Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church
Christmas Eve 2014
This evening, let’s think about gifts. This is, after all, the season of giving and we’re bombarded with media encouraging us to give and give more… Christmas is the driving force behind the retail section of our economy—we’ve come a long ways since that first Christmas when Mary and Joseph, a poor man and his pregnant bride, had to take whatever shelter they could find.
I know most of us enjoy giving and receiving gifts. I especially like giving a gift so special that, when opened, the eyes of the receiver sparkle. Some of us, who still have a child’s heart, also enjoy receiving gifts. There’s nothing more exciting than carefully opening the wrapping paper. This is a tradition learned from our mothers, or at least I learned it from mine, so that we can reuse the paper. This was a trait passed down to those of us within the Presbyterian tradition from our Scottish ancestors. You know what I’m talking about. Saving the paper to reuse next year…
But when we’ve just about got that special present open, carefully pulling at the tape so as not to tear the paper, you catch a glimpse of something special, something you’ve always wanted but never felt quite right about buying it for yourselves. Joy rises in your heart. Frugality is thrown to the wind. You rip the remaining paper off the present and hold it up high for all to see, then clutch the gift close your chest, chanting thank you, thank you, thank you.
You know, you’ve received a really good gift when its one you can’t repay by the giving of another gift, and when such efforts are not only not required, but are unnecessary and counter productive. These are the types of gifts parents give their children. And if you think about it, most of these types of gifts are intangible, you can’t put a price upon them. But they’re the type of gifts you don’t easily forget.
Thinking back to gifts from my parents, a few stand out. When I was probably four years old, my dad made a table and a set of chairs for my brother, sister and I. The table has long vanished, but the wooden chairs, made out of oak, live on. My parents kept them and have used them for their grandchildren and they’ll probably be around for several more generations. Somehow, if Dad had gone out and brought plastic chairs, I don’t think I’d remember… Such chairs would now, and for the next few thousand years, be taking up space in a landfill.
On another occasion, my dad made my brother and me a wooden gun. All the other kids had received store-brought guns that year. I was really hoping for a bb gun, but dad didn’t think I was old enough. One afternoon, a few days after Christmas, dad got a couple pieces of wood and drew out a gun on it, which he cut out into a rough shape with a jig-saw. Then he had us help him carve and sand the edges, taking a half-moon file and smoothing the trigger guard. When it was done, the wooden guns were stained so that by the time we were finished, the pair looked real. Today, they’d probably not be a politically correct gift and might get you shot, but this was another era.
The next time we played army or acted like we were on an African safari, my brother and I totted those guns proudly. The other kids were envious. Our guns were not only more durable than the plastic store varieties, they were even more special. This didn’t come from their dollar value, but because my father had put some of himself into making them.
We’ve all heard the old adage, “it is better to give than to receive.” I am no longer sure it’s true, for there are some gifts we can only receive and when we graciously accept them, they change our lives. Such is the greatest gift of all, God’s gift to the world, a Savior.
In our Scripture reading from the short letter to Titus, Paul provides the theological foundation for the ethical advice he’s been giving Titus. If you read back over this chapter, you’ll see that Paul has instructed Titus on how Christians should conduct themselves. Now he gives that reason for such behavior. Paul’s advice flows three ways. He begins by looking back to the manifestation of God’s grace. Although Paul never speaks of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, perhaps he has in mind here Jesus’ humble birth, a wonderful display of God’s love. But he could also be thinking about the way God offered himself for our sins in a death by crucifixion. God has been exceptionally good to us in the past—which is why we should strive to live noble lives in the present. And finally, because God has been good to us in the past, we have hope that God’s goodness will continue to be poured out upon us in the future, when Jesus himself will return to receive those whom he has ransomed from sin. God’s great gift of a Savior is a life-changing gift! We just have to learn how to gracious accept such gift.
For some of us, tomorrow will be a relaxing day. Others, especially those homes with young children or where grandchildren are visiting, things will be crazy. But during the busyness of the day, take enough time to clear your mind, to remove thoughts from the boxes around the tree, and to forget about making the perfect dinner. Take some time and contemplate on the greatest gift ever offered. And if you’ve not received this gift, spend a few moments in prayer, opening your heart to God, giving thanks that Jesus came into the world to save us, humbled sinners.
Jesus Christ came to save sinners. That’s the message of Christmas. That’s the message of our faith. Jesus Christ came to save sinners, to save you, to save me. It’s a life changing gift, if there ever was one, one that we can never replay. We can only give thanks and rejoice. Amen.