This Christmas season, have you participated in a “Dirty Santa” gift exchange? “Dirty Santa” is when everyone participating brings a wrapped gift and places it under the tree. Then, everyone draws a number. The person with the number “1” gets to select a gift from under the tree and open it. After that, the person with number “2” gets to either take number’s 1’s gift from them, or select another present. This goes on all night until all the gifts have been opened.
Most years I participate in at least one of these gift exchanges. Sometimes the gifts are serious and sometimes the gifts are funny, but all the time gift-giving in this environment is a study in sociology. How people select gifts in “Dirty Santa” is fascinating to me. Sometimes people select the gift based on who they think put the gift under the tree. Other times, people select the gift based on its size. Still others select it based on the quality of the wrapping paper. Think about it for a moment . . . how did you select your gift the last time you participated in Dirty Santa?
Sometimes the strategy works, and other times in backfires. The big gift is not always the best. The nicely wrapped gift is sometimes a dud. The gift from your stylish friend could be something they did not want for themselves. You never know how good the selection was until you open it up and see what’s inside. Like Forest Gump’s Momma would say, “Gifts are like a box of chocolates. You never know what your gonna get until you take a bite.”
I was thinking about this tonight as I reflected on Luke 7:1-10 where Jesus has an interesting interaction with an officer in the Roman army (a centurion). In this account we learn a little bit about how Jesus selects His “gifts”:
After He had finished all His sayings in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum. Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to Him elders of the Jews, asking Him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with Him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to You. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed Him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.
In this passage, the Roman centurion (a military leader overseeing between 60 and 100 men) had a servant who was sick and dying. This man is aware of Jesus and believes that Jesus can heal those with sickness. The centurion (not being a Jew Himself) probably thought he stood a better chance of getting a response from Jesus if he sent some of his Jewish friends to appeal to Jesus on his behalf. The Jewish friends were eager to help the centurion by making the appeal to Jesus because they liked how the centurion had helped them out in the past with their building project. In a sense, the Jewish leaders were impressed by the size and the style of the wrapping paper on the outside of this man. Jesus obliges the request and begins walking toward the centurion’s home. Before He ever gets there, the centurion exhibits a great deal of faith in Jesus. He sends servants out to meet Christ on the road and inform Him that He does not have to make the visit in order for the servant to be healed. The centurion states that since Jesus has so much authority over this world, He can merely command the servant to be healed and it will happen . . . regardless of where Jesus is standing at the time. Jesus is blown away by the great faith of the centurion. The centurion really “got it.” He understood the power of Jesus and exhibited great faith. It is after this faith was exhibited on the part of the centurion that Jesus commends this man. Jesus opened up this man and looked on the inside and saw that he was indeed a great gift. His inside was as pretty as His outside.
What does God want most from you and me? He does not just want us to have nice wrapping paper of good deeds. He does not just want us to have a big presentation of church attendance. He does not want us to merely be associated with “good Christian people”. What God most wants from us comes from the inside . . . our faith or trust in Him. God wants what’s inside to match what’s outside. He wants us to do good deeds, but He also wants those good deeds to be an overflow of a heart that trusts in Him, not just a fancy covering for a rebellious spirit. He wants us to have deep fellowship with His people, but He also wants us to have a faith of our own. He wants us to have a big attendance in church, but He also wants us to worship Him in faith while we are there. God’s strategy for judging our lives is not just to look at the outside, but it is to open us up and look on the inside as well.
So, this Christmas, I would encourage you to give to those in need, fellowship with the faithful, and attend worship services . . . but as you do it, remember that what’s happening on the inside counts as well.