawi are a cannibalistic society for whom a perpetual state of war has been the norm for millennia. Even among this people, however, there is a means for two groups to make peace with each other. This means is called the Peace Child. When peace is needed, a child from one tribe will be delivered to the other. This child would then be raised and live among those who formerly were his enemies as the greatest and most valued member of that tribe. As long as he lived among them, there would be peace.
Just over two thousand years ago, God sent a peace child. As John writes it, “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God… the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” The Peace Child was sent as a gift to come and live among us. As the angels announced, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” The war was over. As long as this greatest gift, this child lived among us, there could be peace. As the writer of Hebrews states, “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.”
This is the greatest gift. This is what Christmas is all about. When we say, “Joy to the World” we mean it. When we talk about “Peace on Earth” it isn’t just an empty platitude. It is what Christmas means. All the other trappings of Christmas and this season are nice and have their place. But without this gift, without the Peace Child, there would be no Christmas. This season, in fact, all of time itself, hinges on the giving of this gift.