STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH DECEMBER 22, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram Advent 4
SOCKS AND UNDERWEAR: THE GREATEST GIFT
Isaiah 9: 6 & 7; Luke 2: 1 – 20
So, Christmas is almost here. Many of us have finished our Christmas shopping and some of you are men. So, if you’re wondering what to buy your beloved, I can’t help you, but I will tell you some gifts to avoid. First of all is a fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep passing it around. Next is a lottery ticket; that’s like saying “Merry Christmas. Here you go, I got you nothing!” If you’re considering something your wife or girlfriend (pick one, you can’t have both) can use in the bath, whatever you do, don’t get her a toaster. If your wife has asked for diamonds, do not buy her a deck of cards. If she asks you for something that goes from 0 to 200 in under six seconds, she isn’t hoping for a scale. A gift that will last the entire year is something like a gift certificate for a spa, it is not a wall calendar. And if you hope to find a gift that will leave her speechless, do not buy Gorilla glue. I think if you keep this advice in mind, you’ll be okay, however, if she hates your gift, don’t despair; just remember that today’s Christmas gifts are tomorrow’s garage sale items.
We’ve talked a lot throughout advent About what makes for a bad gift. Today I want to look at the qualities of a good gift. It’s interesting how some items become the “it” gift, the “must have” gift of the year. Perhaps you had one of these or maybe bought them for your child: in 1952, Mr. Potato Head; 63 the Easy Bake Oven; 65 Roc-em Soc-em Robot; 70 the Nerf ball; 75 the Pet Rock; 82 Rubik’s Cube; 84 Cabbage Patch Dolls; 86 Pictionary; 95 Play Station and Beanie Babies; 96 Tickle me Elmo; 98 Furby; 2003 Cranium; 2007 Guitar Hero; 2014 anything Frozen; 2017 Fidget Spinner. Most of those items were strongly advertized but what makes a gift truly special? Think about the best gift you ever received. Let’s see if your qualities match my list.
For a gift to be memorable, it needs to have been chosen thoughtfully and that takes time. We tend to buy thoughtful gifts for those we love and care about. It takes time to explore and discover that perfect gift and it my take time to save up for it. When I was fourteen, I had my first real job, making .95 cents an hour. I decided to buy my mother a family birthstone ring worth $65. I had to save. It took time and discipline. I ordered the ring from the Eaton’s catalogue, so I had to figure out how to do that. I had it delivered to a warehouse store a couple miles from home, so I had to walk there and back in December weather. I paid for it, took it home, hid it and wrapped it. I was more excited to give it than I was to open my own presents. This year I found a snow globe, with a stag standing in it. I knew I had to get it for my son and when I picked it off the shelf, I got all teary thinking after 30 years, I’ve finally gotten you a big Bambi.
A great gift is personal. In order for it to be personal, you need to know the person well – their likes and dislikes, their wants and needs (neck massager). To know someone, we need to listen to them, watch them and do things with them. It also means you have shared experiences. When my kids were younger, every year I’d buy them a tree ornament that symbolized either a place we’d gone together or a highlight of their year. Our tree became a tree of memories and stories which we’d revisit every year as we decorated. Over the last few years, Terry has mentioned that he’d like to learn to play the guitar and take up photography. I waited, knowing one day he’d retire for real and he’d need new hobbies. This year I got him a guitar for his birthday and a camera as a retirement gift. It’s touching to see a grown man cry.
A special gift enhances the relationship. It is the gift of time. It indicates that you want to share experiences and build memories with the person. Tickets to a play. Equipment to ski together. A board game. A quiet meal or a walk in the snow. Even a favorite book you want to share and discuss. I was talking to someone recently who said she’s decided that since no one can ever recall what they got for Christmas a year later, this year she was giving her family an experience – from the oldest to the youngest, they’re all going bowling.
A great gift can be homemade. As a kid, my Aunt Hilda would knit me a hat and mittens every year. While my mother looked down on that, I loved those h & m and looked forward to getting them. And I loved that she made them because it made me feel special. I also liked when my kids would give me a box with papers on it and each paper was a voucher and a promise – I’ll clean my room; I’ll rub your neck; I’ll bring you tea; I’ll put out the garbage. Some of my favorite gifts are hand-crafted items – cookies, a wooden bowl, a reindeer or a wreath that people were kind enough and talented enough to make.
