This is the final sermon based on the Advent study, Christmas Presents That Won’t Break, written by James Moore and Jacob Armstrong. The original plan was to present the sermon on Sunday, December 30, 2017. Unfortunately the frigid temperatures prompted the decision to cancel worship that Sunday. Therefore, this has been edited to be given Sunday, January 7, 2018–Epiphany Sunday.
As I post this, I can only wonder if the weather will cooperate tomorrow, too. The forecast is for freezing rain and warming temperatures. The question will be how accurate the forecast and how the timing of the warming temperatures will be. I decided to go ahead and post this sermon due to all the uncertainty of the weather. I pray that this completes the reader’s understanding of this Advent season’s messages.
Isaiah 60:1-7, NLT
“Arise, Jerusalem! Let your light shine for all to see.
For the glory of the Lord rises to shine on you.
2 Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth,
but the glory of the Lord rises and appears over you.
3 All nations will come to your light;
mighty kings will come to see your radiance.
4 “Look and see, for everyone is coming home!
Your sons are coming from distant lands;
your little daughters will be carried home.
5 Your eyes will shine,
and your heart will thrill with joy,
for merchants from around the world will come to you.
They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
6 Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
and will come worshiping the Lord.
7The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,
and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.
I will accept their offerings,
and I will make my Temple glorious.
Matthew 2:1-12, NLT
Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men[a] from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,[b] and we have come to worship him.”
3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
Christ: The Christmas Present That Won’t Break
Here it is the day after Epiphany (January 6) and Christmas season is technically over. Yet, when Mother Nature decides to make her presence painfully evident, sometimes we just have to stop and reassess plans. The frigid temperatures that came with Christmas Day provides us a ‘reality check’ as James Moore referenced in his final Advent commentary.
Throughout Advent, the focus has been on the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are gifts that come wrapped up in the final gift—Jesus. Having to confront the reality of the extreme cold and its risks to the congregation brought a sudden end to the five-week Advent study and Moore addresses this:
. . . sometimes we misread things. Sometimes we misunderstand things. Sometimes we misinterpret things. Sometimes, maybe much of the time we do that with Christmas: We misread and misunderstand what it’s really all about. Before we know it, Christmas has passed us by, and we have missed its warm embrace once again.” (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 108)
In these last two weeks, do you find that you are already missing the true meaning of Christmas? Do you need a reality check now that Christmas is over and life’s routines have resumed?
Certainly the cold makes even daily chores difficult. The sunshine helps, but so many days have had clouds and getting up to start a new day—cold new day—is tough. The calendar is empty of special events and family gatherings. The leftover turkey is gone, and you actually are tired of the holiday cookies and candies.
In an odd way, the entire sense of expectation and excitement that surrounds our Christmas traditions feel broken. Yet, for weeks the focus has been on the gifts that won’t break—hope, joy, love, and peace. The final Christmas gift God gave us is his own presence in the form of a human baby we know as Jesus.
Christ’s birth is a gift from God that keeps all the other gifts from breaking and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. The gift of Christ is a gift that fits everybody, everywhere, anytime. And the gift of Christ provides endless hope, love, joy and peace. Christ is the unifying, lasting, and priceless gift that keeps the other gifts from breaking.
In Isaiah, the prophecy of the final chapter of the Christmas story is outlined right down to the possibility of the kings following the stars to find Jesus after his birth. Written about 681 BC (19911416), Isaiah 60:1-7, identifies that the kings and caravans [of people] will come from the east, from Midian, Ephah, Shelba, Kedar and Nebaioth. Isaiah even adds that the gifts they bring will be gold and frankincense (no reference to myrrh though).
The ancient Israelites remained faithful and hopeful. The literature of the Old Testament weaves the prophecy in and out that God would send a savior, a Messiah, a king to ‘save’ them. The Bible stories are filled with examples of how faith in God makes our earthly lives manageable. Moore explains faith:
Realizing that we can’t make it, that we are down and out, that we need help, God sends us a Savior. In Jesus Christ, God comes into our world . . . to pick us up, to hold us up, to see us through, and to bring us home. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 112)
The birth of Christ did not end the trials and tribulations of the faithful Jewish people. In fact, the Bible continues to share the struggles of the people in the Gospels and the other books of the New Testament. The faithful maintained hope that “God cannot be defeated,” as Moore continues:
Even though evil will sometimes make loud noises in our world, as Christians we can be confident. We can be filled with hope because we know that ultimately God and righteousness will win. And just think of it: God wants to share the victory with us. That’s why the Christ Child came into the world . . . to bring the good news of God’s ultimate victory. That is our hope. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 113)
The birth of Jesus Christ gave us the gift of hope and the gift of love. By joining us on this earth, God came to teach us how to love one another. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, God’s plan is explained:
6 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus . . .
. . . 10 God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.
God’s gift of the baby Jesus Christ was how the plan was completed. The faithful, whether Jew or Gentile, accept that Jesus Christ, as God in human form, came to teach us how to love one another.
Moore uses an anecdote from Bill Hinson about building a doghouse for his daughter’s new puppy, Happy. After completing the project, he could not get Happy to go into the doghouse. Only after he gave up and went into the house, did he witness a transformation. He saw Happy wagging his tail, go joyously into the doghouse, and lie down serenely. How come? Hinson’s daughter had crawled inside and only then did he trot in beside her:
. . . Where all those other things had failed, love prevailed. That’s what Christmas teaches us. Love is the single most powerful thing in the world. And in the gift of Christ, we receive the gift of love in the most powerful and perfect way. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 114)
Happy’s story is much like our own. By accepting God’s gift of Jesus Christ, we receive salvation. The Christmas gifts that won’t break make our life journeys one that last through eternity.
We celebrate the unbreakable Christmas gifts
of hope, love, joy, and peace.
And most of all, we celebrate the greatest gift,
Jesus Christ, your Son who came to be with us.
We know that because you are here,
our lives are renewed.
Give us the wisdom and courage
to put these unbreakable gifts to work
in our lives throughout the coming year,
knowing that you are with us always. –Amen. (Moore and Armstrong 2017, 117)
The cynics might wonder how it is possible to consider that Jesus Christ is a Christmas gift that would not break. The reality of God’s presence in human form is that the body breaks. Our local tradition is to begin each month with the sacrament of Word and Table, aka communion or Eucharist. The very practice recognizes that Jesus, the man, was broken and died on a cross, but God continues.
Today, we have heard the final chapter of the Christmas story remembering how the wise men came to find Jesus the infant. Their story is found only in Matthew, written to tell how Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Jesus is God’s gift of love.
Join us at the table to accept the gift of Jesus Christ who demonstrated how to love one another despite all the trials and tribulations that confront us in our earthly lives.
Join us by taking the bread and the juice to recommit ourselves to joining in God’s plan to use love as the tool to provide hope, love, joy and peace to one another right here in our own community, our nation, and our world. There is no other gift so unbreakable as God’s love wrapped up in the birth of Jesus Christ.
Moore, James W., and Jacob Armstrong. Christmas Gifts That Won’t Break. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017.
The Life Application Bible. Vol. NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.