Carol, my wife, has spent the past several days on the run buying Christmas gifts for 16 children (this includes spouses and grandchildren).  All I can say is, "Thank God I have a wife who loves Christmas shopping."  If it were up to me, they would all get gift cards.  But Carol knows how to make all things special.  She is, in fact, our "Christmas Carol."  

I know you can relate.  Maybe you did all of your shopping on "Black Friday." Or maybe you are one of these people who shops all year long and are finished before the rest of us.  (By the way, we struggle with people like you :)  And then there’s the majority who scramble the week before Christmas.  Yes, it's only a week from now.  You better get started.

However, most of us, no matter how well organized and conscientious we thought we were, will completely forget to get a few gift items that should have been at the top of the list.  

These gifts are unique and extremely valuable.  But they will not cost you anything.  And though they are also for "the others" in your life, they are first to be opened and received by you.   

These gifts are from God... to you...  and to the whole world.  And they are right there under the tree.  

These gifts were first received on the original Christmas day by a handful of common shepherds.  Moments after the birth of Jesus Christ, angels appeared in the heavens and declared...

"Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  (Luke 2:14)

We hear those words every Christmas.  They have become so familiar to us that we don’t pause to think, "What does that really mean?"  At first thought it sounds very nice.  But in reality, it doesn't seem as if these gifts have gone over too well, especially when we look at the current condition of our world.  

But let's take a step back and ask, "What are these gifts, really?"  There are three. Let's start with the third and work back to the first.

The Third Gift:  "Goodwill toward men"

We repeat the phrase so much, we totally underestimate the significance of those three words.

The Almighty Creator Judge of heaven and earth in Old Testament times has brought severe consequences to the rebellion of the created.  But He has now made a permanent change in His disposition toward us.  He is now extending a gargantuan gesture which, if accepted and received, will restore us to the fulfillment of our purpose and destiny.  He is now offering, as a free gift, His unconditional good will.

Before this we thought of God and were gripped with fear.  We did not know Him.  We did not really know of His ingrained goodness, pent up, desiring to be released to us without measure.  Sin had created a barrier between us.  The good will of God could only be given to those who earned it.  

Never again. He is no longer waiting for man to obey Him out of obligation, but has rather taken the initiative to give freely and unconditionally the very essence of His goodness.  We no longer love Him just because we are commanded to love Him.  We will now love Him because He first loved us.  He knows that if we will simply respond to the gift of His love, by opening and receiving it, then our lives will change.  We will now learn to obey, not out of obligation, but from the response of our changed heart.  This gift works.  It is guaranteed.  Batteries are included.  It is the power of His love given to us that makes life work.  

The Second Gift: "Peace on earth"

If the birth of Christ was to bring peace on the earth, then why on earth do we see such war, hatred, conflict and bigotry for the 2000 years that have followed?  What did the angels mean when they said "Peace on earth?"  We thought it meant God would finally fix our chaotic circumstances, take over the world through political overthrow, and forcefully establish peace.

But Jesus was given, not to fix circumstances, but to fix hearts.  Circumstances can only change when the heart is changed.  When we become believers in Christ, God pours out His grace into our hearts, including the fruit of the Spirit and the character of His nature, which includes peace.  Jesus said, "...In Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!"  

It begins with personal peace with God, which accomplishes peace within the soul.  It is this peace that influences the atmosphere of my life and witness and is used by God to lead others to this same peace.  This peace is "on the earth" being lived out through you and me.  

It is a gift.  Don't leave it under the tree.  

The First Gift: "Glory to God in the highest"

What is the "highest" or greatest thing God has ever done?  You might want to pause before you answer.  He is God, you know!

But since there is nothing higher than God Himself, the highest thing He could ever do is to reproduce Himself.  Jesus is described in Hebrews as, "The express image of (God's) person."  Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father."  

So think about it. The biggest thing God ever did, He did in the smallest possible way.  He reproduced the whole of Himself, the eternal God of infinity in the form of a single cell, and joined Himself forever to mankind.  

He wrapped the gift in swaddling cloths and gave it to us!  The one thing that is the highest and biggest and greatest thing, He has done for you and every other person on the planet.  

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16)

The giving of His Son, Jesus, is God's serious intention to change the world, one person at a time.  He gave the gift to the shepherds.  They gave it to the people of Bethlehem.  That gift has been passed on through the ages all the way to you and to me.  

Don't miss the gift.  It's right there under your tree wrapped in love and mercy.  Unwrap it and be forever changed.  Then re-wrap it and give it to your family and friends... and even your enemies.

What you really want for Christmas is right there under the tree, yes, the tree of the cross.  Jesus died and rose again so that you might have life... His life...  the best gift of all!

"Glory to God in the highest.  And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"  (Luke 2:14)