Monday, September 25, 2017
UNWRAPPING CHRISTMAS (Luke 1:26-38)

FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

GLEN ROSE

December 26, 2010

Series: “Unwrapping Christmas”

 “UNWRAPPING CHRISTMAS”

(Luke 1:26-38)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn

I. INTRODUCTION:

     The Christmas story can be told in so many different ways and in so many different languages and yet the message stays the same, even if the language is completely foreign to us. Watch this and you’ll see what I mean. WATCH

     While it’s not the language most people over 45 speak easily, it is a language recognizable by most of the younger generations. And I really liked that clip. Partly because I think we need to hear the story of this incredible gift from God in as many different ways and forms as we possibly can. The more we hear it, the more we see it, the more it becomes reality. So, as our Scripture reading for the message this morning listen to the story or this day told in one more way. WATCH

     This is the Word of God for the People of God. And all God’s people said: Amen.

     Have you noticed how Modern Technology is making it easier to communicate and gather information around the world through the internet and cell phones and the like but at the same time is making it harder and harder to unwrap Christmas. It has given us shrink wrap, which defies all attempts to tear it and bubble plastic which you need tin snips to cut. We have fiber strapping that some knives won't cut. And we have adhesives that you can't get off with dynamite. I ran across a poem dealing with this subject, by Mary Elizabeth Counselman, that inspired the title for both this sermon and this series. 

     "Hats off to you makers of gadgets galore.

      Hooray for your shipping and stackage.

      But why do you make it so hard, more and more,

      To take all your wares from the package?

      Your cartons and bags, I can't cut with a knife.

      The strength of your cardboard - fantastic!

      I'm sure I've spent easily half of my life,

      Just fighting my way into plastic. 

      Your labels resist any solvent on earth.

      Your tape is as tough as an ox.

      I've paid for my purchase - but what is it worth,

      If I can't get it out of the box?" (1) 

     Half the fun of Christmas morning is seeing the excited look on everyone's faces as they look at all the brightly wrapped and packaged gifts under the tree. The other half is opening those packages. Some you savor and take your time opening; others you just rip your way through.

     If you're anything like me or my family, all through the Christmas season you watch the mail with great anticipation. Everyday you sort through the pile of cards and letters looking for one of those yellow slips that means you have a package. All the way to the post office counter you wonder, what it could be? Who is it from? Is it for me or someone else in the family?

     When you pick up the package, you immediately begin to guess what it could be by its size and weight. Is it clothes, shoes, a book or a toy? You can't wait to get it home. You open it, and inside that brown postal paper you find the box wrapped in bright colored Christmas paper. You shake it. You feel it. You smell it. It's very presence fills you with anticipation.

     In Bil Keane's "Family Circus," Billy is standing in front of a calendar that reads December 18, and he says: "Only seven more hoping days 'til Christmas." And in a very real sense, he's right. Advent was our hoping days. Advent IS the period of anticipation and hope.

     And now, the day after Christmas, that hope has become a reality. On Christmas day, the hope of the world was born. God's gift of grace to the world came packaged and wrapped in the splendor and glory of the Christ child. And if we find and accept God's gift for us, then we'll joyously and faithfully spend the rest of our lives unwrapping that gift of grace as we serve God through Christ.

I. IN UNEXPECTED WAYS:

     Today the proclamation of the coming event, to Mary, to the world, to you and I has already taken place. This isn't a Sunday for getting ready, that should have already been done. This is a day to meet God face to face in the babe of Bethlehem. The story of the Virgin birth really has nothing to do with gynecology and everything to do with Christology. It's meaning isn't biological, it's theological. Mary's virginity was only the means and medium for God's divine surprise gift to the world.

     The visiting angel of the annunciation dazzled us with heavenly splendor. A frightened but obedient young woman moved us. A faithful and loving fiancé inspired us. The virgin birth challenged and still challenges our minds and stretches our faith. But none of these are the central character. These are just the packaging and the wrapping paper, not the gift. God is the central character. God's grace fills this ever told, never old, always bold story of God's gift to the world. God's gift came gently and lovingly wrapped in flesh and blood and laid in a manger.

     I really believe that God had to enter the world in this fashion for us to accept and receive the message and the gift. There's a story that says when the great Greek warrior Hector was about to go into battle, he went to kiss his little two-year-old son good-bye. When he entered their home, Hector was in full battle armor, which included a massive helmet with plume. The little boy screamed and fled from his father until Hector finally took the helmet off. It was only then the boy realized it was his father and ran to him, unafraid. God in Christ, the Incarnation, is God without the helmet.

     If God had come any other way than the innocent babe of Bethlehem, we would have run screaming in fear like Hector's son. But because God came and revealed His love for us through the Christ child, our hearts melt with love. And we're able to receive the gift which God freely offers.

II. THE GIFT IS FOR ACCEPTING:

     Granted, it came in unexpected and exciting ways, wrapped and packaged differently than anyone would have thought possible. But still, it's a gift. God freely gives the gift of grace, the gift of love to each of us. There aren't any conditions. We don't have to achieve a thing or act any certain way. All we have to do is receive and accept this gift. It's a gift of grace that takes a lifetime to unwrap. That's what the poem on the little package is all about. Christ's birth and Christmas are gifts from God that you can't force open.

     There was a story in TIME magazine awhile back about a 2-foot-long, 40-pound package that arrived at the post office in Troy, Michigan, addressed to a Michael Achorn. The post office phoned Achorns's wife, Margaret, who cheerfully went to accept it. After picking up the package, she drove back to her office in Detroit. But she began to worry. The box was from Montgomery Ward's. Despite the fact that the last names were identical, neither she nor her husband knew the sender, Edward Achorn.

