I want to draw your attention to the large Christmas box that is up here by our altar. Each Sunday during the month of December, we have opened a new Christmas gift based on different characters from the nativity display that we have been placing on the altar.
We first opened the gift of expectation. And the symbol for this Christmas gift is Mary, the mother of Jesus. For those months of her pregnancy, Mary was filled with the expectancy that God’s promises for Israel and for the whole world were about to be fulfilled through the birth of her son. This gift of expectancy is what prompts us to look for signs of God’s kingdom through our day to living. It makes a difference in our lives when we know that God is at work in the world in new and exciting ways.
The second Christmas gift we opened was the gift of acceptance. The symbol for this gift is Joseph. God was asking a lot from Joseph. Joseph had been busy making wedding plans and all of the sudden he needed to accept a new reality that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit. This was a lot for Joseph to accept in a short amount of time, especially since he knew that nobody would believe him.
When we receive the Christmas gift of acceptance, like Joseph we sometimes just need to accept the reality of the situation we are facing as well as how other people will respond. We can accept our present reality when we know that God is with us even when we may feel alone.
Then we opened up the Christmas gift of family. The shepherds are the symbol for this gift. They were the unexpected guests at the manger scene since they were viewed as outcasts in their society. God chose to include the unlikeliest of people to gather around the manger there in Bethlehem.
Whenever we feel outside of God’s family, it’s so good to know that God’s invitation is always being extended to us. A while back, a church member wrote these words about what makes the church special.
“My beloved church is always there whether I’m there or not. No matter how long I’m gone or how quickly I return, the door is always open.”
The shepherds remind us that God’s door is always open. There is always room for us. Shepherds symbolize the gift of family.
And then this morning during our 4th Sunday of Advent services, the Christmas gift that we opened was a mirror. It was a mirror because we are the gift. The innkeeper who isn’t even part of the manger scene, symbolizes this gift because we’re not sure whatever happened to this person. Sometimes we get so busy preparing for Christmas that we forget to see ourselves as part of the manger scene. Christmas is about opening the gift of yourself.
So these are the four Christmas gifts so far in the month of December – the gift of expectation, the gift of acceptance, the gift of family, and the gift of yourself. But we do have one more gift to take out of the Christmas box.
I need a volunteer who is willing to open the gift tonight on our behalf.
(Opening of the Gift)
The gift is the Christ Child!
The nativity display wouldn’t be complete without baby Jesus in the manger. Yes, this is the gift for us to receive. The gift of Jesus is why Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the innkeeper found themselves together in the little town of Bethlehem on that holy night. And the gift of Jesus is what has brought us here tonight. It’s a gift that we are invited to receive in a new way every Christmas. It’s a gift that is meant to be opened again and again and again.
For a little girl named Jessica, it was a perfect Christmas. She got every single gift she wanted. Her favorite cousins were there to share the holiday with her. She had eaten her favorite foods all day long. As her mother tucked her in for bed, she looked up and smiled and said, “Mom, I sure hope Mary and Joseph have another baby next year.”
The gift of the Christ Child is meant to be opened not once, but every year. Why else do we decorate our homes and set up the nativity display each year? It’s because we know deep down that there is something very special about this gift that God is offering to us. We want it to last and to be with us always.
Speaking of Christmas presents, I received a really nice present one year.
A lot of you remember the electric football game, 1970’s style, right? It was so much better than today’s Madden NFL. So much better! Those of you who are in your 40s and 50s know what I mean. Did you have an electric football game when you were growing up?
It was awesome! The technology on that thing was genius. With a flick of the switch, your carefully lined up tiny players would vibrate on this metallic surface. But the players would never ever go in the direction that you had them pointed. It was a miracle if the player went five yards in the correct direction.
All it took was the slightest piece of dust or fuzz on that sheet of metal and your prize running back would turn a promising fifteen-yard gain into a gut-wrenching thirty-yard loss. It was sooo frustrating. Lucky was the kid, who ever had a plastic player vibrate straight down the field for a touchdown.
I remember one time, my little running back man made it all the way to the one yard line, which in reality was literally three millimeters and something caused him to do a 180 and run the whole way to the other end zone for a safety. It was the worst feeling in the world. In that regard, Madden NFL is a lot better!
So anyway, Santa gave me this electric football game for Christmas one year. I was so happy. Best Christmas present ever! My brother and I played it all day on Christmas. The next day, the day after Christmas, my neighbor came over and we were playing with my electric football game. And you won’t believe what happened.
My little vibrating plastic man went the entire length of the field and scored a touchdown. He never turned around. Nothing stopped him. He avoided every single piece of lint and fuzz between him and the end zone. He went like Chris Berman says, “HE –WENT-ALL-THE-WAY!”
To celebrate this once in a lifetime achievement, I did a handstand next to the field, but I couldn’t keep my balance. I flipped over and my body landed on my new electric football game. I put a dent near the sideline around the forty yard line. I was never so crushed in my life! I could still play a game on it, but if the players were anywhere near that side of the field, the gravity would pull them into this dent every single time. I tried to fix it by pushing up the dent from underneath the field, but then the players couldn’t make it over the little hill that was formed.
My favorite Christmas present was broken. My favorite Christmas gift ever was broken. But when I was in my twenties, my brother came to visit us for Christmas one year. And guess what he gave me for Christmas that year? A brand new electric football game, just like the one that I had damaged so many Christmases ago.
Christmas is a time to remember that God specializes in making all things new. God is more than able to take the dents and the brokenness of our lives and give us a new future. Old Christmas gifts can be transformed and made new. We can be made new. Every Christmas is a time to receive God’s gifts of new life.
Like Mary, we can receive the gift of expectation. Like Joseph, we can receive the gift of acceptance. Like the shepherds, we can receive the gift of family. And like the innkeeper, we can receive the gift of ourselves and take our place around the manger scene.
And tonight, we are invited to receive the gift of the Christ Child. Picture yourself around the manger scene with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. As you look upon this baby, what will your response be to this wonderful gift that God is offering us tonight?
Years ago, a young man was riding a bus from Chicago to Miami. He had a stop-over in Atlanta. While he was sitting at the lunch counter, a woman came out of the lady’s rest room carrying a tiny baby. She walked up to this man and asked, “Would you hold my baby for me? I left my purse in the rest room.”
He did. But as the woman neared the front door of the bus station, she darted out into the crowded street and was immediately lost in the crowd.
When he finally calmed down, he went to the Traveler’s Aid booth and together with the local police, they soon found the child’s mother. The woman who had left him holding the baby wasn’t the baby’s biological mother. She had taken the child from someone. Maybe she took the baby to satisfy some motherly urge to hold a child or something else. No one really knows. But we do know that this man breathed a sigh of relief when this baby’s mother was found. After all, what was he going to do with a baby?
In a way, we’re all in the same sort of situation as this young man. Every Christmas, we’re invited to hold this baby. The Christ Child is placed in our arms. And we are left with the question, “What are we going to do with this baby?”
It’s Christmas. It’s time to open our gifts and be made new.