Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas 2017 - the Christmas gift

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

And so we have arrived at another Christmas morning! No doubt many of the children here were up early, exited to see what Santa had to bring them … and I hope all were good through the year and received a nice present or two … and not lumps of coal as a reward for bad behaviour … and no doubt later many here, having consumed a delicious Christmas feast will sit around a nice fire, with a hot cup of tea in their hand, or maybe even something stronger and exchange gifts with their families …

And a child pointed out something interesting to me the other day about gift giving. People don't really expect children to give gifts in return at Christmas. Oh, they might give a few small presents to immediate family … a little something for mum and dad, and their brothers and sisters … but if an auntie drops by with a bale of pressies for all the family, mom and dad will surely have something nice ready to give her, but auntie won't really expect the childer to have something for her. All grown ups really expect in return for the large selection box full of tasty treats or the new game to load into the x-box or whatever it is that they have brought is seeing the excitement on the faces as they tear open the wrapping paper, the smiles and the happy voices as what is within is revealed, and the enjoyment as the present is taken out and eaten, played with, or perhaps even put on.

Oh, and of course, a big thank you. The saying thank you for what has been received, the heart-felt expression of gratitude is very important. There's nothing quite like seeing a happy face looking up at you saying 'thank you – oh, thank you' and knowing that they really mean it to warm your heart and make you feel that the trouble you took was not only worth it, but as nothing in the face of the joy that present has brought.

But why do we give gifts at Christmas? It is something I have often wondered about. There are various theories. One of the most popular is that the idea for doing so comes from Scripture, from the account St Matthew gives us of an event that took place not long after the birth of our Lord. In his gospel, the evangelist tells us of the wise men who came from the East, believing that a new King has been born to the Jews, a great king who will rule over all the earth in fulfilment of ancient prophecies that were widely known through all of the Ancient World, a prophecy they believed had finally come true because they had seen his star in the East, and they wanted to be the first to pay him homage.
They went first to Jerusalem, to the court of King Herod – for where else would one expect to find the new born king of the Jews to be except in the palace of the king? 

But as we all know he wasn't there. In fact their visit and the reason for it troubled the people of Jerusalem greatly – and no one more than the wicked king Herod who thought this new king might be a threat to his own power. But the chief priests and the scribes told these wise men that the expected king, whom the Jews referred to as the Messiah or the Christ, because he was the anointed one of God, was to be born in Bethlehem.

And so they went to Bethlehem. And the star they had seen in the East went before them and guided them to the place. And, as I said before, it was some little time after the Birth of our Lord, for the Holy Family were no longer in the stable where he had been born, but they were now in a house. And the wise men went into this house the star rested over and the paid homage to the Christ-child, the one they knew to be the new born king.

And, as we know, they did more than worship him. They gave him gifts – gifts worthy of a king: gold, frankincense, and myrrh, because gold, of course has always been highly prized in all times and in all places and aromatic spices like frankincense and myrrh were probably worth more than their weight in gold in the Ancient World. And so the thinking goes that because the wise men gave gifts to the Christ-child that first Christmas, the custom arose of all Christians giving gifts to each other at this time … especially to children!

But, of course, it might be for another reason. For a far greater gift was given at that time that gold and precious spices; and that gift was not given to the Christ-child – that gift was the Christ-child and he was given to the whole world, a gift to all the people alive then and to all the people who would be born afterwards, generation after generation until the end of time itself – literally the gift that goes on giving! And this gift was a gift beyond all price – it was God himself entering into the world so that all men and women could be saved and have eternal life – a gift so precious that if it were lost all the world and all it contains would not be enough to compensate any man or woman for so great a loss.


It is a gift that God gives to us. And he asks nothing in return. Indeed, what gift could we give to the one who created the universe and all that is in it? No, like a loving Father he expects nothing in return for his gift; nothing but our excitement at receiving it, our happy voices raised in praise of so great a gift, our joyful faces looking up to him in heaven as we embrace the wonder that has been given to us. That and, of course, our thanks; the thanks that tells him that it was worth it to send his Son into world for us; a thanks we have gathered here today to give him; and a thanks that I pray all here will give him always. Amen.

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