December 21, 2008
4th Sunday of Advent (B)
In a Christmas sermon, Billy Strayhorn, wrote that modern technology was making it much more difficult to “unwrap” Christmas: “It has given us shrink wrap, which defies all attempts to tear it. We have fiber strapping that some knives won’t cut. And we have adhesives that you can’t get off with dynamite.”2
Over the years my family has enjoyed Christmas morning with its traditions. Even as my children have now become adults, we still observe the same traditions. The appropriate Scripture is read on Christmas Eve and then off to bed. Christmas morning after we awaken and make our way to the living room, we open our stocking gifts. Each one takes a turn as we laugh or comment on what we have received. Next we go to the kitchen to enjoy our Christmas Swedish tea-ring with its festive white icing, cherries and nuts over the wonderfully delicious baked pastry. We sit around the table to talk and share for a few minutes.
Then we return to the living room and begin opening our gifts. We pick up the package and begin to guess what it could be by its size and/or weight. Is it clothes, electronic accessories for the computer or iPod, gift certificate to our favorite coffee shop or restaurant? There was a time we saved the wrapping paper and the ribbon, but no more. However, it is done in an orderly fashion, and each of us opens one at a time. Now I know for some of you that may be a stretch, but that is the way it is done at our house!
The days of anticipation and hoping are now over. On Christmas day, when Jesus was born, the hope of the world was born. “God’s gift,” says Strayhorn, “of grace to the world came packaged and wrapped in the splendor and the glory of the Christ child. And if we find and accept God’s gift for us, then we’ll joyously and faithfully spend the rest of our lives unwrapping that gift of grace as we serve God through Christ.”
Let’s unwrap a few of the gifts today.
I. The Gift of God’s Presence (
All that has come before is preparation, and now is the day the gift is unwrapped and we meet God. All of the wrapping
has come off-the prophecy of a coming forerunner in John, the dazzling annunciation from a heavenly being, Joseph the loving and faithful fiancé, the virgin birth all are just wrapping paper. The gift is inside-the gift is Jesus, God among us!
Jesus, the Gift, is God’s presence of grace. At the coming of Christ, grace became complete. “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (
Jesus, the Gift, is God’s presence of mercy. “Mercy may be defined as God’s compassion which moved Him to send a Savior for the lost world.”3
Jesus, the Gift, is God’s presence of love. This sacrificing love is an all-giving love that sent Christ to the cross for our sins.
When we unwrap the gift, we are enabled to live our lives for God (
What a wonderful gift! Is it any wonder that the apostle John closed the Book of Revelation and the New Testament with the benediction, “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” (
II. The Gift of Power (
The gift of power is given by God Himself. The power helps us to overcome our fears that plague us. Is it any wonder that Mary was afraid? Startled by an angel…told she was highly favored by God…given the news she was going to be pregnant without human male assistance…her child would be given King David’s throne…and that His kingdom would last forever…oh, yes, and that the child is God’s Son. But the important news is that God Himself is giving her the power to accomplish all of this and “Fear not” (KJV).
The gift of power is God. He has come to drive away humanity’s fears-our fears. Whatever is coming at you today may be hard, habitual, exasperating and overwhelming, but the good news is that through Christ we can defeat the fears and become victorious. It may not be easy, but God will give us the strength and the power.
The gift of power is that God brings others into our lives. Coming alongside Mary is the announcing angel, Elizabeth, Joseph and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit. God will send people into our lives as well. He will also throw us a lifeline through programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, friends and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit.
III. The Gift of Change (
Mary says that she would be His servant. It meant that big changes were about to happen, but she was ready for the changes. She would be humiliated, ostracized, condemned and gossiped about; but there would always be the child-the Son of God-at the core of her being.
We cannot force open the gift of change, it will come naturally. The truth is that the gift of God’s Son changes how we look at the world and the people in it. We are to be ready to give the gift to others. At the Last Supper Peter and Jesus have a conversation as to Peter’s readiness to go to prison and to death for Jesus. Just before his pronouncement of faithfulness, Jesus says to him, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” But it will fail, and Jesus continues, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (
Evelyn Underhill once wrote: “The saints do not stand aside, wrapped in delightful prayers and feeling pure and agreeable to God. They go right down into the mess; and there, right down in the mess, they are able to radiate God because they possess Him…”4
Are you ready for change? Are you ready to help others through their change? It is a gift, you know! Reach out and accept the gifts God has for you. Take God’s gift of Christ as your very own. Unwrap Him from the boxes of gifts this Christmas.
2. Author’s sermon files. Billy Strayhorn sermon “Unwrapping Christmas.”
3. Charles Swindoll, General Editor, The Theological Wordbook (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), p.147.
4. Strayhorn sermon