The Unwanted Gift
Text: Luke 2:1-7
Theme: what do we do with the peasant girl and her baby?
Image: unwanted gifts
Message: live humbly before your God
The Unwanted Gift
Intro: Unwanted Gifts
We have all had, at some point in our lives, been surprised by an unexpected gift which winds up on our door step, or in our lap. Perhaps a new boss is eager to have his staff like him and so he hands out rather expensive gifts. Perhaps a distant family member, who we can only barely recall, sends us a large package for Christmas. Perhaps someone with whom you have only be going with for a short time purchases something rather expensive. Perhaps we have had a neighbour walk over to our house and hand us a gift on our doorstep only making us realise that we had not thought of them.
As a child in grade school I remember a number of such incidents. One year I was head over heals for a little girl named Christy. I desperately wanted her to like me, but I was too scared to ever talk to her. I decided that the only way I could get her to notice me would be to give her something really nice for Christmas. I thought that if I could just show her how much I cared for her she would naturally fall into my arms in rapture. I went shopping that year and found a beautiful thin gold chain. This chain had a little pendant on it in the shape of a diamond. This pendant was filled with little crystals. It was a beautiful necklace, and so I bought it for her. I was still was to nervous to actually approach her, and so I placed the necklace in a box, penned a little note telling her how much I loved her, wrapped it in shiny paper, tied it up with a bow, and dropped it in her backpack after recess. Naturally, she felt that the gift was a bit too much, seeing as how I would not even talk to her, and so she dutifully sent the gift back to me, via one of her friends.
As suspicious adults we have the same kind of response to surprise gifts. We wonder what the person might be expecting from us. We find it hard to accept these unexpected gifts. We feel as though to do so would place us in the others debt. We feel as though the person might be expecting something in return. We feel as though we have to either return the gift, or give them something in return. We do not rest until we have cleared our conscience and no longer have to worry about what the other might expect from us, what kind of favour we would have to do. It seems that these unexpected gifts, are really unwanted gifts.
Dickens's Christmas Carol
Most of you will know the story of the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This old miser, Ebeneezer Scrooge, cannot see the point to Christmas. He spends so much time with his nose in his money that he cannot see the needs or concerns of others. He is a miserable old man, and it appears as though he likes it that way. Well, the night before Christmas, Scrooge is met by three unwanted guests. Three spirits come to see him and show him the error of his ways. The ghost of Christmas past shows him the love Scrooge used to experience during the holidays. The ghost of Christmas present shows him how rough the life of his employee Bob Cratchet and his family is. The ghost of Christmas future shows him how he will eventually end up, in a grave pilfered by robbers.
These visitors affect Scrooge so much that he repents of his ways and determines to live a new life, a life of love and generosity. He has learned what Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
This gift is unwanted by the people of the time
But, you know, the story which we read from the gospel of Luke, this story about a girl and her betrothed carpenter, is not a story about giving, but about receiving. Here we have God, in his magnificent love, handing out the best gift in the world.
It seems, however, as though this was an unwanted gift by most who were involved. Mary must have been a bit anxious about how people would react to the story that the Holy Spirit had conceived a child in her. “Yeah, right,” they would say, “is that what you call it. We know how babies are conceived, you must think we are crazy.” You can imagine how things would have gone for her in her home town. No one willing to talk to her anymore, no one willing to associate with her, no one willing to come over for coffee, no one willing to empathise with her pain and confusion. Even her betrothed husband would not believe her. He was going to divorce her, quietly, sure, but he was going to call the wedding off. He did not want this child that was not his. He did not want any part of a girl who thinks the world is so naïve they'll buy any old story. He did not want this child, he did not want this gift. What was he supposed to do with this peasant girl and her baby?
The other Jews at this time did not want this gift either. They claimed that were waiting for the messiah, but they were not waiting for this Messiah. They were waiting for a Rambo type figure, someone to charge in with all guns blazing, someone to destroy all those who oppose the Lord, who do not follow the rules of their religion, someone to judge all those who were doing wrong, and vindicate those who were doing right, someone to clear out the Roman rulers, someone to set up an earthly kingdom. What were they supposed to do with this peasant girl and her baby?
We can be pretty certain that Caesar Augustus did not want this gift, this baby, this King. Caesars were not that welcoming to those who claimed to be kings. Nor would the governor Quirinius be that excited about the prospect of resurrecting the royal line of David. These Roman rulers did not take threats to their control lightly. They were famous for crushing insurrection. They had a large and powerful army, designed to gain and keep control over other peoples. They had created a vast empire across the known world. They were part of something which had changed the face of the world. They were a part of the great 'Pax Romana'; the great Roman Peace. There was now relative freedom of movement. There were good roads, there was security, peace, tranquillity. They did not want another upstart in Judea leading a rebellion which they would have to crush. They had worked hard at achieving this dream, the dream of a just and fair society, a society which was peaceful and harmonious, a society which lived up to the greatness of the human race, a stable, humane society. This was the hope of the people of Roman times. They were placing their hope on the royal court at Rome, on the pomp and majesty of the Roman Empire. They were placing their hope on the vain expectations of the power of the political system. What were they to do with this peasant girl and her baby?
