It seems that the older I get the more rapidly the holidays arrive each year. Time seems to speed up. It’s not so for you younger folk as you’ve been counting down the days and hours—wondering if Christmas would ever get here. For some of you, this may the longest day of the year.
Of course, the excitement and anticipation have been building since Black Friday and Cyber Monday and those other innovative ways to get us to shop and buy and spend. We can easily go too far over-the-top with the number and expense of the presents under the tree. Consumerism is rampant and addictive. But that’s a sermon for another day. You will hear no bashing of gift-giving from this pulpit . . . because Christmas is all about gifts.
Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts in the 1890’s, Phillips Brooks, wrote the carol
O Little Town of Bethlehem. The third verse begins,
How silently, how silently, the wondrous giftis given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
In the Nativity story is the beautiful announcement of God’sgiftto us all. The Angel of the Lord to “the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night: ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’” Then the shepherds went into the town to visit the manger.
In the Gospel of Matthew is the story of the Wise Men, Magi, foreign and mysterious men who traveled from afar, bringing to the baby Jesus their three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
To my way of the thinking, the greatest gift that the visitors to the baby in Bethlehem—shepherds and Wise Men—their greatest gift to Jesus was the gift of themselves. They left their homes and flocks and fields to greet and honor the baby in the manger.
Some of my own children and all of my grandchildren live far away in Nevada and Switzerland. Every time they come here or we go visit them, we exchange gifts. But do you know what? I can barely remember those presents. But I can recall almost every precious moment we spend together, because the greatest gift we can offer to others is the gift of ourselves. The greatest gifts we ever receive are those of the company and love of others.
So what can we offer to Jesus? What does Jesus need?
Socks, a chocolate sampler, a plastic toy, a digital assistant? No, he needs us—ourselves, flesh and blood people. He invites us to give him our hearts and minds and strength in order to continue to serve him and take care of him. When he’s sick, hungry, cold—when he comes to us disguised as a bag lady or a homeless man—when he arrives on our doorstep as a complete stranger or as a dear friend—we can offer ourselves as God has offered himself.
There once was a little boy who woke up screaming from a nightmare. His mom came into his room to reassure him that everything was OK and that he could go back to sleep. She left the room only to return a while later to find her son still fearful and wide-awake. She sat on the edge of his bed to console him, saying that God would be with him, looking over him. The little boy replied, “I know that God’s here, Mama. But sometimes I need a skin-face, too.”
Jesus is God’s skin-face to the world, just as we are his skin-faces to one another.
My friend Fred Plummer recently wrote on his Christmas blog:
I particularly remember one Christmas evening when I was in my teens. My Granddad was across the table from me and was staring into my eyes, while smiling. I had a sense that he was looking past the teenage boy and seeing the heir to his story. It felt like he was seeing my soul or possibly seeing the infinite. I have never forgotten that moment or him.
Tomorrow will be Christmas again. Yes we will eat, drink, laugh and open a few more presents than I might have had when I was a child. I think that sometime tomorrow, or on a Christmas to come, I will have a grandchild who will smile and look me in the eyes and realize that she is the heir to my story. She will always remember that Christmas. She will have experienced the Infinite Mystery.
May the Infinite Mystery of God bless you this Holy night. May you receive the gift graciously and may you give it lavishly without restraint.