Sermon for Christmas Eve 2018
Babies can’t do much. They can cry and they can poop, but that’s about it. They can’t take care of themselves. They don’t have the power. They don’t have the skill. They don’t have the money either. They are helpless.
As you get older you learn to do more and more for yourself, but even as a young child there is still so much you cannot do. Without a job and without your own income and transportation, you very much rely on others to do things for you and you look to your family to provide for your needs. Sure, you may have chores, and there may be expectations and responsibilities, but you also know that it’s not up to you to make it all happen. There is still so much in your life that is outside your control.
I think that may be why Christmas, as a child, is so special: because you know so much of it is outside your control. As a child, especially as a small child, Christmas just happens. You don’t have to worry about shopping for, or paying for, or wrapping the presents. They are just there for you to open. You don’t have to worry about how to stuff or truss the turkey. It is just there for you to enjoy. You don’t have to decorate the tree; you just get to marvel at the twinkling lights. Christmas is so wonderful when you aren’t responsible for making it happen.
And I think what makes giving gifts to children so fun is that you know, and they know, they can’t get this any other way. When I was a child if I wanted a new He-Man figure, or a Garfield phone, or a movie or a book, the only way I could get it was if my parents or someone else gave it to me. I didn’t have a steady income or transportation. I wasn’t independent. It had to come as a gift. Christmas was such a magical time because I knew that I wasn’t responsible for making it happen.
Of course, I don’t have to tell you that that changes as you get older.
As you become an adult, you gradually take responsibility for more and more things, and as this time of the year comes around, it can bring with it this feeling of dread, because there is so much for you to do. Christmas doesn’t just happen to you anymore. Now you are the one that has the money and the car, so you are the one that gets to do the shopping and the wrapping and the cooking and the cleaning. When you were a little child you couldn’t wait to get up on Christmas morning as early as possible, because it was going to be a day of unearned and undeserved joy. Now, I’m sure that some of you would love to sleep in tomorrow, because for one thing you are out late tonight, but also because I know many of you are exhausted from all you have been doing or trying to do for these past few weeks. Christmas doesn’t just happen to you anymore, now you make it happen…or at least that’s how it feels.
And gifts, they don’t have quite the same thrill anymore when you are an independent adult. Let’s face it, if you have the good fortune to be gainfully employed with a little bit of expendable income, if there is something in this world that you want or need you can probably go get it. Sure, you may appreciate the gesture, when a loved one gives you a gift, but it doesn’t have quite the same power and magic as it did when you were a kid, because now there are other ways that you can get things, other than people just giving them to you. But it is those gifts that you can’t get on your own that have the most meaning.
Think about some of our classic Christmas tales:
When Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and sends a turkey to the Cratchit family, what makes that gift so special? It is because you know and I know that the Cratchits can’t get it any other way. They can’t afford it.
Or how about one of the original stories about Saint Nicholas, when he was still a bishop of the church, when he visited a local family in the middle of the night; a family that was destitute with three little girls headed for a life of slavery, and he threw three gold balls into their shoes. The gift that would save them from slavery was something they couldn’t go and get on their own.
Or do you remember our carol about King Wenceslas? “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen” That’s the day after Christmas by the way. He looks out and he sees a poor man in the snow gathering twigs to burn. And he says to his page: “Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither. Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither.” The song concludes with the line: “therefor Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.”
When you give someone something that they can’t get any other way, those gifts are a blessing to you as well, those are the best kind of gifts, because it is in giving those gifts that we are most closely following in the footsteps of the little child born in Bethlehem so many years ago.
God isn’t trying to guilt people into giving. That’s not what Christmas is about, and that’s not how grace works. But before Ebenezer or Nicholas or Wenceslas were prepared to give to others, they each had to recognize what they had been given. They had to put away the notion of being self-sufficient; they had to become like children, born again, and in need of help from outside. They had to remember what it felt like to be given something that they could never buy on their own. They had to recognize that that is what God had given them in Jesus Christ: a gift they could never deserve or earn. It is a love that they can only share, not buy.
That my friends, is what the Christmas story is all about. We come here tonight to remember that we have been given a gift that we could never get on our own. We believe that this child, born in a stable on the other side of the world thousands of years ago, was the Son of God. That little child offers us a new beginning. He offers us forgiveness of sins. He offers us a different way of life. He offers us a different relationship with God, in fact, he offers us his own life. That child wrapped in swaddling cloth is the gift of heaven, and that is a gift we could never purchase on our own.
As Christians we can, and should, wake up every morning of our lives, just like so many children will wake up tomorrow morning, with the joy and wonder of knowing that something wonderful has been given to us, and we had nothing to do with it. We didn’t make Christmas happen. No matter how hard you have worked these past few weeks to prepare your holiday celebrations, Christmas isn’t something you can buy or work for; it is pure gift. All you can do is share it. Jesus said, we have to come to him as children, we must be born again. When we kneel before the crèche tonight and see the tiny babe lying in a manger, we are the ones who are helpless. This little child has given us a gift that we could never buy for ourselves and that is after all, the best kind of gift.