In 1983 we moved to south Florida from the northern cold country and we never looked back. Oh, we moved back north for awhile, but our Minnesota hearts thawed out and we belonged to Florida. I like to say that we grew up in, and left a state where it is extremely cold and moved to a state where it is extremely hot. From one extreme to the other. Some of you have experienced such extreme moves in coming here and you know that it brings lifestyle changes.
One of the first things we did in 1983 was to start planting all kinds of flowers and shrubs in our yard to beautify it. We knew exactly what to buy and plant, although some of them were hard to find in south Florida. What we did was plant all of our favorite things that blossomed so well up north and, as we quickly discovered, died of the heat and sandy soil here. It was a disaster. We had to learn gardening all over again. Even regular grass doesn't last long in Florida. It grows in the winter and then dies in the summer heat.
One of the first things we did for Christmas 14 years ago was go out and buy a beautiful large real Christmas tree. It was gorgeous and just like the one we used to have up north. There were two problems, however. It cost me three times as much as the one up north and after a week it had lost almost all of its needles. I'll never forget the day we took it down and carried it outside to be picked up by the garbage men, needles were piled high everywhere. We were fortunate it didn't catch fire and burn down the house.
Christmas 1984 brought on a bigger crisis. Should we have a real Christmas tree again or a fake Christmas tree? It seems that we were teetering on the edge of a earth shaking decision that would determine whether we had a merry Christmas or an unmerry Christmas. It was such a significant decision in our home, after we decided to buy a fake tree, we didn't tell the children, who would all be visiting us over the holy days. We decided that we would see if they could tell the difference. Actually, we cheated, only a little. We went and bought a few boughs of real aromatic greenery and placed them under the tree so it would smell like a real tree. That was not too successful so we bought a spray can and just before the children entered the house we sprayed the area so the whole house smelled like pine perfume. We didn't fool anybody. I would guess many of you have struggled with this monumental issue yourselves. In Bud Blake's Tiger comic strip, even he wrestled with this issue. Two young boys were talking about Christmas. One said, "My folks got us an artificial tree this year." The other little fellow asked, "Doesn't that bother you?" The first boy said, "Not as long as the gifts are real!" Actually that's the only Christmas issue that matters for everything else can be fake but if the Christmas gift is real then Christmas is real. In our two texts Paul comments on the real Christmas gift by saying "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal "life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23
). Then after writing to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9:15
) about their generosity in response to God's generosity to them in Christ he simply concludes with, "Thanks be to God his indescribable gift!" The art of gift giving and gift receiving is an important theological issue in the Bible and in real life.