Monday, December 26, 2016

The Gift that Gives

Sermon for Christmas Eve, the Nativity of Our Lord, preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on December 24, 2016.

And the angel said [to the shepherds] "Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11-12). 

Gifts, gifts, and more gifts...Christmas is all about gifts, and we start thinking about them at midnight on Black Friday, if not before.  We think about the boxes that need to go under the tree.  We search all over town and the internet to find the perfect presents for loved ones.  We spend hours making our Christmas lists.  Gifts, gifts, and more gifts...Christmas is all about the gifts. 

For a long time, people have bemoaned the fact that Christmas has become all about gifts.  But the truth is, Christmas IS about gifts; rather, it's about the ONE gift that always gives.  Christmas is about the gift of Jesus Christ given to us by God the Father, given to us so that our sins might be forgiven, given to us so that we might have salvation. 

By its very definition, a gift is freely given, undeserved.  No one can earn a gift, otherwise it be a reward or payment.  Gifts are selflessly given out of love and we like to think we give our presents out of selfless love. 

We buy exciting toys for our children because we want them to be happy.  We exchange thoughtful gifts with our family and friends to say "thank you" and to show them we care.  We give sentimental cards that express our love.   

But our presents aren't given purely out of selfless love...they're also given out of selfish love, love for ourselves.  Haven't we all begrudgingly given a present because we felt obligated to?  Isn't there that one gift we give only because we knew someone was going to give us a gift and we didn't want to look bad?  What about those gifts we give because of the thanks and praise we know we'll get in return?

This selfish love is our sinful nature, and it infects everything we think, say, and do.  It turns gift giving into a self promoting endeavor, something we do because we get something out of it.  This something may be the good feeling of making someone else smile, but this too is directed inward towards ourself.  Our sin puts us first, it drives us to seek out our wants and desires before we care for another person's needs.    

Our sin separates us from one another, turning us against each other.  Gossip and hateful words on social media break up relationships.  Brothers and sisters fight over toys and the TV.  Husbands and wives get divorced, parents and children refuse to speak.  Sin keeps us from living in peace with one another and also with God. 

Our sin separates us from the Father, the one who gave us life.  We stand as His enemies in opposition to Him in every way.  We want to live life our way, to fulfill our sinful desires, engaging in self love.  This love is far from good because it leads to death.  The wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23).  Our sin kills us, permanently separating us from God, forever suffering the torments of hell...and there's absolutely nothing we can do about it. 

We can't save ourselves, we can't overcome sin and death.  Only God can do this.  Only God can give us the gifts of peace and life...and He has, and He does through the gift of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. 

God gave the world, He gave you the gift of Christ out of His pure selfless love.  "God is love.  [And] in this the love of God was [made known, was shown] among us, that He sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him" (1Jn 4:8b-9).  Even though we don't deserve it, God gave you the gift of His Son so that you might be forgiven through His death on the cross.

We wrap our gifts in pretty paper tied with colored bows...God wrapped His gift in flesh, tied with swaddling cloths.  Born of the Virgin Mary, God became incarnate.  Jesus took on our flesh and blood and was laid in the manger.  He came to us in our sinful world so that He could die on the cross and make payment for our sin.  Sinless, He took on our sins and paid the price of death they demand.  Out of selfless love, Jesus freely gave you the gift of His life so that you might forgiven and have everlasting life and peace with God.  

Every Christmas Eve we gather together here to receive the gift of Jesus.  In faith, we trust in the forgiveness, life, and salvation that God has freely given to us in Christ.  But the gift of Christ isn't a one time gift, given 2,000 years ago.  Jesus isn't given only on Christmas Eve and Day.  The gift of Christ is here for you today and everyday: for tomorrow, for next week, next month, and for all the years to come.  Jesus is God's gift to you now and forever, and He continually gives you the gift of His Son.   

The gift of Christ always gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Every day Jesus is there with the forgiveness He won for you on the cross.  Every time you confess your sins and repent of your selfish love, He's there with forgiveness.  Every Sunday, when you confess your sins in thought, word, and deed, what you've done and what you've left undone, your Savior is there giving you His forgiveness in the words of His absolution spoken to you by His pastors.

At every baptism, Jesus is there, washing away sins, giving new life to the person as God's Triune name is spoken and the waters flow over their head.  As you witness this heavenly birth of new life, God is there reminding you of the new life you were given in your baptism.  This life is a gift freely given to you so that you might be raised from the dead just as your Savior was. 

Every Sunday, at this altar, God gives you the gift of Jesus' sacrificed body and blood.  He gives you the present of peace.  As you eat and drink your sins are forgiven and the Father nourishes the life of faith He's given to you.  And you live this life out with thanksgiving and praise, living in response to the gift of Christ you've received. 

When the shepherds heard the angel's message, they went to the stable to see the gift of Jesus Christ.  They received this life giving gift from God.  But that's not all they did.  Like all great gifts, they share it with others.  They went out and told everyone what they saw and heard concerning the gift of Jesus.  Out of selfless love they generously told others. 

And we do the same.  Having received the gift of Jesus we extend His pure and selfless love to others.  We do this through our gifts and our words.  Signs stand throughout our city that say "Jesus is the reason for the season."  We celebrate Christmas, we give gifts and presents because of the gift of Christ, because of the gifts He continually gives to you.  We tell others about these gifts, we share His forgiveness with them, we extend His peace, and we invite them to come to church to receive these gifts too. 

Not only to we give to others, but we also give back to our Lord.  God has given us everything: our families, our possessions, our very lives.  He's even given us the gift of His Son.  And in thanksgiving we give back to Him.  We give Him our offerings so that His Word can continue to be preached and His Sacraments administered, so that we and others can continually receive His gifts.  

We give Him thanks and praise.  When we receive gifts, we thank the giver.  We write cards and speak words of appreciation.  We do the same for our Lord.  We sing His praises.  We come to His house and join our voices together with His saints, we join our voices together with the heavenly hosts, and we sing glory to God in the Highest. 

Christmas is all about the gift of Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem.  God gave us the gift of His Son so that we might be forgiven and have everlasting life with Him.  Christ is the greatest gift ever given, He's the gift that always gives.  Every Sunday He comes to you here, giving you the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word and Sacrament.  And in faith, we come to the Lord's house: we come here to receive these gifts.  We come here to praise Him and His name.  In Jesus' name...Amen.

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