When I say Christmas, what do you think? The birth of Christ, Joy to the world, peace on earth and good will to men? Poppycock, when I say Christmas you think: presents, gifts, goodies. For all of the noble and pure motives that we claim we’d be awful disappointed if there wasn’t anything under the tree on Christmas morning. And hopefully you had a gift or two under the tree yesterday.
Gift giving has been a part of Christmas for as long as we’ve had Christmas. Now we all know that it has gotten a little out of hand, gone are the days when a child would be happy with a hand carved toy and a big orange. Although if the truth was known that type of Christmas was well before my time and perhaps well beyond your time as well.
I kind of agree with Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “People say that Christmas is too commercialized. But I have never found it that way. If you spend money to give people joy, you are not being commercial. It is only when you feel obliged to do something about Christmas that the spirit is ruined.”
We started this series the first of December with the gang from the Big Bang Theory when Sheldon explains to Penny that the Foundation of gift giving is reciprocity. And whether we want to admit it or not that is true in most of our lives. We give gifts to people whom we receive gifts from. Or as a thank you for some service they have performed for us.
And while we have talked about the gift that was given that first Christmas from God it wasn’t the only gift given.
Mary: We all know the story of Mary. Here is a teen girl engaged to be married and into her tidy little life arrives a heavenly messenger with the news that she has been chosen to carry the Messiah, she will be the mother of the Christ. Now I don’t know about you but I’m sure that I would have been a little sceptical. And I don’t think Mary was any different, as a matter of fact when the angel first appeared I love how Mary’s response is described, Luke 1:29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.
After all when someone arrives unexpectedly and starts off the conversation with the words Luke 1:28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”
You have to figure that they want something. And she was right, the angel wanted her life. What the angel suggested would change the way that Mary would be seen by her parents, her friends and her fiancé. And even when they accepted that just maybe she was telling the truth they would always look at here wondering: why her?
She would spend the rest of her life thinking about her response on that night. For the next thirty three years whenever she looked at her son she would remember the conversation that she had with the Angel Gabriel.
The angel, laid out the entire proposition to Mary and her response is found in Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her. The first gift that was given on that first Christmas morning was actually given nine months before and it was the Mary’s Gift of Obedience.
Now understand that this was not blind unquestioning obedience. The angel said that Mary would become a mother, Mary wanted to know how. I really don’t think that God expects us to check our brains at the door when we become believers, after all if he hadn’t of wanted us to use our brains he wouldn’t have given us brains to use. Which would explain some of us.
However, here’s where the rubber meets the road, sometimes even after we’ve asked the question we might not have all the answers and yet we still have to be ready to obey. Listen to the conversation Luke 1:34-35 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.
And here’s the clincher the angel finishes by stating in Luke 1:37 which by the way is one of my favorite verses in the Bible Luke 1:37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
I think that if Mary had of said, “I don’t think so.” That would have been the end of the story, I don’t think that she would not have been forced into doing it. That’s not the way God operates.
Can you offer Christ the gift of obedience this Christmas? What is it that God is asking you to do? Maybe it doesn’t make sense, at least any more sense than a teenage virgin being the mother of the Son of God. What is he asking us as a church to do as we move into 2011, maybe it isn’t all laid out for us but are we willing to say Luke 1:38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.
Why don’t you covenant to make that your prayer this Christmas?
Mary could conceive that child alone with just the help of the Holy Spirit but in that culture she couldn’t raise Jesus without a father, the stigma that he would have carried with him would have been almost insurmountable. Christmas needed a Mary but it also needed a Joseph. Now I personally think that Joseph gets forgotten in all the excitement around Christmas. I have a lot of respect for Joseph, you see Mary had something that Joseph didn’t have. They both had visits from angels, but Mary knew without a doubt that she was a virgin. I don’t know when people first figured out what it was they did that made babies but they knew 2000 years ago. When Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant he knew exactly how that was supposed to happen and he knew that he didn’t have a part in it.
The bible tells us that even though Joseph could have disgraced Mary publicly that he chose to just quietly break off the engagement. Listen to what the Bible tells us in Matthew 1:18-21 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly. As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Now listen to what happened in Matthew 1:24-25 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.
Now a little aside here, in our tradition we don’t believe that Mary remained a virgin forever. I believe that when the bible says that she remained a virgin until her son was born, that it means that after Christ was born that she didn’t remain a virgin and that she and Joseph interacted as husband and wife, how was that for a euphemism? And had more children.
And so the gift that Joseph gave that first Christmas was Joseph’s Gift of Faith. Even though the New Testament had yet to be written it would seem that Joseph had embraced the reality of Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
There was absolutely no way that Mary would be able to prove to Joseph’s satisfaction that the child she carried was the Holy Spirits. He had to believe, and he did that through faith, it was nothing he could touch see or hold. Faith will never ask less or more then that you believe. Can you believe God for the impossible, can you close your eyes and see things that have never been seen?
When we talk about eventually expanding at Cornerstone and a new worship centre out back that will seat 700 can you reach out in faith and touch it. Can you visualize lives being touched, eternities being impacted and people being changed? All through faith? Some of you can. In 2004 we celebrated Christmas eve at the Lion’s Den in Bedford and had 68 people there and the dream of something bigger, two nights ago on Christmas eve we had 635 people worship with us.
We are told that traditionally when a child was born in that time and place that the family would have musicians sent to the home to help the parents celebrate. But what happens when you are a poor family and are far away from home? You don’t really believe that God would allow His Son to be born without some form of acknowledgment do you?
