Merry Christmas. The world is divided into two types of Christians,
those who open their presents at night on the 24th and those who open them on the 25th . Of course there are those who do not exchange presents at all, but that’s a totally different kind of Christian and I won’t go into them.
For most of my ministry, I have been celebrating Christmas among Latinos, who tend to open the presents on the 24 th, usually just as the clock strikes 12 so it is technically Christmas day. The food comes out, the presents are opened and the festivities kick off. In Honduras they set off fireworks right at midnight as the 25 th begins.
Here, I’m guessing, that was not the case with most of us gathered here this morning. We are probably mostly Christmas morning people. So it’s either happened that we’ve opened presents or it may happen later today. If in fact we have presents at all.
I wonder, if we pause and reflect today, do we realize that our actions in giving and receiving gifts are but a small version of the whole story of Christmas, which is the story of God, the creator and director of the universe, giving us the amazing gift of Jesus.
I don’t think we often think of this, but everything, since the beginning of creation, has been part of the ongoing gift of God, starting with the creation itself which gave us this stage on which to play, then the gift of redemption in the form of Jesus, then the gift of our lives - in which we are blessed to give, if we’re lucky, plenty to others because we love them, or we appreciate them, or because we simply have to give them something. They’re on our list. Gifts are everywhere.
I had a friend when I was in my twenties who every year liked to do all of his Christmas shopping late at night on Christmas Eve, and he would challenge himself to purchase all his gifts at the convenience store at the gas station.
For the rest of us, we probably like to put a little more time and effort into choosing what we give and consider the people to whom we are giving. And I’m sure God is that way. More than the guy who does all his last minute shopping at the gas station.
Of course, God is an excellent gift giver because, as scripture says, God knows us. God knew us before we were born, and knows us even unto the hairs on our head. God knows the universe God created and the place we play in creation. And God knows what we’ve done as human beings and exactly what kind of gifts we deserve.
Again, there are two types of Christians: there are those who believe that God’s gifts, which God shares with us, tend to be of the coal variety in our stocking, because God, they believe, is a punishing and angry God. And so God’s gifts are chastising and angry gifts.
And there are other Christians, and I’m more this type, who believe that God reaches out to us to guide and correct us, but through love. That we have a God of love, and that this love is the driving and ongoing force behind all that God gives us, and that Jesus Christ is the greatest incarnation of love we have.
Earlier this year, Nick Wedlake wrote an article for the Chronicle about a night last year when he and others went out in Big Blue, the church van, to visit people on the streets of Springfield. We do this on Tuesday nights during the winter. And so the van drove up to two men here on Main Street. And Nick and the others got out and went up to the guys to talk.
And of course, if you drive up to strangers in a van and get out to talk to them, the strangers might be kind of suspicious. But Nick and all went carefully and told them they were from the church, and they had some sandwiches and clothes. And the guys came over and got some clothes and some food.
And after a moment one of the guys said: before you leave, can I have a hug? He said he was a veteran who had returned from combat, who had a difficult time with things since he came back. And that it had been over a year in which he had touched another human being, or felt another person’s warmth, or had been in another person’s proximity. And he wanted a hug. Of course, said Nick. And they hugged. And the other guy there said too, “Wait a minute, what about me?” And he got a hug too.
And you realize the power of love, that it wasn’t really a coat or food that the guys most desperately needed, although those were important, but what they really needed was the gift of love. love. That was what they most hoped to be given.
There are lots of people with coats on their backs and food in their bellies who do not have love, who are starving to death. Many people are too miserable or too frightened or too angry or too bitter to accept the amazing gift that is offered with hands outstretched, and given in a hug, and shared with Jesus in all we do at church, the gift of love.
Despite evidence we may feel to the contrary, God really does love us. Despite these bodies that grow old and inner workings that are prone to fail, despite our sin and selfishness, God gives us love. Despite that we so often choose to do the wrong thing, and rebel and fight against him, God keeps sending us love. And that’s what we celebrate today.
That love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas; star and angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead, love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus, but where with for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine,
love to God and neighbor, love for plea and gift and sign.
It’s that love that points to the place of Jesus Christ in our lives and the reason why Jesus was just the perfect gift for us, because there’s often so little love here among us in our world, on what we see. And in the course of this past year I was continually shocked to find the lack of love in our social and political discourse, the simple glossing over of love in modern entertainment. I was amazed to see all the things we think pass for love, like lust, or ego, or control, or even sometimes even abuse. All this because within us there is a loved shaped hole that needs to be filled, where the gifts should go.
For the last four weeks, as I’ve come into church I have passed that manger which was so beautifully created by our parishioner Paul Barten, and I have looked at the little animals waiting there and the little crib lying on top of the hay, and seen the emptiness of that crib. Week after week looking at that empty space and trying to think what goes in there? What gift can be put in that space?
Is it too much to ask God to give us a gift we can really use - as opposed to another tie or cheap cologne, something that will not be thrown out by next year, something that will not grow old or wear out, or have its batteries replaced? Is it too much to ask God to fill that space with just the right thing, something that we would not be able to get for ourselves, even if we wanted to?
It’s not too much. For that’s what Christmas is. This year, let us accept this gift that God has given us, accept it on behalf of humanity, take and treasure it and place it in that empty space inside us. For the gift was meant for everyone, but it was especially meant for you. Merry Christmas.