A great gift is one for which the giver has had to sacrifice in order to give. It is born of a labour of love. It takes effort; it may demand time, money, or some unpleasant task. Men who will work extra shifts to buy an engagement ring. A family member who donates a kidney. A mother who gets up early to make a costume for a school play. A woman tells the story of being in the check out line only to discover her groceries were $12 over what she had on her. A man offered her a twenty and when she began to refuse his kindness he said, “My mother is in the hospital with cancer. Every day I bring her flowers. She got mad at me for spending money on flowers and said I should do something else with that money. So, please accept this. It is my mother’s flowers.” I remember when my Dad was ill, he got a flat tire, which he couldn’t change. Before he could call CAA, a young man stopped and got down in the snow to change his tire. Great gifts are sacrificial
And it’s a fact of life that a great gift has a great name. Have you ever heard of GI Phillipe? Bob’s Cube? M-box? Ken and Bertha?
Finally, the best gifts last. They’re quality items that don’t wear out. They don’t get outdated. They don’t become irrelevant. You can have them a lifetime and pass them on to your heirs.
God has given us a gift at Christmas. Does God’s gift have any of the qualities we’ve said define a great gift?
Well, God’s gift was being thought of before God spoke at creation. From the moment of humanity’s fall, God was putting his plan of salvation into action. The prophets gave us the heads up about the coming Saviour. And when the right time, the critical time arrived, “God sent his son, born of a woman…to redeem [humanity]” (Galatians 4: 4).
God’s gift strikes a personal chord. God loves us and knows everything about us, even our deepest need. The need for salvation.
Jesus’ coming enhances our relationship with God. Jesus came so we could have an intimate relationship with God. God left heaven to share our human life. Jesus is ‘God with us’. Jesus left us with his own Spirit to live within us. It doesn’t get more personal than that.
God’s gift was nothing but sacrifice. Jesus left the glory of heaven, to take on our human state and live amongst a sinful humanity in a bleak, shadowed world. The omnipotent became weak; the eternal became limited; the privileged became poor. And then, Jesus laid down his life, in order that we might live abundantly and share his glory.
Jesus’ name is powerful. As in many cultures, the name of Jesus is symbolic of his character. Jesus means “he saves”; Emmanuel means “God with us”. We’re told his name is “Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness”. It is no wonder that “At the name of Jesus, all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father (Philippians 2: 10 & 11)
And there is nothing more enduring than that baby in a manger. Jesus is “the first and the last”. He will never be obsolete. He came as a baby, grew up, died and rose from death to eternal life. He was with us, is with us and will come again for us.
We all know that the greatest gift isn’t anything if we don’t accept it and receive it into our hearts and into our lives. Phillip Brooks graduated from Harvard at the age of 20 and took a job teaching. He was fired, and feeling his life was over and he wasn’t going to amount to anything, he studied for the ministry and received a doctorate degree. He was a writer; an abolitionist; a supporter of Lincoln and a popular evangelist throughout the American Civil War. He was made a Bishop. He loved children and although he was 6’8”, he’d often be found sitting on the floor reading Bible stories to them. In 1865, he travelled to Israel and spent Christmas in the town of Bethlehem. Before worship he went up to the hill where it’s believed the shepherds saw the angel choir. He attended worship at the Church of the Nativity. To enter into the traditional spot of Jesus’ birth, there’s a low door which one must bow down to pass through. At his height this was act of worship was very deliberate for Brooks. He stood on the spot of Jesus birth as the pilgrims crowded in the nave sang Christmas Carols to the Christ child’s glory. He was very moved by the experience which stayed with him. A few years later he wrote, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. That hymn ends, “O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born to us today”.
In that holy Child of Bethlehem, God offers us he greatest gift ever. The greatest gift possible. Through the birth of Jesus, God offers us the gift of re-birth. Through Immanuel, God with us , we are offered the enduring presence of God himself. Through Jesus we are saved. May the holy Child of Bethlehem, be received and born in each of us and all of us, this Christmas.