December 23, 2012: “Gifts that Change Our Lives”

Posted on : Dec 20th, 2012 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

From the 27 families in Newtown, CT who lost a loved one – including Adam Lanza’s own family – to your family and mine, Christmas this year is taking on a different “feeling.”  Sometimes it takes something totally unexpected to “awaken us” to the real meaning and value of life.  The mass killings in Newtown have certainly taken us to that place this year.

My bet is, this Christmas we’re all going to be much more open to receiving “gifts of the heart” rather than “material things.”  Now, having already seen the gifts piling up under some of your trees – and MINE – I don’t think we’ll be lacking in “material things,” but my hunch is, this Christmas we will be much more open to the spiritual, not the material gifts that we receive and give.

I can’t imagine any parent of a first grader not having both tears in their eyes and an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude, upon seeing their child this Christmas morning.  I hope adults have the same experience with those they love and cherish.  That is the intended meaning of Christ’s coming into our lives and world.

In its own odd way, the context of this Christmas is probably much more similar to the world that Jesus was born into than the romanticized version of this story that we have made it to be.  Jesus was born into a harsh, cruel world.  At the time of his birth, the Roman Empire was the dominant force in the western world.  The Roman Empire was governed by the Roman Emperor.  It was similar to many of the autocratic dictators who currently “rule” today.  People lived in deplorable conditions.  There was little hope for the betterment of anyone’s life.  And into this mess, the child of God is born.  Our spiritual ancestors, the Hebrew people, lived in such deplorable circumstances they couldn’t wait for “a messiah” to be born.  They wanted their own “king” – like Israel’s greatest King, David.  But they also had “high expectations” of where this king was going to come from –just like us today.  So when Jesus is born to some far-distant, poor, obscure relative of King David, in a town where no one of importance was ever born, in a filthy, stinky dilapidated barn, he certainly didn’t meet their expectations of their long awaited Messiah.  The Roman Emperor on the other hand didn’t care one bit about Jewish tradition, but any rumor of anyone who might challenge his power and authority brought about an automatic death sentence to that person.  Like all brutal dictators, they don’t waste time gathering facts.  They stop any form of rebellion immediately.  Suffering and grief were common life experiences in the world into which Jesus was born.

The one thing I am absolutely sure of regarding the birth of Jesus is that he is remembered not for his family lineage, or the countless prophecies that his life fulfills, but for the way he touched and transformed people’s lives.  And that is still what the birth of Christ is about.

This Sunday we are going to be sharing some of the stories of gifts that we have received that changed our lives.  One such gift that we received this December was from the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, NY.  In response to local and national gay teen bullying tragedies, their youth printed an illustrated prayer.  I guess they printed it and sent it to churches all across the country!  It’s awesome. I’ll read it on Sunday.   Another was a Christmas card from Noelle and her daughter, Dawn.  Noelle was a member here 26 years ago.  She writes about the gift she received here that changed her life.  And Mike & Mark are going to share their gift in being chosen as Mavery’s parents.  A very different version from the Angel Gabriel story – but it sure makes the point!

This Christmas, may we be open to receiving “Gifts That Change our Lives.”



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 2: 1-20

Luke describes the birth of Jesus.

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.  And all went to be enrolled, each to their own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.  And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.  And she gave birth to her firstborn child, whom she wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night.  And an angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Jesus, the Christ!  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which God has made known to us.”  And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.  And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

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