Do we want this gift?
Thinking about those Roman rulers makes me wonder, “Do we want this gift?” Do we want to accept something as extravagant as this baby in a manger. We do not want to put ourselves in debt to other humans, do we want to do it to God? Can we accept this gift of love? Our society seems to do the same thing the Romans were doing. We live in the vain expectations of the goodness of humanity and the advancement of a peaceful society. We place our trust in the Constitution, or the president, or congress, or our judicial system, or in the military, or in our money, stocks and investments. We have worked hard to achieve the American dream. If one only works hard anything is possible.
The new film staring Will Smith called The Pursuit of Happiness tells the story of one person who was able to realise this dream. It seems as though the life of Chris Gardner's was one tragedy after another. Born to a poor mother, his father left while he was young, his step-father was abusive toward him and his mother, he got in trouble with the law and spent time in jail, he even spent a year living on the streets with his son. But none of this mattered because he had a desire to succeed and make something of his life. One day, while he was barley making enough money to feed his family he meets a guy driving a Ferrari and asks him, “What do you do, and how do you do it?” The man answered that he was a stockbroker. The two hit it off really well and began to have some casual lunches together. Gardner developed a strong desire to do what this guy was going. He got some contacts from this guy and began to hit the streets. With out a degree, he was turned down at every point. He quit his job trying to get a job on Wall Street only to find out his contact had been fired and no one knew about him. He landed an interview with a prestigious firm, but then he ended up in jail for unpaid parking tickets. He went to the interview straight from jail wearing only his windbreaker and the jeans he had been arrested in. He won a place in the training program, but it was unpaid. Meanwhile his girlfriend left his kid with him and they had no place to live. They spent the next year travelling from shelter to shelter while Gardner finished his training. He learned quickly and opened his own brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co. He now drives his own Ferrari.
This is the type of story that inspires us, that get us going, that makes us think that life really isn't as bad as we know it is. This is the dream we all harbour in our hearts, “if only I could have a bit more money then everything would be alright, then I will not have to worry”. We look forward in the vain expectation of an Utopia, brought about by our own ingenuity. With the people at Babel we say, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” The world does not want this gift. We do not want to be indebted to God. We do not want to humble ourselves and accept someone else's payment on our behalf. We want to do it ourselves. We want to break out on our own. We want to show God that we can do it, that we do have the power, that we do not need him. As John says at the beginning of his gospel, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” His own creation did not want him. They did not want to make room for him. Just as the Inn Keeper in Bethlehem, we hung the sing on the door of our hearts, NO VACANCY.
This did not stop God
However, this did not stop God. God did not wait for an invitation. He did not wait until we had tidied up some and our guests had gone home. He did not wait until we thought it appropriate for him to give us his gift. God came down in the midst of our problems. He broke into our world through the tiny manger given to him in pity. He did not accept our refusal of the gift, but pressed it upon us.
Let us take a few moments and watch what that moment might have been like, could you play the film clip please?
Amazing, is it not? God came because he knew we needed him. God came because he knew that we cannot do it on our own. God came because he knew we could not make the payment which was required of us. God came so that “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
We are here this morning anticipating the celebration of Christ's first coming, remembering the time when the light broke into our darkness, but that is not all we are doing.
Paul wrote to Titus that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
There is a remarkable contrast between the vain expectations placed in human might and achievement, and the true hope of Christ; between the disappointment that follows misplaced anticipations and the energy born of a divine promise, between the imposing but short lived power of our earthly kingdoms and the humble manifestation of the eternal power of God. The only way we can become whom God wants us to be, and whom we ourselves want us to be, is by drawing near to the grace bundled up in that manger so long ago. We remember the gift God has lavished upon us with our eyes wide open, searching for his return. We are focussed on the future, and living expectantly for his glorious appearing.
This gift, this child, this baby, is the most amazing act of love ever displayed. The creator took upon himself the nature of the creature so that he could redeem his creatures. “Christ Jesus being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
This amazing gift of love came to us. Listen to this word from Isaiah 9.
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.
6 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 Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
We are people walking in a great darkness, but God does not leave us there. We are a people destined to eternal punishment, but God does not leave us there. We are a people trusting in peace through the warrior's boot, but God does not leave us there. God breaks through our stubborn resistance, he breaks the yoke of sin that burdens us, he breaks the rod of our oppressor. He does all this because he loves us.
“to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
So, what do you do with that peasant girl, and her baby?
Let us Pray