Five Gifts of Christmas         Luke 3:1-6      December 6, 2009
The great cellist Pablo Casals, in his life story entitled Joys and Sorrows, revisits his first memory of attending church on Christmas Eve when he was 5. He walked to the church in a small village in Spain hand-in-hand with his father, who was the church organist.

As he walked, he shivered -- not because the night was cold, but because the atmosphere was so mysterious.

"I felt that something wonderful was about to happen. High overhead, the heavens were full of stars, and as we walked in silence I held my father's hand .... In the dark, narrow streets, there were moving figures, shadowy and spectral and silent, too, moving into the church, silently .... My father played the organ, and when I sang, it was my heart that was singing, and I poured out everything that was in me. (Casals, Joys and Sorrows, as told to Albert E. Kahn (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 29-30.)
A sense of wonder, a sense of awe. A sense of expectation and an attitude of openness for God to work.
In reference to the wonder of Christmas, novelist Madeleine L'Engle reminds us to, “Do something that doesn't "make sense." Why? Because, she continues,

“This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child.”

Advent is a season of preparation. Christmas is not just the celebration of the birth of a baby; it is the beginning of a nuclear chain of events that transforms human existence.
Christmas is not just recognizing God's gift of the Incarnation -- it is also our acknowledgment of what this Incarnation now means for every man, woman and child.
Christmas is not only a time of remembering what gifts we should give in Christ's name to those we love. It is also a time of remembering the gift God gave in our names and for our sakes-- the gift of Christ. What are some of God's gifts that come to us through the Christmas story?

1. The first Christmas gift is the gift of Jesus, the light of the world. God began the custom of giving. James 1:17 asserts, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights."
So the first Christmas gift given is the gift from God. His present is Jesus, the light of the world. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness of our lives. For the light of the world, the gift of the Father of Lights, is Jesus.
John 1:4-5 proclaims, "In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." Our Christmas decorations of lights, whether they be electric bulbs on our tree or candles on our table, . .
. . . remind us of the gift of the Creator-- the light of the world. The incarnation of God in a baby is the gospel's affirmation of the invasion into human darkness of the light of the world.

2. The second Christmas gift is the gift of Mary and Joseph. Their present was obedient preparation. God had prepared Mary, and Mary had prepared Joseph for the birth of the Christ child.  Because their hearts were open and obedient to God's will and call, it was their arms that God chose to embrace and cuddle the Christ child. It was their hands that God chose to wrap the infant Jesus in swaddling clothes to keep him safe.

3. The third Christmas gift is the gift of the shepherds. They brought to the Christ child a very precious present-- the gift of wonder. The first people to see Jesus were simple, smelly, uneducated men who were occupied with daily tasks, but were not preoccupied with temporal things.
Wonder touched their hearts and minds when they heard the angel, and they arose and went to Bethlehem bearing their gift of wonder.
Unlike the Magi, who came with regal gifts, the shepherds probably came empty-handed. These simple men of the fields hurried to Bethlehem with nothing but their wonder to give. Their hands were empty, but their hearts were full of awe.

4. The fourth Christmas gift is the gift of the wise men-- the gift of excellence. Contrary to what you see in paintings, the wise men did not come to Jesus' birthplace. They arrived late, after Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus home to Nazareth.
These magi, or wise men, brought the child Jesus the most treasured gifts of their day-- gold, frankincense and myrrh.
They offered the gift of excellence, not what was left over after other obligations had been performed. Their gifts demonstrated that it is the best of our talents and our treasures that every wise man and woman will offer to Christ.
5. Finally, the fifth Christmas gift is the gift of the baby Jesus himself, the gift of joy. Over and over again in the gospel accounts of Christmas, you come across the word "joy."
It is in the angelic announcement: "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people" (Luke 2:10 KJV).
To a world crying out in all its pain and confusion for salvation, the baby Jesus brought the gift of good news, and with it, joy. In the "worst of times," (of oppression, etc.) this tiny baby offered the best of truth (God's truth).

In Christ, we have been gifted with the pathway to God, the route to fulfillment in life, the light which shines to illumine our steps toward God.
Teilhard de Chardin asserted that "If we have faith, then everything about us begins to gleam." The gift of the baby Jesus was this gift of gleaming truth.

As you search for presents for those you love, remember that the greatest presents of Christmas are not physical, but spiritual.
In all your celebrations take this journey to Bethlehem and share these spiritual gifts of light, obedient preparation, wonder, excellence and the joy of truth. Amen.

Rev. Rosemary Stelz
  June 2021  
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