Christmas Is for Giving
Perhaps you’ve seen some of the ads for high-end Christmas gifts this year and shook your head in disbelief—the custom made guitar for $12,000, his and hers sport aircrafts for $250,000, the special edition Jaguar XJL for $105,000, or the handbag with matching boots for just under $3,900 (Neiman Marcus 2009 Christmas Book).
And you have certainly heard the reports of our troubled economy: unemployment rate of 9.4%, mortgage foreclosures rose by 23% over the 2008 rate, homelessness and use of food pantries has nearly doubled in some areas.
It may have occurred to you that we live in a world that has gone completely mad in its values; that in over 2,000 Christmases we still have not caught on that name of the game of life, as God wants it lived, is self-giving in love.
So we have come here to this quiet church this cold and rainy evening to sing and say and hear and do all those things, that especially on this Holy Eve, bring us as close to the mind and heart of God as we can hope to get on this side of heaven; and try to see clearly just what God, our Father, wants us, His children in Christ, to know and do.
As is often the case with the Scripture readings for the great feasts of the Church Year, the Gospel for Christmas tells the story, the narrative of the event, and the Epistle concerns itself more with the meaning, the significance, of the Christ event. The traditional Epistle for the late service of Christmas Eve is Titus 2:11-14. In his letter to young pastor Titus, the Apostle Paul sets down in one sentence the central meaning of the Holy Nativity that we celebrate this evening—the truth that Christmas is for giving. St. Paul writes:
11For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
Yes, Christmas Is for Giving
Whether you make one word or two out of the end of that short sentence, it is true. Christmas is forgiving: Christmas is God forgiving man the mountain of his sins and declaring us sinless because of the sinless God-man Jesus Christ. And Christmas is to be us forgiving our fellowman as we has been forgiven. And Christmas is for giving: God giving His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life. Christmas is Christ giving Himself into both life and death so that lost sinners might have victory in both life and death. And Christmas is man giving himself in eager devotion to God who has revealed Himself in Christ as gracious and loving. And Christmas is Christians giving themselves in loving concern for all those whom God has loved, whoever and wherever they may be.
Christmas is Forgiving
St. Paul wrote Titus of the grace of God that had appeared in Christ for the salvation of all men. It is a blessed Christmas truth that in the Babe of Bethlehem the grace of God became embodied. God’s love became localized in time and space, manifest, evident, visible. What had always been the attitude, the disposition of God toward men, now became personified in the swaddled shape and form of a newborn child. Who could then, and in the 33 years that followed, fail to get the message—that God loves the world and has put Himself into Christ to reconcile the world to Himself? This is truly the unspeakable love, the indescribable Gift. The robbed One makes restitution. The offended One seeks out the offenders. The hurt One initiates healing. Christmas is the Feast of the Divine Gift Exchange. We are to see and know the grace of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for our sake He became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich forever.
God gave His great forgiving Gift for a purpose—to bring salvation, redemption, and restoration. Jesus came to earth not on a sight-seeing tour of creation, not for a causal visit, not as a curious tourist, not on a pleasure trip, but on a grim, serious, costly mission—nothing less than the deliverance of the whole human race, every man, woman, and child, our deliverance from everlasting damnation.
God’s Christmas gift to the world was not a cheap, mass produced item to be found in every superstore and mega mart, but a singular one-of-a-kind, lovingly crafted gift stamped with the Maker’s mark. It is not a family gift for an intimate circle, or a company’s gift for a favored few; it is a universal Gift for “all people,” says St. Paul. Yes, thank God that Christmas is forgiving—God forgiving a world of sinners through a child in a manger destined to be one day the Man on the cross declaring God’s forgiving mission finished, completed.
Christmas Is for Giving
But the Christmas Eve Epistle speaks not only of forgiving but of giving—of giving up, renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, and of giving oneself to self-controlled, upright, and godly living. St. Paul spoke of those who have really gotten the Christ message as people who have been cleansed, purified, and freed to give eagerly of themselves in good works.
Christmas is to mark not only a birth but a rebirth, a regeneration of faith and love. There is to be fresh renunciation of all that might rob us of the inheritance reserved for us when our Savior will appear again in glory, and there is to be renewed attention to all the concerns for which Christ gave Himself while on His earthly mission, a mission He has entrusted to you and to me and to all who call Him Lord.
God’s creative power in Christ was intended to bring into being a unique people with a passion for doing God’s will—not exquisite fragile works of art to sit on exhibit, or beautiful piece of architecture to be admired from afar, and certainly not curious museum pieces from antiquity with not relevance whatever to the present age, but rugged tools, human instruments aching to be used, even to the breaking point, by the One whose body was broken to make all people one with Himself. Yes, Christmas is for giving: giving of oneself, first in devotion and gratitude and praise to a gracious, forgiving, giving God, and then for self-giving in love to met all the needs of people in desperate need above all else of the knowledge of God’s love in Christ.
So the first Christmas is gone forever. Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the inn guests, the town that was that night, the stable, the shepherds—all as they were know on earth are gone forever. But the heart of Christmas, Christ Himself, is still with us. Tonight, as we gather to hear His Word and tomorrow as we again gather to receive His Holy Supper, Christ comes to us and gives Himself, to you and me, and to all who receive Him in repentance and faith. And He is eager to give new love and strength that will empower us to forgive one another in love and to give ourselves in greater devotion to His cause.
It is probably impossible for any of us to come to a Christmas Eve service without recalling Christmases past—family who have celebrated with us, other congregations where we might have attended or belonged, family and friends who are now absent from among us—all these things and maybe even more crowd our memories tonight. The Christmas Eve Epistle reminds us that we should make the most of Christmas-present in forgiving and self-giving, looking ahead to the final Christmas when our Lord will appear again to fulfill all our Christmas hopes and dreams forever.
First preached at Emmaus, St. Louis, MO
December 24, 2009
Lightly adapted from a sermon by Norman D. Kretzmann