Monday, December 30, 2019

Gifts at Christmas

Sermon for The Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Morning, preached on December 25, 2019 by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich

“For from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:15)
For the past 4 weeks, we’ve been looking forward to this day.  We’ve been making preparations.  Our focus has been on the celebration of Christ’s birth, celebrating the Incarnation, celebrating our Lord taking on flesh and blood.  And what better way to celebrate this day than with gifts?! 
We’d be lying to ourselves if we tried to say that gifts weren’t one of the first things we think of when we think about Christmas.  From Black Friday until today, we’re consumed with gifts.  We made our lists of all the people we needed to shop for and we picked out the perfect presents for them.  We made our wish list of things we wanted to open this morning.  Boxes and bows have been on our mind. … But we also say that today isn’t about gifts, it’s about love; and this is true.  Christmas is about love, but we can’t get past the fact that it’s also about gifts.  Christmas is about love and gifts.  It’s about love shown in gifts, specifically God’s love shown in the gift of His Son. 
Why do we give gifts on Christmas day?  Well, partly because it’s a normal social convention.  That’s just what we do.  That’s the tradition that’s been passed down.  But when you stop and think about it, when you stop and think about the people you give gifts to, the reason you give them is because you love those people.  We give them gifts not because they’ve earned them, but because we love them. 
Gifts are by definition given, not earned.  They’re unmerited.  It’s all grace.  If a gift was earned, it’d cease to be a gift; it would be payment or a reward.  But that’s not why we give gifts.  Look again at the list of people you gave gifts to.  Did they deserve it? Did they earn it?  I’m sure they’ve done some nice things, but I’m also sure they’ve done things to hurt you as well. 
Our family and friends don’t deserve the gifts we give, and you know it.  Being the closest ones to them, you see all their faults and failings.  You see their sin, and you’ve felt their sin.   They’ve lied to you, they’ve ignored you, they’ve thought and said mean things, they’ve taken advantage of you, and they’ve failed to respond to your love. … And so have you.   
You’ve hurt those closest to you.  You’ve lied, you’ve ignored, you’ve said mean things, youve taken advantage of and you’ve failed to respond to their love, you’ve selfishly thought about yourself.  You in no way deserve any good gift from them; and in no way to you deserve any gift from God, especially the gift of His Son; and yet that’s why you’re here today, because God has graciously given you the gift of His Son. 
We don’t deserve anything from God.  We don’t deserve a gracious gift from Him, but that’s exactly what you receive, because He loves you.  God’s love is the only explanation for why He sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day.  God’s love is the only reason why He came to live in our dark sin filled world.  God’s love is the only reason why He gave His Son up to die on the cross for you, a sinner.  God could’ve easily left you alone in your sin.  He could’ve easily written you off to suffer the full consequences of your sin, to suffer damnation and hell, and He’d be just in doing that.  But because of His love for you He gave you the gift of His Son to suffer that punishment so you might receive grace upon grace, so that you would receive the gifts of forgiveness and everlasting life. 
The gifts we give on Christmas, they’re nice, they’re thoughtful, and some may be very expensive and valuable, but none of them will last.  The boxes and paper and bows will be tomorrow’s trash.  The toys we just had to have will be at the bottom of the box next week.  Those new clothes will wear and fade.  And all the tech and gadgets we received will be obsolete in a short time.  None of our gifts, although they’re given in love, will last.  They’ll break, they’ll become outdated, and they’ll be useless.  But that’s not the case for God’s love gift.  The gift of Christ will never become outdated and useless.  The gift of Christ will never wear out.  He’s the eternal Word that gives life.  He’s the Light that never goes out.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
In Christ, you receive grace upon grace, grace that’s never ending, grace that’s always there.  The gift of Christ isn’t a one-time gift.  Yes, His sacrifice on the cross was a once and for all; one death to pay for all sin: yours, mine, the sin of the whole world.  But by this one sacrifice, the gifts of forgiveness and life are always there, continually given by God, continually received in faith by you His children, every day. 
The gift of life given through Baptism in Christ’s name is an everyday gift, as you daily live as God’s child.  The gift of forgiveness through the words of Absolution is an everyday gift, removing the guilt and shame of your sin.  The gift of salvation given in the Body and Blood of our Lord’s supper is an everyday gift, as you’re nourished and strengthened until the time when that salvation is fully revealed in Christ's coming again.   The gift of Christ is the one gift that keeps on giving.  It’s the only gift that lasts unto everlasting life. 
We try to convince ourselves that Christmas isn’t about gifts, but it is.  Christmas has to be about gifts, or else it’s no good to us.  But it can’t be about the gifts we give.  Christmas is about Gods love Gift given to you.  It’s about the gift of His Son, the gift of His forgiveness, the gift of His life.  These gracious gifts aren’t earned but given out of God’s love.  God freely and continually gives them to you.  Christ and His gifts will never go away.  His forgiveness and life will never fail.  God’s Son is everlasting and the life He gives you is everlasting.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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