And so we have a choir sent, one of the enduring symbols of Christmas are the Angels, they adorn the top of our trees, grace our Christmas cards and are front and centre in the children’s Christmas pageants. Now personally I think some people have taken the entire angel thing too far and we have seen an entire angel cult developed where people are literally worshipping angels. And if the angels were going to speak today they would say Stop it! Angels are angels, they are not divine they are created beings and they were created to serve God, they are his messengers.
And so on this particular occasion we see angels appearing in the sky surrounding Bethlehem. Now I don’t know if they got overtime for working the Christmas weekend or not but we do know what happened. First One angel appears to the shepherds probably figured that one angel would be less scary then an gazillion angels. But he obviously didn’t play it right, listen to what happens, Luke 2:9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,
I can hear the angel now, “Darn, I always forget to turn off the radiance of the Lord, you might as well come on out guys I’ve already scared the poor shepherds half to death.” And then we read in Luke 2:13-14 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
And so the next gift given that day was The Angel’s Gift of Praise. Very simply according to Collins English Dictionary praise means to commend the worth of something. As a matter of fact the word praise comes from the Latin pretium which of course is also the root word for premium and it means worth. When you praise someone you are telling them how much they are worth to you, when you praise God you are telling how valuable he is to you. When we sing songs of praise we are exalting God and telling how much he means to us. When we verbalize and give God the glory we are praising him.
It was interesting who the angels sang for on that first Christmas night. Out of all the people who the Angels could have appeared to and told about the birth of Christ they chose shepherds watching their sheep in the field. They could have appeared to King Herod, or to the Roman Governor, they could have shown up and sang for the high priest of the temple or the religious leaders of the country. But no they show up to Shepherds, it’s almost like they got lost and arrived at the wrong address.
Couple of interesting things about the shepherds. Because of their job they weren’t able to keep all of the requirements of the law and so they were considered to be religiously inferior by the religious leaders. So that’s neat, they needed to hear the good news to discover that it wouldn’t be a matter of keeping the law anymore that the price would be paid for them.
The second interesting thing here is that tradition tells us that the sheep that were tended in the fields outside of Bethlehem were the lambs that were used in the temple sacrifice. And so to those who took care of the sacrificial lambs came the news of the one who would provide the ultimate sacrifice for each of us, the one who would be known as the Lamb of God.
And so what gift did the Shepherds bring? Listen to Luke 2:17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
The Shepherd’s Gift of Evangelism.
They didn’t take a course or hand out tracks instead they simple told people what had happened to them. You see evangelism simply means telling people about the gospel and gospel originally meant good news. So in its simplest sense evangelism means to tell people the good news. Have you ever made a discovery that you wanted to tell other’s about? Maybe a great new restaurant, or perhaps a super sale. I remember a few years ago I discovered a great Boxing Day sale where you could buy a computer for $300.00 I tracked a friend of mine down who was on vacation in NB because I knew they were looking for a computer too and I wanted to tell them the news.
The shepherds were so excited; they had seen the one who had come to save them from their sins. The had personally met the king of the universe and they wanted to tell everybody they met about it. How excited are we about meeting the king of the universe and having our sins forgiven? Excited enough to tell other people about it? Are we really convinced that people need Jesus?
What a great Christmas gift that would be to give this Christmas. It is a gift to Jesus when you tell someone about Him and then it’s a gift to that person when you tell them the good news. Two gifts for the price of one.
When we think of gifts on that first Christmas we invariably think of the Wise men: We call them the Three Kings, but we were never told they were kings or that there were three of them. In the original language they are referred to as Magi, and tradition tells us that they probably came from Persia. And in the scriptures we are told that they brought 3 gifts, which is probably why we always think there were three of them. You’ve probably all heard what would have happened if it had of been three wise women instead right,
Arrived on time
Helped deliver the baby
Cleaned the stable
Made a casserole
Brought practical gifts.
And we know what gifts the wise men brought right? Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. But those aren’t the gift I want to focus on this morning.
The account of their visit is given in Matthew 2:1-2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”
You see the wise men gave the most valuable gift of all they gave The Magi Gave the Gift of Time. In an era where travel was measured in months not moments these men were willing to give up their time and travel across the deserts of the Middle East in order to worship the Christ child.
Time is still one of the most expensive things we can give to Christ and most of us would rather give our money than our time, after all we can always make more money but when time is gone it’s gone forever. I’ve harped on this before right, you want to show me where your commitments are then show me your cheque book and more importantly show me you calendar, where you spend your time.
We talk about tithing our money but what if we talked about giving God a tenth of our time, that would mean that each day we would need to give him 2.4 hours. That really isn’t fair is it? After all 8 of our 24 hours is spent sleeping, so perhaps he only wants 1.6 hours of our day, you know just to spend with Him in prayer and bible study. That’s still a bit much isn’t it? After all our employer gets 8 hours as well and so we shouldn’t have to tithe that time. That means that our tenth is .8 of an hour or 48 minutes a day to spend with the one who gave up so much for us.
But really most Christians are willing to give God one hour a week and then only if it doesn’t conflict with the kids sports or a trip to the beach or sleeping in or taking a trip. And I know it’s tough to make the time for God, but the reality is you can’t make time, you can only find time.
Isn’t that the truth, we find the time to do what we want to do.
So what gifts will you put under the tree for Jesus this year?