Have you ever owned anything you really couldn’t afford? Maybe you’ve bought a fixer-upper house (or any house) and found that no matter how much time and money you pour into it, there’s always something else to fix or replace. Or maybe you’ve bought a classic car, intending to restore it to its former glory, and everything you do just leads to something else that needs to be done. We invest so much into maintaining and improving our investments, sometimes we wonder if they are worth what they cost.
Perhaps you’ve received a gift you couldn’t afford. Has a well-meaning friend or relative given your child a puppy or kitten, thinking only about how much the child would enjoy the pet and not about how much time and money you will have to spend feeding and caring for it? Or maybe someone has given you an expensive family heirloom, and over the years you have had to move it, find a place for it, dust it, insure it. Sometimes a gift can be a burden.
When we consider the gift of salvation that God has offered us, we surely experience joy and gratitude. This is truly a gift that we cannot afford; yet, it is a gift that we must accept if we are to embrace life and overcome death. God’s grace is freely given: it cannot be earned or bought and, just as importantly, it cannot be returned or lost. It is the gift we celebrate at Christmas by giving presents to one another. It is the babe in the manger, the offerings of the magi, the miracle of God becoming human and living among us. It is the wonder of a young girl who gave her own life, her plans and her future, to God to use as He pleased. How many of us would make such a sacrifice?
If you have children, you have probably heard them say, “I wish it could be Christmas every day!” Indeed, we are urged to keep Christmas in our hearts all year. Doing so might make us happier, more generous, more loving people. But as followers of Jesus, isn’t it even more important to keep Easter ever in our hearts? The love of God demonstrated by the incarnate Word is a complex love. It is generous, kind, compassionate, and joyful. It is also sacrificial, demanding, and loaded with expectation. It is the warmth of a stable full of animals making quiet sounds over a newborn baby dozing in the protective arms of his mother. It is the agony and solitude of the cross and the bitter chill of a tomb. It is the impossible truth of a risen Lord.
What does it mean to keep Easter all year long? To me, Resurrection Sunday is like New Year’s Day. It is a new beginning for everyone who has accepted this incredible gift of salvation. It is a day of ecstatic joy preceded by three days of darkness, mourning, and despair. We would do well not to forget those days of hopelessness because they remind us of the despair Jesus felt on the cross as first his friends and then his Father turned away from him. Christmas is God’s perfect love poured out on creation; Easter is God’s pure love tempered by sacrifice. It is love that through the tormenting fire of ridicule, abandonment, cowardice, selfishness, abuse, jealousy, hatred, and murder became . . . grace.
How can we respond to such a gift? Saying “thank you” is a start, but it’s not enough. Unless our hearts are changed by this extravagant grace, God’s love is wasted on us. When we are tempted to be proud of our new status in Christ, we might remember that he, not we, paid the price for it. When we are provoked to righteous indignation, we might consider the many accounts in scripture of his dealings with provokers and respond the way he did, with quiet confidence. When we are angry, we might remember how an act of sacrificial love was what it took to satisfy the wrath of God, and we might offer love instead of a clever word or hurtful retort. When we see those in need, we can reach out beyond our own small circles and offer help. When we don’t know what else to do, we can love. And if love costs us something, we can be grateful for the opportunity to make the sacrifice. It is so little compared to what we have been given.
We must keep Easter in our hearts always, lest we forget that the babe in the manger was also the lamb on the altar.