given on Sunday, December 15, 2013
Preparing today’s thoughts could have been very difficult due to the personal events of the past two weeks. Yet, returning to life’s daily routine allows for the spinning, ever-changing world to slow down to a manageable pace. And, who cannot help but sense the excitement and expectations that are part of Advent.
The seasons do not stop even for the calamities of life whether it is a destructive natural phenomena such as ice storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes or whether it is an international event such as the death of Nelson Mandela or whether it is a personal life event such as a scary diagnosis or a loss of a spouse, a parent, a child or even a friend. The seasons continue racing along.
Advent began two weeks ago, and suddenly Christians face the clock. Christmas is only 10 days away and the race is on. The wish lists must be filled. The cookies and candies need preparing. And amazingly, as the days tick down, it all gets done.
What happens, though, when all the social hubbub crowds out God? Generation after generation Christians look forward to Christmas, yet God’s gifts seem to be hidden below all the papers and bows, mixed up with tinsel and lights. God’s gifts easily become lost.
God’s gift of life seems so basic that the significance of our own creation is lost. Even as children are born, the new lives are viewed simply as a byproduct of an organic act; so many are even thrown away because the biological parents are lost in addiction. God’s gift of life is tossed away.
For just a moment, put yourself into God’s position. Out in the cosmos, the idea of creating a world leads you to create a garden and then you begin adding to the creation all the gifts we now know as the flora and fauna of our earth. The creation is pleasing, but it lacks something. And you realize that a garden needs attending, so the next creation is ‘adam (Hebrew) or humankind:
. . . the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. . . . In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. . . . The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Gen. 2:7-17, NIV)
God’s gift of life includes the gift of free thought: New ideas. Relationships. Dreams. Hopes. New life. Knowledge. Choices—good and bad.
History records how well humans have handled God’s gift of life. The choices made certainly have created this 21st century world filled with all the innovations of creative minds. But this world is also filled with all the horrors of destructive minds. God’s gifts were given along with responsibility. God promised us a life filled with all that we need as long as we follow his rule.
God made promises to humankind to take care of us. God gave us grace and turned humanity loose to tend to the garden. Standing guard over us, God watches us, feeling joy with our successes and weeping at our failures. Yet never has God gone back on promises.
The generations continue, history keeps recording humanity’s successes and failures, and God’s promises remain. The third Sunday of Advent is a time to pause and reflect on God’s promises. Has he fulfilled them? Yes. Has he given up? No!
God’s promises remain steadfast. God gives us grace. Each one of us is loved unconditionally. At no time is that love taken away. God’s grace is a gift that keeps on giving, as the cliché states.
Accepting God’s gifts also gives us hope. In our humanity, we make mistakes. The story of Adam and Eve demonstrates that God’s grace is like a safety net protecting us from ourselves. With that first bite from the tree of knowledge, God’s grace was tested. God told them they would die if they ate from this tree, but with grace and unconditional love, they lived.
The choices we humans make ever since that first bite demonstrates God’s grace and unconditional love. We learn to trust God. We learn that when we make a mistake, God forgiven. This hope that God loves us despite our mistakes gives us courage to continue forward. Hope allows us to love one another unconditionally, too.
Scriptures record story after story of human errors being forgiven. Stop and review the story of Abraham who listened to God and offered his own son as a sacrifice, trusting in God right along to the final moment when God provided a ram to replace Isaac as the sacrifice.
Hope turns into joy, another gift from God. Abraham’s sense of relief and joy propelled him forward. His life was not easy, but he relied on God. Turning over one’s life to God provides a sense of joy immeasurable by any human standard.
The list of God’s gifts continues to grow. We can create our own list of gifts received from God that is customized to our specific strengths and weaknesses. Yet, opening that gifts of God’s unconditional love and grace provides a sense of joy that springs alive within us and radiates outward touching the lives of others.
Today, and each day of Advent, we need to evaluate how well we are sharing God’s unconditional love with others. We need to ask ourselves if the grace God provides us is modeled in the grace we give to others.
The generations recorded in the Old Testament provide a testimony to how well God’s human creations implemented God’s laws. Failures seem to outnumber successes, but God never gives up hope. Over and over God tried to help; and when all else failed, the prophets warned the people.
The Old Testament prophesized or referred to a coming Messiah in 44 different scriptures. In Isaiah, the prophecy of a Messiah is recorded in nine different ways (Fairchild 2013). When the Christmas story is recorded in the New Testament, it answers the prophecies.
Isaiah 7:14: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Matthew 1:23: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
God’s gifts never fail. The Word tells the story. Advent allows us to relive the expectations of the faithful throughout history. We never tire hearing the story over and over again because we receive hope and joy from God’s gifts. We demonstrate God’s unconditional love and grace with our own gift giving. And that gives us one more gift—joy, represented by the third candle on the Advent wreath.
As we continue to mark off the days until Christmas, keep God’s gifts in mind. Prepare your heart for the final gift of the season—the purest, Jesus Christ, son of man and son of God.
Dear loving and giving Lord,
In the midst of our holiday season,
help us to remember the greatest story ever told.
As we rush from place to place,
keep us safe along the bustling streets.
When we greet the faces of family and friends,
let the love and grace given by you, shine.
In those moments when sorrow sneaks in,
translate the loss into heart-felt memories.
With each Christmas carol we hear and sing,
hear our praises and our thanks.
With each card we send or we open,
spread a little more Christian love.
Thank you, Lord, for the gifts we receive
today, tomorrow, and forever. –Amen