     She got to worrying. What if the thing was a bomb? She telephoned postal authorities. The bomb squad arrived in full force, eight squad cars and an armored truck. They loaded the suspected bomb into the armored truck and took it to a remote spot on the tip of Belle Isle in the middle of the Detroit River. There they wrapped detonating cord around the package and, as they say in the bomb business, "opened it remotely."

     When the debris settled, the only thing left intact was the factory warranty for the contents: a $450 AM-FM stereo receiver and tape deck. The only real mystery is who is Edward Achorn and why did he send Michael and Margaret Achorn such a nice Christmas gift?

     My point is simple. You can't force open this gift which God has given us in Christ. If we attempt to force it open we destroy it. Instead we simply have to receive it and accept it in the same spirit in which it is given, the spirit of love. Only in that spirit of love are we able to take a lifetime of faith unwrapping and opening this gift of grace.

III. THE GIFT CHANGES EVERYTHING:

     We cant' force it open, but the gift changes everything. The gift and God's giving of the gift to the world changes how we look at everyone and everything. William Saroyan has a beautiful story that he tells about a poor, little orphan boy standing in the middle of a long line of men and women lined up in the front of a movie theater. An adult friend of the boy passes by, stops and asks, "Why are you standing out here? You haven't got the fifty cents to get in."

     "I'm not going to the movies," the boy replied.

     "Then why are you standing in line?" asked the friend.

     The boy looked up and sheepishly answered, "I'm standing in line because I'm lonely, and I like people."

     This world of ours can be harsh and lonely. Christ came into this lonely world as a friend as well as a Savior. Christmas disproves the old watch maker theology that God created everything and set it all in motion and then, like winding a clock, set it aside to run on its own. God Himself enters our loneliness and pain.

     Evelyn Underhill once wrote: "The saints do not stand aside, wrapped in delightful prayers and feeling pure and agreeable to God. They go right down into the mess; and there, right down in the mess, they are able to radiate God because they possess Him..."

     God not only sends the saints; in Christ, God Himself entered into our loneliness and pain, our sorrow and tribulation, our trials and temptations. God Himself stepped right down into the mess that is the sinful world. God put on flesh and blood and stepped where you and I so feebly try to step. And that changes everything. That makes life more enjoyable, that fact gives us hope, and it is hope actualized. The gift of God's grace in Christ Jesus bolsters our flagging spirits and lightens the burden of our hearts. It brings light in the darkness.

     God offers us the greatest gift ever given. The manger is the gift all wrapped with ribbon and pretty bow. The cross is wadded up wrapping paper, crushed and broken and cast aside. And the empty tomb is the package in which the true gift came. It is empty because the true gift lives on in our hearts and souls and spirits. It is the gift of salvation, grace, new life, forgiveness, hope, and redemption embodied in Christ, God with us.

     That is the message of Christmas. And that's really what we're each trying to say with our gifts. "You matter to me. I love you. There is nothing in this world that is as important to me as you are." We can say that to each other, only because a loving God said it first to us.

     Today we come face to face with a mind-boggling, bumfuzzling idea and story. And it’s nearly incomprehensible in its simplicity and truth. Yet, it's a story that is a gift given freely. It’s a gift wrapped up in the most exquisite paper imaginable, a bundle of swaddling clothes. This gift was left for each of us, under the tree of life nearly 2,000 years ago by Him whose birthday we celebrate today. The gift was withheld from no one. Some have left their packages unclaimed. Some have accepted the gift and carry it around, but have failed to begin unwrapping it and thus have failed to discover the hidden splendor and grace of God's love. The packages are all alike: in each one is a scroll on which is written, "I love you!" and it's signed God.

     And when we do finally open it, we do finally Unwrap Christmas, everything changes. The love of God offered and given through His Son, lives in our hearts.

CONCLUSION:

     There was a certain church which had a Director of Christian Education who organized a Children’s Christmas pageant. Every child in the Church had a part in the pageant. If they weren’t one of the main characters, they were either a shepherd or an angel. Also in the pageant, each child was to bring a present for the baby Jesus. And she let the children decide on what gifts they would give the baby Jesus.

     Some wanted to give him stuffed animals. Others wanted to give him toys. One beautiful little girl named Sallie had several conversations with the Director before she finally admitted what she wanted to give the baby Jesus. Finally she asked, “Sallie, what DO you want to give Jesus?”  

     Oh, I’m so embarrassed,” said Sallie. “I shouldn’t tell you.”

     “That’s O. K. What is it?”

     Quietly, Sallie said, “A kiss.”

     And on the night of the pageant, that is what she gave him. All the other angels brought their gifts of toys and animals. But Sallie bent over the manger and gave the little baby a kiss.

     And when she did, a loving sigh went through the congregation as they watched. Sallie knew the secret of Christmas giving. (3)

     Whether she knew it or not, her gift of a kiss was more precious than all the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh in the world. It was more precious because it came from the heart. The important thing at Christmas is that we give something that matters. Something from the heart. Because that’s what God did. The gift of this child in the manger, came from the very heart of God

     Won't you reach out and accept the gift which God has for you; this gift from God’s heart to yours? Won't you reach out and receive love and forgiveness God has so beautifully wrapped in His Son and begin this lifelong adventure of faith. Receive God's gift to the world as your own. Unwrap Christmas today.

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1. Mary Elizabeth Counselman, THE MISSION HOUSE

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