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A long-long time ago, in a place not so far away, Dallas, Texas to be exact, Christmas was only a few weeks away. As was customary with my older brother and me, anxiety ran high as we both wanted to be the first to put our hands on the annual Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog and drift through it’s colorful pages to find the things we could only wish would show up beneath the tree come Christmas morning. On Saturdays when we were at home, we would sit and wait for the postman to show up on our porch then race to the door hoping it would be in the mailbox. Once, Christmas season 1965, Beatlemania had swept the nation and I was the proud owner of a pair of shiny black Beatle boots that left my feet only when in the bathtub or in bed.

It was around noon one day when the dog began to bark. Mike and I knew what Sparky was telling us – the postman is here. We jumped from our seats and sprinted through the living room towards the front door. Unfortunately, the soles of Beatle boots don’t get very good traction on freshly waxed hardwood floors. My feet came out from beneath me and I tumbled, head first, into the end table situated near daddy’s favorite chair. The table withstood the blunt force trauma it sustained, my chin, however, did not. There is a scar running about a half inch long on my lower jawline keeping the memory fresh each morning when I shave.

8trackIn 1966 though, I still looked for the catalog, but I didn’t need it to make out my wish list this time, I already knew what I prayed Santa would bring. Thanks to the Ford Motor Company who was installing these new music devices in a few of their automobile models, the ultra-popular eight-track tape player was now available for the home. Thumbing through the Wish Book that year I found it, but at $69.99, it was out of the question. For a man making less than $3.00 an hour it was far too expensive, no way my dad could afford such a costly item. Coupled along with the fact that my brother and I had broken into my grandparents garage closet a week or so before in search of where our Christmas presents had been stashed away; lavishing us with cool gifts was not high on his priority list for a couple of very bad boys.

In punishment, just as he said he would do, he and mom gave everything they had bought for us to another family. All except for one thing – yep, you guessed it. The lone gift beneath the tree for me to unwrap that year was the one I wanted most – tears filled my eyes as I realized my parents love for me was greater than this naughty boy’s bad behavior. To this day, I can still hear John, Paul, George and Ringo coming through the speakers of my super-cool RCA eight-track tape player.

I deserved nothing that year except a good old-fashioned trip to the woodshed. My parents would have been well within their rights and justified to not give us anything at all but the punishment our actions warranted.

As we begin this Advent season, I am reminded of another Christmas gift I was given many years ago that I did not deserve. A gift of far greater value and consequence than an eight-track tape player – Jesus. My sins, which were many, separated me from God’s love and condemned me to die, a just penalty for my crimes.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved me so much, that even though was dead because of my sins, he gave me [the gift of] life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that I have been saved!) For he raised me from the dead along with Christ and seated me with him in the heavenly realms because I am united with Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6 NLT)*.

What a wonderful God he is and the better news is this, once given, the gifts he gives are forever yours. Take a moment to let that glorious thought sink in. For me, Horatio G. Spafford said it best nearly 140 years ago when he penned the lyrics to the timeless classic, It Is Well With My Soul. Spafford wrote:

“My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

Once and for all my sin is forgiven, as far as the east is from the west, my sins have been removed (Psalm 103:12) and a loving, merciful God will remember them no more (Jeremiah 31:34). For though the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). A gift he gave to the world that first Christmas morning so very long ago. Glorious!

*Italicized words denote my replacing the plural forms to personalize the text.