Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Gifts of Chist for Everyday

Sermon for the Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, preached on December 24, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    There are many Christmas traditions: caroling, special dinners and treats, trees decorated with beautiful and meaningful ornaments.  Every family seems to have their own special thing, their own unique way of celebrating Christmas.  But there’s one tradition that everyone  Everyone loves Christmas gifts.  We love to get them and we love to give them.
    The traditional picture of Christmas is the tree all decorated with lights and ornaments, and under that tree are gifts.  But these gifts aren’t simply in brown cardboard boxes closed-up with packing tape.  No these gifts are wrapped in beautiful paper and ribbon and bows.  This wrapping makes the gifts extra special.  There’s an excitement and anticipation thinking about what’s inside.  Part of what we love about Christmas gifts is the wrapping paper, ripping it open to reveal the surprise inside. 
   Looking back at my family Christmases growing up I remember the paper, not the nice wrapping paper that covered the gifts, but the ripped paper that was all wadded up and littering the family room floor.  My brothers and sisters and I, we tore through that paper like it wasn’t even there.  The hours that my mom spent wrapping those gifts was all undone in a matter of minutes.  And what did we do with that paper? ... We threw it away.  We brought in the large trash bag and tossed everything out.
   We didn’t appreciate the wrapping paper.  We didn’t appreciate the time our mother spent making   those gifts special.  We only cared about the gift.  But often, our appreciation for that quickly went away.  We forgot about it.  That new toy we had to have found its way to the bottom of the toy box. 
The reason why we give gifts at Christmas is because on that first Christmas our Father in heaven gave us the greatest gift of all, His Son.   And just like the gifts that will be under our trees tomorrow, God’s Gift came wrapped, not in pretty paper, but in a swaddling cloth, & then in a burial cloth.
   The swaddling cloth of Christ’s nativity isn’t a small thing.  It’s not just a cute image of baby Jesus wrapped in a cozy blanket.  The fact that Jesus was wrapped in swaddling cloth points to the fact that God’s Son came to us in the flesh.  The Gift of God is His Son Incarnate, it is His Son in flesh and blood, just as He promised. 
   Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised His gift: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14).  This name, Immanuel, it means “God is with us.”  This doesn’t mean that God is only with us in thought.  This doesn’t mean that God is only with us in spirit.  This doesn’t mean that God is only with us for emotional support, cheering us on as we go through life.  No, this means that God is literally with us, that He has come to walk among His people.  It means that God’s Son has taken on our flesh and blood, so that He could redeem our flesh and blood, so that He could completely save us from our sin, so that there can be a resurrection of the dead.  This is why Jesus is the greatest gift of all, because He is our Savior.  He paid the price required to buy you back from sin and death, and that price was His very life. 
   We give gifts as an act of love.  God’s Gift is an act of love, sacrificial love that’s beyond compare.  “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10).  The love of God, the love of God for you, that love drove the Father to give you the greatest gift of all, His very Son to pay for your sin. 
Jesus was born to die.  He was born to give His life up in ransom for yours.  The gift of our Savior wrapped in swaddling cloth is the gift of our Savior wrapped in burial cloth.  The gift of Christ is His life and His death.  Christ atoned for your sin with His death.  Christ won you forgiveness, life, and salvation with His death.  The Father’s Gift on that first Christmas Day is the Gift of Good Friday, the gift of our Savior...and this Gift never stops giving.  Christ is the gift that gives unto everlasting life.
    The Gift of our Father isn’t just given once.  We don’t just receive Jesus only on Christmas Day.  We receive Him every day.  We receive Him every Sunday in this very place as we gather together to hear His Word and receive His Sacraments.  In these means of grace, God continues to be with us.  He is here giving us His Son and the gifts of forgiveness and life.  God is with us, Immanuel, wrapped in swaddling clothes.  God is with us, Immanuel, wrapped in the Word of Scripture.  God is with us, Immanuel, wrapped in the waters of Baptism.  God is with us, Immanuel, wrapped in Absolution, the forgiveness of sins.  God is with us, Immanuel, wrapped in the bread and wine, Jesus’ very body and blood for us to eat and drink.  God is with us, Immanuel, to give us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation!
   I’m not gonna lie, growing up, Christmas and my birthday were my two favorite holidays, because on those days I got gifts.  And I’m sure that’s same for many of us here.  We like to get gifts.  That’s part of who we are as selfish sinners.  We like to get more than give.  But the gifts we want, they’re temporary and fleeting.  They don’t last, and neither does our appreciation for them.  We grow tired of the gifts we’ve received, always looking forward to the next best thing.  Don’t let this be the case for God’s Gift to you, because there is not other next best thing.   
   The gifts of Christ aren’t temporary or fleeting.  They don’t change.  God’s forgiveness in Christ is the same today, tomorrow, and forever.  Our Lord, because of His love for you, is always there, wanting to answer your repentance with His forgiveness.  Don’t neglect this gift.  Don’t take it for granted.  Don’t think of it as a cheap gift, because it’s not.  Your forgiveness was costly for our Heavenly Father.  It cost Him everything, His only Begotten Son.  Christ died for your life, so repent, turn from your sin and  come and receive His gift. 
   God has given you His gift...Christ Jesus His Son.  On Christmas He was wrapped in swaddling cloth and laid in a manger, and then on Good Friday He was taken from the cross, wrapped in burial cloth and laid in the tomb.  Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, is the gift that pays for your sin, the gift that gives you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  God gives this gift at all times, so receive it all times.  Don’t let it it be thrown out with tomorrow’s wrapping paper.  Come and receive the gift of God’s love, through His Son, through His Word, and through His Sacraments today, tomorrow, and everyday.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent sermon, Pastor Ulrich. Christ also gave us the gift of the Church and filled it with the gift of family and friends, the fellowship of believers who love and support us. The best gift, as you said, is the sacramental presence of Jesus’ ressurrected body and blood given and shed assuring our forgiveness through His eternal Word. What a treasure, indeed! Merry Christmas to you and Grace Lutheran.

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