Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Christmas Present

A Sermon preached on Christmas Day, December 25th 2016 at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Isaiah 62:6-12, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:1-20

What is Christmas all about?  If we look at what actually goes on at this time of year, there are a number of candidates. Mulled wine comes to mind as we drink very large amounts of this at the Christmas markets. Another Christmas theme would be eating and drinking a lot. I admit, when this service is over I will be going home to a lovely three course meal including a large turkey which is already in the oven and I know will be opening a couple of bottles of wine too. Watching Christmas specials on television is another option for the reason for the season, at least for the British. In our family, this will include the Dr. Who and Call a Midwife Christmas Specials …. and of course the Queens’s speech. Last, and anything but least, presents! Lots of presents, surely that's what Christmas is about. 

Actually yes, it is. I bet that surprised you, you thought I was going to say no! But Christmas is all about presents or rather about a present. The “little” presents we give one another, however expensive, however extravagant, are really just pale imitations or symbols of the huge present God gave us at that first Christmas over 2000 years ago. I am referring to God’s gift of God’s Son, born this happy morning as we just sung. The child who, according to a hymn we will sing later: “This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.”
But, and there is always a but, even if Christmas is about presents, there are some significant differences between the presents we give to one another, and the present God gave and is still giving us in Christ. 

Some Christmas gifts, especially from children, the home-made ones, are beautifully simple, But often, motivated by advertising, the giving of presents at Christmas can look like an expression of conspicuous consumption, and sometimes the present is more like a demonstration of wealth and power. This is not the case with God’s Christmas present to us. The appearance of the Son of God, born as a vulnerable baby, in a manger, in a tiny backwater of the Roman Empire stands for the opposite of wealth and power. And Christ’s birth foreshadows what seems like a shameful and humiliating death on the cross. But the cross is not a calamity but the culmination of Jesus’ life and part of the plan of the Incarnation. God’s love and true power are shown through humble and loving service and in a death, that turns out to be a beginning, not an end.

What about the motivation for giving? In his letter to Titus, Paul tells us that God gave God’s son out of goodness and loving kindness. (Titus 3: 4) Love should be the only real motivation for any gift. And at their core, below the expensive or home-made exterior all good gifts are simply love made physical. And at its core, God’s gift to us at Christmas is also love made physical – a human who laughed, cried, and lived with us.   
Now and again, presents are reciprocal, or given out of calculation, I give so I can receive (and of course sometimes, we even give the other the very thing we want to have). This is not the case with God’s present. We have done nothing to earn it; it is not God’s present in return for anything we have done. God’s motivation is sadness at the state we have got ourselves into. God’s motivation is mercy, and the desire for us to live the lives God meant for us …. Or in Paul’s to save us “not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.” (Titus 3: 4)

God’s present is supposed to change us. Paul talks about a “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7) We desperately need that transformation, we need to become like Christ, we need to follow his example. In the angels’ words, we need to accept him as our “Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) The one who saves us from ourselves, the one anointed and appointed by God, and the one we obey as our Lord – but as a Lord whose example is loving, humble service.

Only when we allow that transformation to happen, can we truly receive that part of God’s gift that the heavenly host promise when they praise God saying:
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" (Luke 2:14)

I wish us all a Christmas full of joy, peace, and love as we enjoy the presents we have given one another and even more as we celebrate and delight in God’s Christmas present, that good news of great joy for all the people that unto us is born this very day in this place and in our hearts a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   

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