given on January 4, 2015
Have you finished putting away all the decorations and gifts, washed the new clothes, played with the toys, and read all the books? Surely not.
The calendar indicates a new year, and just a few days into the year, I bet many New Year Resolutions have already been discarded. In fact, how many of you have really even written down resolutions?
Think about how Christmas today tends to signal the end rather than the beginning. Because we live on a 12 month calendar that begins in January and ends in December, the tendency is to end not begin. Yet consider that gifts that the Wise Men/Magi brought the Baby Jesus. Did that visit demonstrate an ending or a beginning?
A year ago, the Epiphany Sunday’s sermon was also about the gifts the Wise Men brought to the Baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh. The symbolic meaning linked the gifts to the prophecies and the nature of the baby. Gold represents royalty. Frankincense, culturally, established the connection to God as it was used to lift prayers to God. And, finally, the myrrh signified the humanness of Jesus since it was used in burial.
These three gifts hold symbolic significance in the story of Christmas, but do these gifts get opened? Knowing that the beautiful packages under the tree are filled with all types of wonders is one thing, but when they are opened are they used?
God’s gift of his son was the end of an era. The Law of the Old Testament no longer was working. The Old Stories were known, recited, but unused, as God had intended that they be used. Even the prophecies were not effective. A new era began that first Christmas with God’s gift of his son. The hosts of angels announced it to the shepherds and the Wise Men showed they knew by the gifts they brought to the baby.
Did these gifts sit unopened and unused? Did people believe the news the shepherds shared? What happened after that first weekend, that first week, or even the first year? Did God’s gift get opened and used or not?
Unlike gifts we wrap and put under the trees for our family and friends, the gift of a baby could not provide an immediate change. The very nature of humanity is that the baby has to grow and to learn before joining the adult world and contributing to society. The Baby Jesus needed almost 30 years to be ‘opened and used.’
Have you opened and used God’s gift to you? Have you considered even opening the gifts God gave you personally and use them? Have you kept your gifts secret and not share them with the ones you love? Have you found ways to use God’s gifts daily or have you discovered that they are worn out and need fixing or replacing?
Gift giving is a cultural or social practice. Yet, God’s gifts are born within us. Sometimes it is difficult to see the gifts and know how to open them, but all gifts have value when opened and used. God’s gift of his son was opened and in the three years of his ministry, an era closed and a new era opened. As cruel as society was to Jesus, the gift was opened and used and even destroyed; but the result was phenomenal.
The Christian faith has grown and grown throughout the centuries and into the millenniums. The people who opened God’s gift and used it did not have an easy life. Many were martyred. Many were imprisoned. Many were censured. Yet, God’s gift continues—as long as it is used.
The new era continues, as long as God’s gift continues to live by the gift giving we continue now. God gives each one of us special gifts to use and it is up to us to open and to use them. When we do, with the purpose of continuing to share God’s gift with others, the era continues to move forward.
Remember the lesson on spiritual gifts that Paul shared with the Corinthians? In I Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the gifts each person has and even goes on to explain how it works to share God’s love and how each person working with others continues sharing God’s love.
4 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. 6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.
7 A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. 8 To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice[b]; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge.[c] 9 The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. 10 He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages,[d] while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. 11 It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.
These are the gifts, have we opened and used them? Are we so worn out that we quit using them? Are we guiding the next generation in how to use their gifts? Have we kept the gifts carefully wrapped up and unopened over the years?
Our responsibility, as a new year begins, is to make sure all the gifts are opened and used. Maybe we are tired, but we can teach others our skills so they can carry them forward. We can share what we know with others and then let them find new ways to use the gifts, too. During the next few weeks, we will review some of the very basics of Christianity. We are a generation ready to let the next generation open their gifts.
Let the fun begin! We know the generations have opened and used their gifts from God so all the millenniums’ generations can receive the greatest gift of all—God’s love. Paul knew how important it is for all to work together:
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.
29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.
God sent his gift to us so that we might know God’s love now and forever. He also gave each of us special gifts to use. Have we opened the gifts and used them? Have we worn them out and need to replace them or to fix them? Or, is it time to see the new gifts around us, open them and use them.
As we begin using a new year, let us resolve to use all the gifts we have and we see around us to continue sharing the ultimate gift—God’s love. The time is now! The need is now! Let us have fun opening the gifts and putting them to use. The era continues and God’s love grows.
Please join me in a closing prayer:
Dear Loving and Giving Father,
Thank you for the gift of your love
with the birth of your son.
Thank you for announcing the news of his birth
with the host of angels.
Thank you for guiding the Wise Men to the stall
with gifts telling the secrets of who the baby is.
As we begin a new year, we resolve to open and use
gifts that you give us upon our birth.
Guide us through the year as we learn how to use,
to share, and to give so others receive your love.
Our gift to you is the sharing of your love
as we work to transform our community with your gifts.