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THE UNTAKEN GIFT (Boxing Day 2020)

Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day and is celebrated as part of the Christmas holidays. There are many reasons suggested as to why it was given its name. Here in the UK it was a custom for tradesmen to collect ‘Christmas boxes’ of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year. This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 19 December 1663. This custom is linked to an older tradition where the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families since they would have to serve their masters on Christmas Day. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts, bonuses, and sometimes leftover food. Until the late 20th century there continued to be a tradition among many in the UK to give a Christmas gift, usually cash, to vendors although not on Boxing Day as many would not work on that day. When I was a child, 70 years ago now, it was still the custom in some religious families to exchange presents on Boxing Day (rather than Christmas Day) since Christmas Day was reserved for religious activities alone.

Whatever the reason, and whenever it takes place, I guess we all like receiving presents (and hopefully giving them as well) at Christmas. In our family we have a tradition of leaving our Christmas gifts to one another under the Christmas tree until Christmas afternoon when they are distributed by the youngest member of the family present. This year the cupboard has been somewhat bare (thanks to the restrictions imposed by Covid-19) with only a few gifts left under the tree. Usually, come Boxing Day, all the gifts have been taken and all that is left (somewhere out of the way) is a large black rubbish bag full of hastily torn off wrapping paper, although I do recall one year when a solitary gift – minus a name tag of course – was left unclaimed until Boxing Day. It was actually for the dog, I recall … so he can be excused.

Vaughn Shoemaker was a two-time Pulitzer Prize editorial cartoonist and devout Christian who prayed before creating each of his 14,000 cartoons. Among many of his memorable cartoon figures Shoemaker is most remembered for a cartoon that appeared after Christmas on the front page of the Chicago Daily News for many years. Shoemaker’s cartoon showed a beautifully decorated Christmas tree with one unwrapped gift under the tree. On the unwrapped gift were the words: ‘Eternal Life’. Underneath the cartoon were the words of John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish but have eternal life’. The title of the cartoon was ‘The Untaken Gift’.

When Shoemaker first showed a sketch for this cartoon to his editors, they liked it, but expressed concern that it might offend some readers. Shoemaker stood his ground. The cartoon was then shown to the newspaper’s publisher, Frank Knox. Knox gave it one quick glance and said, ‘Let’s be sensible. If it weren’t for John 3:16 there wouldn’t be any Christmas! Run it!’ And run it they did.

Knox was right! We would not be celebrating Christmas today if God had not so loved the world that he gave us his only Son. It’s God’s gift of eternal life and joy for anyone who will believe and receive God’s only Son. It’s all there in the Bible: “But to all who received Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). This is good news for everyone! It is just as the angel announced to lowly shepherds on that first Christmas night: ‘Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord’ (Luke 2:10).

So, are you quite sure that you have collected all your Christmas gifts this year? Is there yet another gift that you have forgotten? As the late A W Tozer once said: ‘Jesus Christ came not to condemn you but to save you, knowing your name, knowing all about you, knowing your weight right now, knowing your age, knowing what you do, knowing where you live, knowing what you ate for supper and what you will eat for breakfast, where you will sleep tonight, how much your clothing cost, who your parents were. He knows you individually as though there were not another person in the entire world. He died for you as certainly as if you had been the only lost one. He knows the worst about you and is the One who loves you the most.
If you are out of the fold and away from God, put your name in the words of John 3:16 and say, “Lord, it is I. I’m the cause and reason why Thou didst on earth come to die.” That kind of positive, personal faith and a personal Redeemer is what saves you. If you will just rush in there, you do not have to know all the theology and all the right words. You can say, “I am the one He came to die for.” Write it down in your heart and say, “Jesus, this is me – Thee and me,” as though there were no others. Have that kind of personalized belief in a personal Lord and Saviour.’

Jim Binney

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