1Christmas 2016December 24, 2016
You know it is easy to have a great response when you open a gift and it is something you really want. But it is a bit more awkward isn’t it when you receive a tie or a sweater you really do not want and would never choose. A while ago someone came up with the top ten ways to respond to gifts that you really do not like.
10.) Hey! Now there's a gift.
9.) Well, well, well . . .
8.) Boy, if I had not recently shot up 4 sizes, this would've fit.
7.) Perfect for wearing in the garage.
6.) Gosh, I hope this never catches fire!
5.) If the dog buries it, I'll be furious!
4.) I love it, but I fear the jealousy it will inspire.
3.) Sadly, tomorrow I enter the federal witness protection program.
2.) To think I got this the year I vowed to give all my gifts to charity.
1.) I really don't deserve this.
So those are good responses for gifts you did not like. Which brings to mind, what is the best Christmas gift you have ever received? For many people it is difficult to answer. It is difficult for several reasons. First reason is that gifts that we once really liked, now we do not care about. I remember receiving a Lionel train set as a child. It was great, but like all toys after a while I didn’t enjoy playing with it so much. Sometimes we get bored with a gift, other times the gift wore out. Did any of you ever have some blue suede shoes! I did and I loved them, but after a while they got all scuffed up and they were not so fun to wear anymore. Finally some gifts are great but they don’t last. For example when you receive homemade cookies or fudge or 7-layer bars, these gifts are great while they last. So that is why it can be difficult to answer the question of the best Christmas gift one has ever received.
On the first Christmas, God gave us Jesus, his only Son. Jesus came to be the Messiah of the world. That is what we heard in the message given to the shepherds by the angel. “Look, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” It is great news! Finally God is sending the promised one, the Messiah the Christ who is going to take care of all our problems! He is going to save us. And indeed what name does this child receive? He is named Jesus. Jesus means God saves. And the ancient Jews of Jesus’ day were all excited about being saved. You see, they had been saved once by God through Moses, remember? Moses had been the Messiah then. He had been anointed by God to help them out of their troubles. They had been slaves in Egypt and then God sent Moses and he led them out of Egypt through the Red Sea into finally the Promised Land. It was slow going but they finally made it. And Moses had told them that God would send them another one like him to help them. And now the angels are telling the shepherds that he is here! The new Messiah is finally here and he will help them. And they needed help. Economically their country was in a mess; the hated Romans were in control of their government. Injustice, inequality, and slave-like conditions were the norm for much of the nation. The wealthy class was very small and the very poor class was very large. Violence was common; justice was skewed, and the Roman occupation army was brutal. But now, the angels made the announcement and everything was going to be good; the Messiah was coming.
We know the rest of the story, right? Jesus grew up, became a man, and gathered a great army and defeated the Romans, went on to establish a benevolent government that ended up spreading over the entire world and bringing peace and prosperity to all. He ended all hunger, pain and suffering, disease and all sickness.
Oh, wait a minute; he did not do that, did he? As a matter of fact, there is still a lot of suffering and pain and misery. There is still war in the Middle East. There is still hunger and people who are needy. There is still hatred and anger and bitterness. There are still selfishness and loneliness. There are still families in trouble. There is still a lot of suffering. So if Jesus did not remove mankind’s suffering, what is all the joy about? Why is the birth of Jesus good news? If God didn’t come to fix all of our problems, why did her bother to come at all?
Good questions, right? Why did Jesus come? What good did he accomplish? First, Jesus did come to save his people. But it was not the way they thought they needed to be saved. But what the angels saw and recognized the shepherds and the nation of Israel and the rest of humanity did not. The angels saw humanity was suffering horribly. But the main cause of the suffering was not the brutality and savagery of the wars. It was not from the injustice or inequality or slavery that was causing most of the suffering. It wasn’t even the hunger or disease or sicknesses. These are only the symptoms of the problem. No, the main causes of humanity’s suffering and troubles were from people doing bad things and thentheir guilt, their frustration, and from their loneliness because they were alienated and in rebellion from God. Humanity needed help and God sent them the help they needed most. He sent them Himself as Jesus, Emmanuel God with us. And look how he came. He came humbly as a baby. He wasn’t born into a rich family; he was born into a poor working class one. He was born in a stable, a place made for animals.Look who he told about it. The angels told shepherds, people who were very low on the social rungs of that society.
You see, it was good news of great joy for everyone, not for just a chosen few. He came to show all of mankind His love for his creation. In the hour of humanity’s greatest need, he came to help. He came Himself. When we want to know what God is like, we look at Jesus. He showed us how to live. He showed us how to love and forgive each other. He healed the sick and showed compassion on the fearful. He showed finally how much he loved us by dying a painful humiliating death for us on the cross. But then he came alive again in victory over death and over the sin that has kept mankind in slavery. Jesus became humanity’s hope for joy and life. Now we personally can know God and have his peace in our lives. Now we can have new life! We can have forgiveness of our sins and freedom from guilt. Through faith in him, through faith in his death for our sins on the cross, He will give us the ability tochange our ways and learn to live in a new way.
That’s what we see when we see Jesus as a baby in the manger. We see God becoming a human to show us His love for us. That’s the glorious news of the angels. It is the message given to the lowly shepherds. It is good news of great joy. God loves us so much that He gave Himself for us. So if tonight or tomorrow you do unwrap a present that is not one that you particularly desired this Christmas, smile, be grateful anyway, because you have already received from God the greatest Christmas present of all. Amen