Scripture Isaiah 9:6-7
For a child has been born—for us!
the gift of a son—for us!
He’ll take over
the running of the world.
His names will be: Amazing Counselor,
Prince of Wholeness.
His ruling authority will grow,
and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings. (The Message)
Note: The table in front of the sanctuary is covered with wrapped gifts of different sizes and colors, surrounding the Advent wreath.
You will have noticed by now that we have a lot of gifts on the table up here today.
How many of you like receiving gifts?
How many of you like giving gifts?
How many of you just don’t like gifts either way?
Gifts are such a big part of Christmas that they sometimes cause us a lot of worry and anxiety or too much debt. Or we can become very selfish – thinking about what we want and ignoring other people. Neither extreme is healthy.
Gifts are a very good thing. As I said earlier, I don’t like to think about Christmas gifts until December. I feel like stores are trying to tempt me with shiny, sparkly things; trying to make me think that I am a good person if I think ahead and buy something at their store. I don’t like that feeling. So sometimes I resist buying gifts, and put off what could be a joy until the last minute and get all worried and anxious. I must confess that I have not yet developed a good balance between loving to give good gifts and worrying about giving good gifts!
So let’s talk about gifts. The Bible verse I read, says that Jesus is a gift for us from God. Actually, Christmas is all about God giving us the gift of Jesus.
So what does it mean to get Jesus as a gift? Is Jesus like a doll or action figure we can play with or show off to our friends? Is Jesus a gift we can claim as our own? “Mine!,” and grab him away from someone else? Is Jesus a gift that gets lost in the bottom drawer, which we bring out whenever someone asks about him, or just for church on Sunday? Is Jesus a decoration for our house, or our church?
In this verse in the Bible it says that Jesus is a gift because of the way he will lead us and teach us. He will be best friend – That is what I think “Amazing Counselor” means. What does a best friend do? Do you ever think of Jesus as a best friend? Do you ever think of your best friend as a gift to you?
Jesus will be like a loving Father, or Mother. As children, do we think of our parents as a gift to us? That is the kind of gift Jesus is for us – just like a Father or Mother – always there for us. That is what it means when the Bible calls him “Eternal Father.” A parent loves us whether they like us at the moment or not.
Jesus is the Prince of Wholeness. Jesus is such a good gift, that he will make things work together for good. When things work together for good, people get along, we don’t fight each other, there is peace. What a good gift Jesus is for us!
Here are some gifts. I imagine that you already noticed them. Since it is too early for Santa, these must have come from God, just like Jesus did. Let’s see what’s in them.
Acted Sermon: Open a box. Read the name. Note: the name does not indicate who receives the gift, but who IS the gift. We thank each person who gets a gift for who they are, a gift to us! All the children are named as gifts, then parents, guests, those who can’t be with us…. In each box is a felt heart tree ornament for the person to hang on their tree as a reminder of the gift of God’s love.
Parents sometimes think about their children as gifts to them. And they are. Most parents I know would agree that our children come to us complete with personality, spirit, soul. They come to us whole. Mysteriously, they are not of our making! Children are a gift to our congregation and community.
Some days it is easier for grandparents to see the child as a gift. That’s why we need grandparents in our church. And God has given us grandparents, too. (Name some grandparents among us.) It is easier to think of babies as gifts, but it is grandparents, too. Sisters, brothers. Even people who aren’t related to us at all!
And Grandparents know that parents are a gift to us! They get to send the grandchildren home to the parents and get a little rest. What a gift! (Name some parents among us.)
We are gifts to each other!
I sometimes wonder if we know enough about each other to know what gifts each person brings. I see this as the challenge of the Family Service. Of course, it is wonderful to sit together and hear stories, laugh at skits, and use our talents with each other. And, I hope that in these family services, we will have the opportunity to get to know each other – by name. Not just know names, but know the things that the other person loves, learn to love it too. This adventure into a family service leaves us with the challenge of becoming a family, who knows and loves each other, with all our quirks and foibles. Old or young or in-between. Able-bodied, or not so much. We do this by telling and listening to our stories. I hope you get some practice telling stories around your tables and gathering rooms this Christmas.
There are a few more gifts we haven’t opened. (Lift the large gift boxes which are covering the Communion elements.) These, too, are gifts from God, like all the others on the table. These year-around gifts represent the gift of Jesus from God to us. Jesus is God’s gift to us all the time. When we eat a little bit of Bread, which Jesus said was his body, we receive Jesus as a gift to us. When we take a taste of juice, we receive Jesus as a gift to us from God. And as Jesus becomes part of us, we are the gift of Jesus to the world.
May it be so! Amen!
*artwork by Anna Neidhart