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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Original, Honest-to-Goodness, No Strings Attached Gift

Christmas Day Sermon 2016

Merry Christmas! May the grace, peace and love of God be with you on this holy day, and may it grow in you, throughout the coming year. Amen.
          I am so excited to be with you this morning, on Christmas morning, no less. Christmas Day services are a bit unusual here at Grace, but today being a Sunday, it seemed only right. So I am especially happy to see all of you here today as we get to celebrate “the reason for the season” on the holiday itself, right?   

          Truthfully, most years, about this time on Christmas morning like many people, we are embarking on our family celebration. Here is what that would look like in my family, back from the time I was just a pup; the turkey would be entering the oven about now; gifts are being distributed; the coffee and hot chocolate are being poured; and we would be settling down for an epic Christmas gift opening session with the entire family.
          Growing up, these sessions took hours. With 3 kids, plus my parents and grandparents all together, we carefully took turns, each person opening one gift at a time with the appropriate amount of time oo-ing and ah-ing and picture-taking over each gift. Hence, the epic amount of time our gift-opening took.
          And as my husband and I were raising our kids, we tended to carry on that same tradition. Oh, and not to forget, in addition to all the people receiving gifts, we could never neglect the animals in our lives. The cats and dogs got to open their gifts first. Predictably, the dogs were always more cooperative, sniffing out their gifts and gleefully tearing them open, with cameras flashing and lots of encouragement.
          Giving and receiving gifts is fun, and on Christmas Day, part of the fun of the season, is the gift exchange.
          But sometimes, totally unexpected and surprising gifts come our way.
          So just imagine my surprise when, the other day, I received a message that I had won a $100 gift card to a store of my choosing. And just last week, I won a cruise to the Caribbean for seven days and six nights aboard a luxury cruise liner. And a couple of weeks before that, I was awarded a brand-new iPad. Not just any iPad, either. This was the iPad Pro – the new Super Computer.
          The thing is, each of these gifts and prizes came with some strings attached. There was something I had to buy, or ‘do’ to obtain this “gift” or “prize.” Something like taking a survey, or giving up my left kidney or selling my firstborn child, I’m sure. Nothing is ever truly “free,” is it?
Needless to say, I won’t be receiving any of those gifts any time soon. They were all too good to be true.
          But today we celebrate the best gift possible. One that is truly free, unmerited, and with no strings attached. A gift for the ages. A gift beyond our wildest dreams. Today we celebrate the day ‘when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.”
          What a gift we have in Jesus! This is a gift that won’t wear out, come in the wrong size, or come with strings attached. It is revealed to us in the words of the gospel from Luke. And this gift changes our lives, it changes everything.
          Today we hear those words we have heard so many times, as the nativity story has been repeated every Christmas Eve, in  many a Christmas pageant, and with every showing of A Charlie Brown Christmas: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
          In the gospel we encounter the fear-turned-wonder of the shepherds, and the angel song, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
          Our gifts to each other pale in comparison to the wonder of the divine gift of God, the gift the Lord made known to those, unlikely-to-be recipients of free offers and brightly wrapped packages – shepherds, living out in the fields.
          The lowly shepherds could never have expected such a gift. They hurry as quickly as they can to the stable in Bethlehem, where they find the gift that the angels had unwrapped for them – the child, lying in a manger. They heard the words of the God’s promise, delivered by the angels, to you is born; for you is given. For lowly, outsider shepherds, for Mary and Joseph, for us today, this is good news indeed.
          The words from the letter to Titus today reveal the extraordinary value of this gift, for all people–this child is true gift , given out of God’s goodness and lovingkindness. For the people of old these words – “goodness and lovingkindness” signify the manifest favor and generosity of God.
          “Goodness” and “lovingkindness” of the Lord in the Old Testament was code for the unmerited, gracious mercy and love of God, which is now embodied in Jesus.
          The text from this letter unpacks for us the meaning of this gift : that God, out of God’s great store of love for humankind has given us this gift of God’s own Son, not because of anything that we have done or will do, but according to God’s mercy.
          Jesus is God’s response to the sin and death in the world; Jesus is God’s solution to the chaos and hurt of humanity. Jesus is the saving Lord, the one who brings us eternal joy and salvation. Jesus is God’s assurance of constant presence, secured for us through the Holy Spirit.
          The constant movement of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed as we are reminded of our baptism, when God washed us clean and created new lives in us, forever.
Once again today, we are reminded that God gives this gift not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of who God is and what God has done through Jesus, beginning on a Bethlehem night and continuing through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of the child born there. In Christ, the Messiah, God promises and delivers a unique peace to the entire world.
          This is the real gift of Christmas, freely given to us all today: That despite the chaos and hurt of this world, despite poverty or oppression, despite our griefs and our failures, our sin and our brokenness in all its forms, God has come into the world, in the incarnation of this child born to us this day, and has delivered the perfect gift of love. This is the great surprise of Christmas Day, given in and through Jesus Christ, our newborn king. Let us all rejoice and be glad in this most perfect, amazing, glorious gift of all!
Alleluia! Amen.

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