given on Sunday, December 2, 2012
Last week we were caught in the middle of closing one Christian year and the beginning of the new Christian year. This time frame does not match the calendar we hang on our walls nor witness as the buying frenzy began last week. Yet there we were, wondering why in the world we have Christmas.
Christmas has become such a commercialized season for our 21st century culture that the entire purpose of celebrating Christ’s birth is lost among the trappings of the holidays—the shopping, the gift-giving, the excessive food displays, the wrapping paper, the parties, and the expectation of Santa’s arrival not Christ’s on Christmas morning.
Why Christmas? Remember why God thought it was necessary to give a gift to his people? His children had become so naughty. They were not nice and the spread of evil seemed to be growing unchecked. Something had to be done. No one was listening to any of the warnings.
God decided to give the people a gift so the people could tangibly see and touch what it meant to accept God’s grace, a gift of unconditional love. God’s grace was the same degree of love that can send a parent to stand in line for hours to get just the perfect gift for a child even today. God’s grace, his unconditional love, kept him from destroying everything he created and caused him to find one more way to get the naughty people’s attention—he gave the gift of his only Son, so we, his people, could be saved.
As parents, we can begin to understand that level of commitment to children. God, our parent, loves his children so much that he could not destroy them. He tried and tried to get their attention, but nothing was working. His children were simply naughty and needed even more intervention. How else could he reach them? He had to be with them—to see them, to touch them, to talk to them, to heal them.
Opening up a gift like grace is difficult. There is no box big enough to hold all that grace is. There is no way to see the gift, we just have to experience it to open it. Grace, that unconditional love, that sense of connection that ties children to their parents, that farmers feel for the earth, that kids know with their pets, and that sense of wonder when we see spring flowers bloom in the fall. Grace is infinite.
Grace is so expansive that there is no box that can hold it. God had no choice but to walk right beside his naughty children and demonstrate this gift in as many ways as he could. God’s grace came wrapped up in the form of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
The promise of the Messiah should have been no surprise. The prophets had been telling the people that this gift was going to arrive. I suppose that sense there was no tracking device that the level of expectation for the gift was not very high. Growing expectation usually only develops when the receiver knows when and where that gift is being delivered. God never announced the date, time or location of his deliver—or did he?
We have read the Old Testament scriptures and they repeatedly included references to the arrival of Jesus. Unfortunately the business of living got in the way of understanding. The immediacy of life interfered with understanding, and it continues to interfere. We tend to miss messages that are not concrete. We need a phone reminder or an email or a mailing announcing that a package is arriving.
The verses in the Old Testament are too far removed from our 21st century world to really speak to us, aren’t they? These timeless scriptures almost seem outdated since we understand the New Covenant that came with God’s gift of his Son. Yet, we need to hear them over and over so we are alert to the arrival of Jesus Christ.
The scriptures like those in Jeremiah are as tangible as any message service we have today. We are very fortunate that so many individuals have been granted special gifts to translate the words into today’s language so we can be expecting God’s gift to arrive. This is why we have Advent. We are expecting God’s gift, we know the routines, but do we really understand the gift and its purpose?
The purpose of God’s gift is even explained in the Old Testament:
For a long time now, I’ve let you in on the way I work:
I told you what I was going to do beforehand,
then I did it and it was done, and that’s that.
I know you’re a bunch of hardheads,
obstinate and flint-faced,
So I got a running start and began telling you
what was going on before it even happened.
That is why you can’t say,
‘My god-idol did this.’
‘My favorite god-carving commanded this.’
You have all this evidence
confirmed by your own eyes and ears.
Shouldn’t you be talking about it?
And that was just the beginning.
I have a lot more to tell you,
things you never knew existed.
This isn’t a variation on the same old thing.
This is new, brand-new,
something you’d never guess or dream up.
When you hear this you won’t be able to say,
‘I knew that all along.’
You’ve never been good listeners to me.
You have a history of ignoring me,
A sorry track record of fickle attachments—
rebels from the womb.
But out of the sheer goodness of my heart,
because of who I am,
I keep a tight rein on my anger and hold my temper.
I don’t wash my hands of you.
Do you see what I’ve done?
I’ve refined you, but not without fire.
I’ve tested you like silver in the furnace of affliction.
Out of myself, simply because of who I am, I do what I do.
I have my reputation to keep up.
I’m not playing second fiddle to either gods or people.
God did use all the ways he could to prepare us for the arrival of his gift, his Son. God’s gift of grace is always available as long as we accept it and use it. Unconditional love from our Father is present even while we were being formed in the womb. Sadly, as children we have been naughty, so God decided to send the physical, tangible gift of his Son, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Expected One, Emmanuel.
God’s love did indeed arrive all wrapped up in a very special gift—Jesus. Love did come down that first Christmas, and now we are still unwrapping it. We are still trying to figure out how best to use it and how to keep it recharged so it will carry on even after we leave this earth to join God and his son Jesus Christ for eternal life. God’s gift of grace given as his Son is the gift that keeps on giving, the gift of grace is unfailing love, never-ending love.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your gift of grace.
Guide us through the season of expectation
to find ways to share your grace with others.
Thank you for wrapping your gift in the form of Jesus.
Guide us in serving as your children even now
as we wrap our gifts for others this season.
Thank you for giving a gift that never ends.
Guide us as we continue to share your love
with one and another, family, friend or foe.
We pray that we open your gift with understanding.
We pray that we know the value is priceless
as long as we continue to use it to transform the world.