A Gift For The God Who Has Everything
I do not hesitate to tell you that my mind has trouble with large numbers. For example, I came across a paragraph the other day which was intended to demonstrate how much money one billion dollars is. It suggested that with a billion dollars, you could hire 10,000 people to work for you, at a dollar an hour, for 10 hours a day, seven days a week, for 10 years -and still have enough money left over to make 29 multi-millionaires!
Well, that may help you understand how much a billion dollars is, but it only overwhelms me all the more. And if I cannot wrap my mind around the concept of one billion dollars, how can I ever attempt to think about 30 billion dollars? Yet that is what we as Americans have spent for Christmas gifts this year. But I wonder, in the midst of all this spending, in the midst of laying down an amount of money I don’t believe any of us can begin to grasp, in the midst of 30 billion dollars worth of gift-giving, what are we going to give God for Christmas? He should receive a gift, shouldn’t He? I mean, after all, Christmas is His. He thought it up. Surely He ought to be on our gift list. If any stocking ought to be filled, it ought to be His. But what do you give to One who has everything? If God is completely self-sufficient, as we believe Him to be, then what sense does it make to talk of giving Him anything? What on earth—or in heaven for that matter—could we possibly give God?
I would suggest that Micah has an answer. He tells us what we can give the God who has everything. He writes: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah is reminding us that in fact God does not have everything. He has given us control over our lives and our loyalty. He will not force us to love Him or to live the life He has called us to live. But we can offer Him our love, our loyalty, our very lives—and living justly and loving mercy and walking humbly with Him is the way to do it. But let’s look at the words carefully…
“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice…?”
I think it simply means to love Him and through Him to love others. The British Navy has a way of identifying its finest quality rope. They have a ropemaker weave into the rope a simple scarlet strand. You can cut the rope at any point and you will always find in the very best rope this scarlet thread. It means that that rope is the rope on which you can bet your life. It will hold. Well, the scarlet thread which is woven throughout the noblest chapters of human history is this: men and women living justly and seeking to gladden the heart of God by gladdening the hearts of others.
Do you remember what James wrote to the early Christians? They had gotten all excited about believing in Jesus Christ, but they were making the mistake of letting their faith get in the way of their love. They would see someone who was hungry and they would pray for that person and wish that person well, but they would provide no food. But James says that faith without works is dead. To love God and to express the love is to love others.
Perhaps this will help. Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol has become a part of our celebration of the season. There is a scene there where Scrooge sees Marley’s ghost, and noticing that the ghost is in chains, he asks why. Marley’s ghost replies: “I wear the chains I forged in life. I made it myself link by link.” Scrooge interrupts: “But Jacob, you were a good businessman. Marley’s ghost says: “Business. People should have been my business. Charity, mercy, benevolence—these were the things that should have been my business. So now at this time of the year I suffer the most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down and never raise them to that star which led wise men to the place of the poor.”
Do you hear what Marley is saying? He’s talking about doing justice. He’s talking about loving God by loving others. That’s the gift we can give the God who has everything. He wants our offered lives. He wants us to live love. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice…
“And to love mercy…”
The essence of mercy is forgiveness. It is loving-kindness. It’s the principles of justice put into long action. And that’s what God did in that stable in Bethlehem. He gave Himself in love. And He asks us to do the same. He knows that the world needs people who are willing to give themselves away in mercy and loving-kindness .
I think today of Al Masters. Al grew up in a home filled with bitterness and rebellion. One day in the midst of a terrible battle with his parents, Al got fed up, grabbed the keys of the car, jumped in that car and roared off down the street. He didn’t even see the little boy who accidentally toppled off the curb and fell into the street. The little boy was killed instantly. The boy’s parents were filled with rage and hatred. They vowed to prosecute Al Masters to the fullest extent of the law. They wanted him locked away for life. Al Masters was 16 at the time. At the end of his trial, he was sentenced to a short term in a training school with an extended probation period afterwards. All the while, the parents of that dead child nurtured their hatred. Then came Christmas. The father and mother went to church for the first time since their child’s death.
It was hard to do. IT was made even harder by the fact that the preacher spoke of the mercy of God at Christmas and he called upon the people to love like God loves. Those grief-stricken parents heard that and carried it home with them. The love of God in Jesus Christ has a way of winning and melting. They still loved God and they still loved their lost child. Led by those two loves, they sought out Al Masters. It was hard. He didn’t want to see them. He had seen enough of them in court, those red eyes staring at him. But they persisted, and the time came when they all stood face to face, the ones who gave a child life and the one who took it away. Together, then, they made the long, difficult journey down to the bottom of their hearts, down to where real love is. There were halting words. There were tears. And then there was release. Ultimately, these parents took Al Masters into their home. They gave him a job in the father’s small business. Mercy had its way—its hard and painful way—hut it had its way. And as a result these lives were knit together in a way so beautiful it cannot be described.
So you can cut the strand of the Christian life at any point—and you will always find the scarlet thread of justice. But remember, the thread is scarlet. Scarlet— the color of sacrifice, the color of love, given in mercy to others. That’s the gift we can give to the God who has everything. For what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice and to love mercy…
“And to walk humbly with your God.”
Have you ever pondered how humble God is? How modest His methods are? He never makes a frontal assault on our minds and hearts. He does not pressure us with his power. He trusted the revelation of Himself to a silent Incarnation. That’s what charms us about Christmas. No matter how much we surround Christmas with chatter and glitter, it still holds our hearts in hush. And it does that because of the gentleness, the humility, the loveliness of a God who would dare to come to us holding a baby in His arms.
That’s always His way—the humble way. He holds the earth and all the planets in place with magnetic strength—and you never hear it make a sound. He lifts the tides from the deeps of the sea and holds our cities to the earth—and does it without a sound. He sends mountains of snow and makes the grass to grow and causes rivers to flow—and does it all without a sound. God never forces Himself upon us. He could, but He chooses not to do so. He let Himself be edged out of an inn. He let Himself be edged out of the world on a cross. But He keeps coming back in the Christmas Child of Bethlehem. And He will never stop coming back.
You see, the great assertion of our Christian faith is true. There is one God over all the earth. There is a Kingdom of God that will outlast the stars. There is an eternity of God toward which we are all moving. And there is the Son of God, born in Bethlehem’s manger, who calls us to follow Him and to live for Him in our lives. These are facts. And they are the most important facts to be known. And they demand from us that Jesus Christ become the burning center of our lives. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “Christ is the center of our human existence. On our coming to grips with the Christ depends life and death, salvation and damnation. There is salvation in no one else.”
What can we give to the God who has everything? Micah has the answer. We can live justly; we can love mercy; and we can humbly serve the Christ. I think that’s what the poet means when she writes:
What can I give Him
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would give a lamb.
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part.
But what can I give Him?
I can give my heart.