Tuesday, December 24, 2013
The Gift of Christmas Presence
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The story is told of a man and his son. For the weeks and days before Christmas, the son kept pestering his father, saying, “Dad, what are you going to get me for Christmas?” Hard to believe for you parents, I know. “I want this” and “I want that” and “What are you going to get me?”
Finally, the father said, “Son, stop saying that. Christmas isn’t about getting. It’s about giving.”
The father was pleased when he saw his son quietly thinking about this. Perhaps he was learning the real meaning of Christmas. Then the boy asked quite seriously: “Dad, on Christmas, what are you going to give me?”
Thanks to Old Adam, our sinful nature, we have a way of messing up the whole idea of gifts. Gifts are, by definition, undeserved. A paycheck is not a gift because you’ve done the work to earn it. A bonus is not a gift, because—even though it’s more than you usually earn—you’ve still worked to earn it. A gift is a gift because nothing has to be done to earn it. Likewise, a gift has no strings attached. When someone gives a gift and thinks, “If I give A, then they’ll do B,” it isn’t really a gift. It’s a payment made in anticipation of compensation.
So, you see, in a perfect world, people only give gifts because they want to, with absolutely no expectations. They say, “I’m giving this gift freely; and even if they throw it away after burning it to ashes, I’ll love them just the same.” And, I suppose, in a perfect world, people receive gifts with thanks and contentment for what they have, not disappointment and jealousy for what they didn’t get. But we do not live in a perfect world, do we? We live in a fallen world, and we are not immune to its temptations. Within this sanctuary tonight, there is, without a doubt, a man who is reasoning, “If I give her this, then maybe she’ll do that.” There is a woman thinking, “If I give him this, maybe he’ll stop doing that.” And there are some who have reasoned, “I can get that gift if I keep bugging them until they get sick of the hassle and buy it for me.” All such thoughts indicate that you are interested in getting, not giving.
So here we are on Christmas Eve, and Old Adam is hard at work. In this sinful world, few, if any, gifts are ever given with absolutely no strings attached. Few, if any, gifts are received with true graciousness and no suspicion. If Christmas is about gifts between people, then disaster lurks just beneath the surface. And all of this shows us how much we need a Savior.
That’s why, on this night, I declare to you that Christmas is not about gifts. It’s about presence. Not presents as in gifts, but presence as in being there. It’s the phenomenal reality that Jesus Christ dwells among us, as one of us. It’s the surprising news that the eternal, almighty Lord God wore diapers!
The birth of a baby in Bethlehem is not life-changing news. Babies get born all the time. And as the world laments that far too many children are born in poverty, it makes no sense that this birth should bring us hope or comfort or joy—so poor is this family that the Baby’s first bed is a manger, a cattle trough!
But this is not just another baby. The virgin has conceived and borne a Son, and His name is Immanuel, “God with us.” The Son of God, begotten of the Father from eternity, has become flesh and been born of Mary for you. Where you were born in sin, He is born holy to redeem you. Where you could not live without sinning, He lives a perfect, righteous life so that He can give you the credit for it. Where you deserve death for your sins, He dies your death and rises again three days later—so that He can share His death and resurrection with you in Baptism.
And what is the cost to you for this great sacrifice? Nothing. Nothing at all. Jesus does all the work and demands nothing in return; it is pure gift to you. He is the perfect Giver, giving the perfect gift.
I know that many Christians spend a lot of time rightly trying to keep Christmas a Christian holiday rather than the cultural, consumer-driven season it’s become. That’s good! But I have to disagree when they say “Jesus is the reason for the season.” As Adriane Dorr Heins, the managing editor of The Lutheran Witness, recently pointed out: “Jesus is not the reason for the season. You are! Jesus didn’t become incarnate for Himself. He did it for you.”
The Son of God comes to take on your flesh, to take your place in life and death so that you could have life everlasting. He does it freely, willingly, not expecting anything in return. He certainly doesn’t need you to set aside a day to satisfy His ego. Worship is not for His sake; it is for yours! For it is there in His Word and Sacraments that He comes to you with His best gifts—forgiveness, salvation, eternal life, His very presence.
Look in the manger. That Baby is born for you, given to die for you, to redeem you from sin for eternity. Risen from the grave and ascended to the Father’s right hand, He remains present even now, forgiving you in His Word and Sacraments. I guess Christmas really is about receiving, even more than giving!
I pray that you have a blessed Christmas. One in which Christ is truly the center. May each gift you give or receive be a reminder of the great gift of God’s Son for you. And where selfish expectations or disappointment or jealousy creep in, make the sign of the cross and say, “It is because of this sin that Christ was born for me! He came to dwell among us to take my place and save me!”
That’s the great gift of Christmas—the gift of His presence. Where you are selfish, Christ is selfless. Where you are resentful, He humbly bears your sin. Where you attach strings, He freely pours out grace upon grace. Where you, by nature think, “What is it going to cost me?” He says: “It’s all a gift of My mercy and grace. I’ve done it all for you! All so that you might be forgiven for all of your sins.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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