12/24/2016 Christmas Eve Sermon: “Opening the Gift”

This evening, you’ve heard the story of the birth of Jesus from the gospel of Luke. Then much of the New Testament and even the Old Testament teach us what it means that God sent a Messiah for us: that God sent Jesus to make our lives complete.  Our hope is in Jesus.  Paul writes to his friend Titus and says…

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

I was at Longenecker’s Hardware  (Manheim, PA)a few weeks ago and happened to be standing near some teenagers who had been looking around the store.  I heard one say, “You know what?  Over on that shelf, there are these cakes of soap with rope stuck in them. You can wear it around your neck.  Soap on a Rope!”  Then they cracked up.

And I remembered giving Soap on a Rope to my father when I was their age.  I’m sure he was very grateful.

When you think about it, gift-giving has really changed over the last few years. I think what happened is that we all have so much stuff, the people who want to sell us more stuff have had to adapt.  I don’t know exactly what to get you, but I know where you probably like to shop, so I’ll give you a gift card!  A gift basket is a nice option too.

In the movie “Christmas Vacation,” Clark Griswold is hoping for a huge bonus from his work.  On Christmas Eve, he’s holding an envelope that holds the gift he’s been waiting for, hoping for.  The bonus that’s in this envelope is exactly what they need.  With his family gathered around, he opens the envelope and finds…  a membership in the Jelly-of-the-month Club.  Clark was hoping for something more.

When our kids are old enough to know what’s going on, when they remember what happens at Christmas, they begin to hope.  Maybe there’s a gift that they’ve been wanting “forever.”  And we parents do the best we can to give them gifts.  But what do you expect your kids to give to you?  Parents, what do you hope for?  I think most of us are just happy to be able to give to them.  And especially at Christmas, we’re happy just to be with them.  Not all parents do this well, and maybe you need to come to a place where you can forgive your parents, but that idea should give us just a little glimpse of how the Lord is with us.  We have hopes, there are things we want.  God is giving the gift we need, and God’s deepest desire is to simply be with us.

God has a huge gift for people who are hoping, people who are longing for something more.  In Jesus, God gives God.  In order to make the most out of this gift, it has to put to use.

When a gift was given in the Roman world, in the time of Jesus, there was always an expectation of a return gift.  A thank-you note was not enough. You needed to respond with a gift of your own. And what do you give to the God who owns everything?  You give yourself, but giving yourself means a bit more than just saying “Lord, I’m yours.”

Christ living inside you brings the kind of hope you’ve been hoping for. Then we need to live out the gift.  We don’t keep it for ourselves; this gift gets re-gifted by the way we live!  This is how we keep the hope alive.  Our world needs hope, don’t you agree?

As Paul says to Titus, the gift of Christ prepares us for the work of being “a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (v. 14). In other words, this gift of grace not only makes us cleaner than any “Soap-on-a-Rope” ever could; it also fires us up (the root Greek word for “zealous” is “zestos” – meaning heat) and sends us out to make a difference in our world, beginning with our own families, who need forgiveness, tolerance, encouragement, healing, and support.  In Jesus, God is with us to make that happen.  Joy to the….. World!

Do you need hope?  Let God give you God.  At Christmas, God gives hopeless people hope.  Trust that God will be faithful to give you the gift you need.

Prayer

O God, we see the decorations and we hear the sounds of Christmas; we sing your songs, and they describe such awesome feelings.  We sing about being “…joyful and triumphant…” and we want to be joyful – and triumphant.  We sing about preparing him room – and that’s what we do now.  We put our busyness and distractions aside – ourselves aside – so that Jesus can be our Lord.

O God, help us take these words and feelings and make them more than clichés.  Help us not to trivialize the fact that in Jesus, you became a child, Lord; you gave yourself to us.  You gave us hope.  Now we give ourselves to you, deepen our faith in Christ, and help us show our love for you by the way we live with our families and our neighbors, and with the world you have created.  Our hope is in you.