The Gift of Christmas
December 25, 2016

The Gift of Christmas

Passage: Isaiah 62: 6-12, Titus 3 :4-7; Luke 2: 1-20

Christmas Day 2016
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Tacoma, WA
Preacher:  The Rev. Martin Yabroff

Texts:  Isaiah 62:6-12,  Titus 3:4-7,   Luke 2:1-20

If we listen to our lessons this Christmas morning, we are in Christmas receiving a great gift – the gift of transformation, of becoming a new people, of having renewed lives.   In our first lesson, from the prophet Isaiah, we hear about our new identity:  They shall be called “a holy people, the redeemed of the Lord, No longer shall we feel forgotten or left out.  We shall be called “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”

Paul writes to Titus, we are - through this Jesus Christ our Savior, who was born for us -  saved, justified, by God’s grace, not because of whatever we have done or not done but “according to his mercy”.

In our Gospel, angels announce:  Good News!, great joy, for all people!

Christmas – Jesus – these are gifts of grace for you and me.

Let us consider this morning not simply what such Good News is for us, or why good news should be given to us, or how it comes about, but instead, how shall we accept such growth and transformation, such good news.  For sometimes that is difficult.  We get used to bad news, to disappointments and difficulty, and may resist gifts, grace, even love.

The Bible tells us again and again that God loves each one of us and reaches out to us.  God cannot love us any more than God does, and God will not love us any less, no matter what.  Why is this so hard to grasp and accept?

Some people find it hard to accept gifts, or compliments, or love.  They resist, make excuses, or deflect the gift away.  They mutter ‘If others only knew’, or ‘what do they want in return?’ or ‘I will get hurt if I care.’

So for Christmas, we hear not only of God’s reaching out to us and declaring good news, proclaiming grace and growth to come, we also hear of a journey.  Mary and Joseph – folks like us – with hopes and dreams, on a difficult journey from Nazareth, north of Galilee, down to Bethlehem, because of the Government, the economy, taxes, powers beyond their control.  The journey didn’t seem like a gift.  This unexpected, mysterious pregnancy raised questions as well as awe, anxiety as well as joy.  What was going on?

They arrive in Bethlehem and there is no room – life is hard.

Meanwhile, shepherds, at work, at night, are surprised – by angels – and terrified – Angels!  Gifts can be surprising and unsettling.

Mary and Joseph wonder about this gift, this baby, what is going on in their lives.

The gift of a baby – or of what life gives you, along the journey, through surprises and trials – is not a simple or passive gift.  A baby – Jesus – is beautiful and wondrous, a sign of hope growth and a new future.  And a baby is a lot of work, challenge, and cost – emotional and physical.  We are changed and grow in the receiving of such a gift.  Remember that the Magi went home another way – they were not on the same journey as before.  They were changed by their journey and their witnessing God’s grace in the birth of the Christ.

Such a gift as God gives us in Jesus, in life, is both a sign of God with us, and a call to receive and be with God in this life.

This gift may not be what we expect or were looking for.  Methodist bishop William Willimon says:  ‘the hope of the world was not the hope for which the world was hoping.’

Dorothy Day often quoted Dostoevsky that unlike love in dreams, real love is a harsh and dreadful thing.

The gift of Jesus is not pastel and pretty – it is written in blood, sweat and tears.  The same can be said of babies – wonderful and a lot of work.  The same can be said of marriage – it is great and hard and humbling.  Growing older is a blessing, and not for the faint-hearted.   To receive a gift is not easy or passive, yet when given in love, from God, through life, it is ultimately meaningful.

As for accepting gifts and growing in faith, here are three guides to consider:

  1.  Let go of control – trust God, who knows us and loves us.  Trust the other persons, the giver, because God is with you in that relationship.
  2. Allow change and growth.  It is like getting into the water of a pool or the ocean – some go all at once, others (like me) go gradually.  However you do it, allow change and growth, trust and enjoy.
  3. Practice opening your hands.  If your hands are closed and clenched, it is hard to receive.  Practice smiling – it loosens your face and heart muscles.  Practice being thankful for whatever is good and true and beautiful.

This Christmas, will you receive the gift of life, the gift of God’s love, the gift of Jesus?  Knowing that it will not be easy, and that it will change you and those around you.

Funny thing about Christmas and this baby Jesus – God will not argue with us or force us accept or receive or even respond.  God has come.  God loves.  You and me, such as we are (no exceptions here either).

The shepherds came and saw and recognized grace in their midst, and rejoiced.  The Magi gave of themselves and their treasurers, and were changed, returning with joy by another way.  Mary and Joseph pondered these things in their hearts.  How will you receive and respond to the love of God which we celebrate in a baby born at Christmas?  Spiritual growth, spiritual life, are not easy, but they are ultimately fulfilling and meaningful.  Let us join with one another in this parish, and with those around you in your life, in this adventure of faith called life.  Merry Christmas.