Jeremiah 23:5-8
Matthew 1:18-23
Romans 4:1-5

Have you noticed that with the passing of the years we are urged to purchase ever more extravagant, and therefore, expensive Christmas gifts? Can anyone remember a time when you would turn on the television and be encouraged to buy a woman an item of clothing or a hairdryer, and a drill or set of sockets for the man of the house? Now we see that commercial where the husband brings his wife out of the house to see two brand new $30,000 his and hers full-size pick-up trucks sitting there with Christmas bows attached.

Which brings up the question: ‘What is the greatest Christmas gift you have ever received?’ And how do you measure it as the greatest gift? By its monetary or sentimental value?

I know a pastor who was leading a Christmas celebration at a nursing home and asked the residents to share their greatest Christmas gift. After all who wanted to share theirs, he told about his greatest Christmas gift that he received when he was seven years old. Early on Christmas Eve, his mother took him and his brother out for a treat. It was her way of getting both of them out of their 5th-floor apartment in the Bronx so their father could prepare for later on. As they climbed the stairs back to the apartment, the shrill sound of a whistle filled the hallway. “What was that and where did it come from?” he asked his brother. Their pace quickened and a second burst of the whistle could be heard. They burst into the apartment and there was their father playing engineer with the biggest Lionel train they had ever laid their eyes on. It was magnificent, so unexpected, so wonderful! 50 years later, that pastor still has that train set and cherishes it more than any other material gift he has ever received.

In three days, people all over the globe will open millions of gifts. Some of them will be greatly prized and appreciated by the recipients. However; many will be the wrong size, or the wrong color, or the wrong item and thus will begin the annual migration of gift receivers returning to stores to exchange or return their undesired gifts.

The good news is there is a gift that is perfect in every way for it will never wear out, never break or need repairing or replacing or repurchasing! It is a gift that is appropriate for anyone from grandmas and grandpas to small children and everyone in between. It makes no difference if it’s a boy or girl, man or woman. I am speaking today about THE GIFT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS!

In his Christmas text, Jeremiah names Jesus, “The Lord is our righteousness.” It’s a more obscure name than some of the other OT names for Jesus: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” However; in my mind, “The Lord is our righteousness” eclipses those other four in its splendor and majesty for this name reflects the greatest Christmas gift ever given: the gift of righteousness.

So I have a couple more questions: ‘What is righteousness anyway?’

Proverbs 20:7 says “The righteous man leads a blameless life.” Righteousness is the state of moral perfection required by God if we are to be accepted by Him and be enabled to enter heaven.

Next question: ‘How many blameless and therefore righteous individuals are with us here today?’

Lastly, ‘How can righteousness be obtained?’

Paul clearly states in his letter to the Romans (4:1-5) that human beings cannot achieve righteousness through their own efforts by keeping God’s moral law. People receive righteousness through faith in Jesus as Savior. The sinless Son of God came and took humanity’s sin upon Himself and became the willing, perfect sacrifice, suffering the punishment we deserve. In turn, believers receive Christ’s righteousness.

This process of exchanging our sinfulness for Christ’s righteousness is referred to by theologians as ‘imputation.’ Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed or applied to imperfect humans.

Talk about the epitome of a ‘rags to riches’ story. We are getting the deal of a lifetime: our un-righteousness; that is, our sinful nature is charged to Christ’s account and His righteousness to ours! Amazing, astonishing, astounding, extraordinary, fabulous, incredible, marvelous, remarkable, spectacular, stunning, tremendous, unimaginable!

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (II Corinthians 9:15).

This iron-clad connection between Jesus and our righteousness is at the very heart of Christmas!

Imagine you pay for all of your gifts and other Christmas expenses with a credit card. Then imagine that you have reached the maximum limit of that card. Then imagine when the bill comes you do not have the money to pay for it.

You probably don’t have to imagine what would happen next. First, letters, then phone calls demanding payment; but you can’t pay. You bought on credit, enjoyed the purchases, but now you cannot settle your debt.

Now imagine receiving a letter from the credit card company informing you that someone else has paid your debt in full? The charges were not theirs, but they paid the price for you. The debt was not in their name, but they took it upon themselves. You do not have to pay them, and in fact, you cannot pay them back. All they wanted to do was make life better for you by taking that burden of debt away. What a generous and great and wonderful gift you have been given.

According to the Bible, you and I have built up a mountain of debt. In fact, every day, interest accrues enlarging the debt we owe. This debt consists of promises we made but did not keep, deeds of service we should have done but never got around to, immoral and unjust actions, our prejudices, our jealousies, our greed, and our selfishness.

But guess what? Rather than continuing to hold that debt over our heads, God placed it all on the shoulders of one person; Jesus. And God decreed that by the death of Jesus all of our debt to God could be erased.

Paul has it this way in his second letter to the Corinthians: “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).

Terry Schafer lived with her husband in the small city of Moline, Illinois. She had a special gift she wanted to give to her husband for Christmas. Her problem was she bought it in September and she was one of those people who couldn’t keep a secret. She couldn’t wait till Christmas to give the gift to her husband. So one September evening she presented him with a wrapped present, wished him an early Merry Christmas and gave him a peck on the cheek. Neither one of them realized at that moment how significant that gift would be.

