Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas IS about gifts. . .

Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord (Christmas Day), preached on Monday, December 25, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth….And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (Jn 1:14, 16). 
    Take a moment and answer this question: What’s Christmas all about?  Is it about family and friends, being together for the holidays?  Is it about generosity and giving?  Is it about being grateful for all that you have?  All the Hallmark holiday movies say this is what Christmas is about.  These sentiments are nice and good, but that’s not what Christmas is about.  We all know that Christmas is about the gifts...not the gifts you give, but the gifts you receive…not the ones wrapped in paper and boxes, but the One wrapped in cloth and laid in a feeding box.  Christmas is about the gift that God has given to you, His Son, the only real true gift. 
    True gifts are freely given.  That’s the definition of a gift.  They’re given without any requirement.  They’re not rewards.  They’re not payments.  Gifts aren’t earned or based on merit, and their given without any expectation of getting anything in return.  When we understand what a gift truly is, and then when we look at the gifts we give, we see our gifts really aren’t gifts at all. 
    We give gifts that are rewards.  Our children have been extra-good lately.  They’ve made it on the nice list, they’ve done the chores and gotten along with their siblings, so we give them a few extra gifts.  Our friends helped us out this year when we were ill, so we give them a gift to say thank you.  These gifts, although they’re nice and considerate, they’re not really gifts.  They’re payment for good and helpful actions.  There’s nothing wrong with giving these rewarding gifts, but they’re not truly gifts that are freely given.  They’ve been earned. 
    We also give gifts for selfish reasons, whether we know it or not.  It makes us feel good when we give a person a gift, when they say thank you.  We pat ourselves on the back for our generosity.  We like seeing the smiling faces of our children as they rip open those boxes.  They’re joy is contagious and we feel like a kid again.  We like feeling that kid-ish joy. 
We give gifts because we don’t want to look bad.  How many of us have given a gift because we were certain someone would give us one and we didn’t want to show up empty handed?  We all have.  No one wants to be that person who looks greedy, always receiving and never giving. 
These types of gifts aren’t freely given, they come with an expectation of return.  We get something from them: self-congratulations, an emotional pick-me-up, reputation brownie-points.  This doesn’t mean these gifts are bad, it just means they’re not really gifts.  They’re not freely given.  But that’s not how it is with God’s gift.  Christ Jesus is the only true gift that is completely freely given.
We didn’t merit the gift of Christ, at least not in a good way.  The Word of God didn’t become flesh and dwell among us to reward our good behavior.  Jesus wasn’t born because we’re on the nice list.  God gave us His Son because we’re sinners, because of our sin, to rescue us from our sin.  We don’t earn Jesus.  We earn death.  That’s the reward we merit.  But the gift that you receive is Christ, who saves you from sin and death. 
This is why God gave you His Son.  This gift is completely 100% for you, for your benefit, for your life.  God receives nothing in return for this gift.  There’s no selfish motives on His part.  He doesn’t need an emotional pick-me up, self-congratulations, or even reputation brownie-points.  God is the Almighty, the Creator of all things, and yet His love for you is true and so is the costly gift of His Son. 
God sacrificed His only-begotten Son on the cross for you.  He gave everything for you.  He sent His Son to dwell among us, to take on our flesh, to take your sin and guilt, to suffer the consequence of death on the cross, so that you would live.  Jesus was born to die.  Jesus is the true gift of Christmas, and through Him you receive all the priceless gifts of God: forgiveness and peace, life and everlasting salvation. 
    Through Christ, you receive grace upon grace.  God’s merciful giving never stops, and it’s always free.  There’s nothing you do to earn it.  You can’t buy or merit God’s forgiveness.  God graciously gives His absolution because Christ shed His blood on the cross.  He paid for your sins.  Because of this sacrifice, God removes your guilt.  He declares you innocent and with this declaration, you receive the gift of peace. 
    The angels announced this gift at Christ’s birth.  Appearing to the shepherds outside the city they sang “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Lk 2:14, KJV).  This is the same message announced to you today in the good news of the Gospel. 
This peace isn’t the sentimental peace of Hallmark movies or even peace between us here on earth that we so often think of.  This peace is the peace of God.  This peace is the good pleasure of God for those who receive Christ their Savior.  This peace is yours, declared and given to you in God’s means of grace, in His Word and Sacraments.  Because of this peace, you stand before the Lord free from the fear of sin, and death.  And with this peace you receive Christ’s everlasting life and salvation. 
    Christ was born to die so that you’d be forgiven, to bring you peace, and He rose from the dead so that you’d have everlasting life.  Christ overcome death, the reward for your sin, and He gives you the gift of life.  This life is forever, it’s yours even in the midst of death.  The grave can’t take it away.  Forever, you live with your Savior, and when He comes again on the Last Day, you’ll see this gift of salvation in full.
    Christmas is all about gifts, about God’s gifts that come through the gift of Christ Jesus, born this day.  In Christ, you receive grace upon grace.  You receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and peace, gifts of life and salvation.  These are true gifts freely given in God’s Word and Sacraments.  So let us come before Him and His altar today to receive these gifts in the Lord’s Supper.  Let us thank the Lord for these gifts, always rejoicing in them.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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