christmas eveWay back in a primordial garden called Eden, our original mother reached for the forbidden fruit.

Slipping into a serpent’s guise, Satan seduced her—seduced us, really—to reject God.

He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5)

Eve, God is holding out on you. He’s keeping the best for himself. It’s naive to blindly accept his will for you when you can take matters into your own hands. There are options, you know.

In a nutshell, he tempted her to replace God. To trade in what God had given for the ever mysterious door number two. Paul puts it this way:

Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” (Romans 1:21-25)

And we’ve been doing that ever since. We reach for substitutes. Anything but God, unless it’s god on our terms. The commercialism of Christmas is a perfect example of this hideous exchange: Jesus given for you? Naw. How about a Polly TalksAlot doll or a bigger and flatter TV? Now that’s what we really need.

Sin isn’t all that complicated. Its trading God for something else. And the wages of sin is death. It could be no other way. If God is the source of all life, then trading God for something else means trading life for death. We do this in an ultimate, big kahuna way—but we also do it a thousand little ways each and every day.

So God sends Jesus to rescue us. Jesus brings the gift of himself, packaged in the gospel. The gospel is God’s way to find our way back to true life in him.

We accept Jesus’ perfect life in place of our self righteousness. We accept his death as payment for our sins. We receive his love in place of our striving, accept his rescue for our bondage, and embrace his victory over death and hell as our own. We receive his Spirit to help us surpass our own weaknesses, replace our lesser mission with his kingdom call, and celebrate his reign and promised return as the authoritative storyline for ourselves and all humanity. And we give ourselves like he did to rescue as many people as possible.

Great theory, that. But so many of us know it without living it. How much of our lives are spent trying to be good enough, striving to measure up, working to be worthy of love and acceptance? How much of our angst is the fruit of trading faith for control, forgiveness for judgement, beauty for ashes? How much of our lives are wasted trying to live on our own strength, trading lesser stories for the biggest one? How much of our lives are spent on ourselves instead of Jesus and the world he loves?

We are Christmas Eve.

In heaven, I’m reminded, the tree of life has no tinsel, no strands of blinking LEDs. It’s infused with the one who is life, Jesus Christ. It’s adorned with grace, power, love, compassion, perfection, humility, wisdom, glory, and crowned with our worship.

This Christmas, let’s trade in our junk for Jesus, one issue at a time.