IT is the gift above all other gifts. It comes of a love so pure it defines for all time what love is. Receiving it changes the meaning and the value of everything in our life. Yet it comes wrapped in the simplest of packages: a stable, a manger, a lone star, a few shepherds. ``God so loved the world,'' says the Bible in the Gospel of John, ``that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life'' (3:16). This is the real Christmas gift.
The simplicity and purity of Jesus' birth do make it easier to see that something unique was taking place. Jesus' virgin birth brought to light a new understanding of creation, and of man. God so loved the world that He gave us just what we need in the birth and the lifework of Christ Jesus. Humanity needed that example. We still need it. And we still benefit from the spiritual idea it has ushered in regarding a new and spiritual sense of man and of creation. Jesus' example hints to us that each of us is a child of God.
But as is true with any really significant gift, this gift from God does involve something on the part of the receiver. For example, if you receive a bicycle for Christmas, you have to learn to ride it in order to make use of it. Or if you already know how to ride, that still isn't enough. You have to get out and start pedaling. Our gift from God--in value infinitely beyond any physical object--is a bit like that.
There is something we must do if the Christmas story is to make a real difference in our lives. And what is that? Believe, says the Bible! Then the gift we receive in the story of Christ Jesus' birth and life and works yields endless meaning.
How do we really believe? Interestingly enough, Christ Jesus does not link believing with accepting certain doctrinal tenets or denominational precepts about himself. Jesus inseparably links believing with doing the works he did. He said, John's Gospel tells us, ``He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also'' (14:12). What a wonderful promise! But it's a promise that also sets a standard. Because, if we're not doing the works, can we honestly claim we're believing on him? And look at his works! He was feeding the multitudes, redeeming sinners, healing the sick. Doesn't this lift believing up to a whole new level, all the way up to the spiritual understanding that results in demonstration? He saw us as capable of that high level of believing and of doing.
God has given us His Son. This gift includes the idea that we too are the spiritual offspring of God. To accept this gift we have to believe. To believe means to do the works. To do the works means we receive even more of the gift. And so we come full circle.
The virgin birth of Jesus defied material law. While this was a unique event, it was also an inescapable starting point. Because the inevitable implication of his birth is that man and the universe themselves are spiritual and under the control of God, through His spiritual laws. As we begin to glimpse this, we find it to be the basis for Christian healing. And as we practice Christian healing, we find our glimpses of spiritual reality increasing. In other words, the believing enhances the works, and doing the works enhances the believing. Step by step, we find ourselves more able to receive the gift from God and to experience the blessings of it. Really, the mistaken view of man as material and mortal is the source of all of humanity's sufferings. And that false view is all that perishes.
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, saw in the birth of Jesus a holy event brought about by a spiritual power still available to his followers. She writes in an article reprinted in The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany: ``Christmas to me is the reminder of God's great gift, --His spiritual idea, man and the universe,--a gift which so transcends mortal, material, sensual giving that the merriment, mad ambition, rivalry, and ritual of our common Christmas seems a human mockery in mimicry of the real worship in commemoration of Christ's coming.'' And she continues a little further on: ``The splendor of this nativity of Christ reveals infinite meanings and gives manifold blessings'' (p. 262).
God is giving us a wonderful gift that we can accept and use right now!