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Expected and unexpected gifts

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Theme: Expected and unexpected gifts

Let us pray.

Most holy, Lord God, we gather this night to celebrate the birth of your son: may the Prince of Peace be the best gift we can ever receive, through him who came to save the world, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

It was a cold December afternoon. Rain mixed with snow splashed against the windshield. Overhead dark clouds hovered seemingly just above the treetops. All day long two men, a pastor named Jerry and a layman named Jim, had been delivering Christmas boxes. Many of the families who would receive these boxes would get nothing else for Christmas that year. The pickup truck had been loaded when the two men started out on their journey but now, only one box remained. It was covered with an old piece of tarp to protect it against the rain.

The address on the card meant a drive of several miles beyond the city limit. “What do you think?” Jim asked. He was the driver and it was his truck. Pastor Jerry knew what Jim was thinking. Why drive way out in the country when they could give this last box to someone close by and be home in thirty minutes? It was a tempting thought. Pastor Jerry had a Christmas Eve Communion Service scheduled for 8 p.m. and he could use the time to prepare.

Jim, however, answered his own question, “Well, let’s give it a try. If we can’t find the place, we can always come back and give the box to someone else.”

The rain was pouring down by the time they reached the address on the card. The old white framed house stood on a hillside overlooking the valley. It had once been an elegant place, the centerpiece of a large farm. Now, the farm was gone and the house had deteriorated over the years.

The two men slipped and slid, huffed and puffed as they carried the box up the hill. The red clay offered no foothold and the box, wet from the rain, was beginning to come apart. They climbed the high steps to the porch, set the box down and slid it across the floor. They straightened up just in time to glimpse the face of a small boy at the window. He had been watching them coming up the hill. Now, he announced their arrival with shouts of excitement, “They’re here, Grandma, they’re here!”

The door opened and an older woman greeted them. Her gray hair was pulled back in a bun at the back of her neck. She had on a dark, plain dress with a white apron. She was drying her hands with a dishtowel and explained to them that she had been doing the supper dishes. “I told you, they would come,” a child’s voice said from behind her. A little boy with black hair and bright dark eyes rushed to the box and began pulling at the goodies inside.

The woman told them that she and her grandson were all that was left of her family. The father and mother had divorced and gone their separate ways. The little boy had been left behind for Grandma to raise. She said, “Oh, I am so glad you are here. He was up early this morning looking for you. He sat by that window all day. I wasn’t sure you would come and I tried to prepare him in case of a disappointment. But he just said, ‘Don’t worry, Grandma, I know they will come.’”

That young boy didn’t know it, but, in a sense, he was speaking for all Christianity. A thankful people, more than one billion of us around the world pause for a few moments this night and pray, “We knew he would come.”

The prophet Isaiah, speaking on behalf of God, had promised it hundreds of years before, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And he has come, just as promised.

In ancient times, royal births are announced as “good news”. “Good news” is translated as gospel. This good news, this royal birth, is not announced to the world leaders. It is announced to shepherds, on the margins of society.

Luke gives us a stark contrast that requires us to look carefully, due to our cultural and time distance from this story. It is a contrast of incredible richness and power centered in the emperor and imperial Rome to a defenseless baby born to Jewish peasants.

In this season of gift giving, Jesus comes to us as a gift – both expected and unexpected. Expected, because we may plan for this time for months. Unexpected, because what Jesus’ birth means is to turn our world upside down. And God’s power comes to us in weakness.

The angels break into a world of fear, of oppression. Yet, they proclaim a new day, this day. We are to “fear not.” The political powers in those days and in our days play on fear to get their way. But God’s way is one not of fear, but of hope, not of turmoil, but of peace. This is good news for all people.

Jesus requires us to change as we slowly move by creating the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus is the most wonderful gift we receive, the one we don’t expect. We have the gift of the saviour, the messiah, the Lord. The announcement that was first proclaimed to shepherds is an announcement for us all.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the age-old story of a babe born in Bethlehem. To them a little child will always mean hope and promise to a troubled world.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the Christmas star. Their lives may ever reflect its beauty and light.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the joy of giving lovingly to others. They shall share the gladness and joy of the shepherds and wise men of old.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the fragrant greens, the cheerful holly and soft flicker of candles. To them shall come bright memories of love and happiness.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the happy music of Christmas time. They shall have a song of joy ever singing in their hearts.

Blessed are they who find Christmas in the message of the Prince of Peace. They will ever strive to help him bring peace on earth, goodwill to all.

We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, we give you thanks for the gift of your son, who is our best gift, a gift that changed the world and continues to change the world through us, may we ever honor our most wonderful counselor, Jesus Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.

Text: Luke 2:1–20 (NRSV)

2 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,a the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,b praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”c

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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