On October 1st, her husband, Officer David Schafer, was working the night shift when he was told to check out a drugstore robbery in process. He arrived just in time to observe the suspect speeding away so he switched on his siren and began the pursuit. Three blocks later, the getaway car suddenly pulled over the side of the road. The suspect was still behind the wheel of his car as David cautiously approached. He got about three feet from the window when the suspect fired an automatic pistol sending a .45 caliber slug into David’s chest. When Terry arrived at the hospital, how thankful she was that her husband was alive with a deep bruise on his chest but no bullet inside it. For the Christmas gift Terry had purchased and given to him early was a bulletproof vest that had saved his life.

The reason Christ was born in Bethlehem was to provide for us a vest or as Paul refers to it in his letter to the Ephesians a ‘breastplate of righteousness’ (6:14) that guarantees anyone in Christ a place in heaven.

By the way, don’t allow your righteousness to go to your heads. Okay, if God sees me as perfect, I can get away with ___________ (you fill in the blank). That police officer would never go looking for opportunities to show how his bulletproof vest worked, right? Neither should we.

Rather our response to His gift of righteousness is to show ourselves worthy of such an astonishingly incredible, stunning, tremendous, and unimaginable gift!

Another question: ‘Why would God go to such extremes to gift us in this way?’

And the answer is; because He loves us that much!

That pastor says that the train is a warm reminder of the greater gift his parents gave him: the gift of unconditional love. It was years later that he fully understood that the gift his parents gave him had its source in God’s gift of the Child to us all. For him, the sound of the whistle and the sound of angel song had become one and the same: they are both signs of God’s love and care.

Karen was expecting another child and every night her eight-year-old son, Michael, sang to his sister as she developed in his mother’s womb. Michael’s little sister was born in very serious condition and rushed to a neonatal intensive care unit in another hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee, where instead of getting better, the little girl continued to decline.

In fact, the parents were told to prepare for the worst. Michael begged his parents to see his sister, “I want to sing to her,” he said. But kids were never allowed in that intensive care unit. But Michael was so persistent that a couple of days later, his mother caved, thinking if Michael didn’t see her soon, he might never get to see her at all. When the head nurse demanded they leave, the mother instinct rose up strong, “He’s not leaving until he sees his sister!”

After a few moments of staring at his sister, Michael began to sing: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know dear how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” Instantly the baby seemed to respond as her pulse slowed and became steady.

“Sing it again, Michael!” said Karen. As he did, the strained breathing of his sister became smooth as a kitten’s purr. The head nurse now stood transfixed with tears in her eyes. Michael sang it again and again, and the very next day Michael’s little sister was well enough to go home. Woman’s Day Magazine called it “The miracle of the Brother’s Song.” The medical staff just called it a miracle. Karen called it a miracle of God’s love.

Jesus came as God’s love song to you. Christmas is GOD saying, “You matter to me”. Jesus came to tell us that we are God’s sunshine.

Country singer, Dolly Parton, writes, “When I was a little girl Santa Claus not only brought new toys, he mended beloved old ones too.” Every year, early in December, she would write a note to the jolly old saint: “Dear Santa, could you please fix Rosie again?”

Rosie was an old black rag doll, much battered, whose kind and embroidered eyes viewed the uncertainties of her childhood with calm reassurance. Dolly had other dolls too, but none so close to her heart as Rosie. She took care of other dolls, but ragged as she was, she liked to think that Rosie took care of her.

So every Christmas Eve she’d place Rosie on a table with her note to Santa pinned to her torn dress and go to bed lonely but hopeful. She never really knew exactly what happened to Rosie; all she knew was that every year Rosie came back on Christmas morning, torn dress mended, almost as good as new. As a result, her belief in Santa lasted far longer than it does with most children. All she knew she wasn’t about to risk Rosie’s life for lack of faith.

“Now,” Dolly says, “the loving hands that did Santa’s work are at rest. But I still have Rosie with her limp cotton arms and on her sweet embroidered face, a relaxed and sleeping look as if she knows her mission in this world is over. And now every Christmas Eve when once again the world turns to the ancient story of rebirth I find in my heart a place for the memory of Rosie’s annual restoration.”

And Dolly concludes, “Surely in the renewed blossoming of a little child’s favorite doll lies the meaning of the miracle behind the Christmas story, through which we too can be reborn, the miracle of understanding how much we are loved.”

There are two truths that flow from that story and this message. The first is that we are all of us rag dolls, flawed and wounded, broken and bent. Every member of the human race lives on the ragged edge.

And the second truth is, we are God’s rag dolls. He knows all about our raggedness, but He loves us anyway. Therefore raggedness is not our identity; raggedness is not our destiny. We may be unlovely but we are not unloved.

“For I bring you great news of a great joy for everyone! For today, in the little town of Bethlehem, the Savior has been born.” To everyone who receives Him, He gives the right to be called children of God, re-created and righteous Rosies every one.