December 23, 2007
Fourth Sunday of Advent
"Choosing The Right Gift"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Here we are. Christmas Eve, Eve. In the past month we've spent who knows how many hours shopping for just the right gift for friends, family, our Tree of Angels children. I'll bet all the crowds of shoppers are starting to make you a little nuts. As you wade through the crowds to get that one last item, does your mouth go a little dry? As you stand in the express line with your four items while the person in from of you as at least forty do you start to twitch all over? When you hear "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" for the 347,000th time, do get a nervous tick in both eyes and ears. And when you smell fruitcake, do you break into a sweat?
Well, then you're suffering from the seasonal illness which some doctors have labeled "Santa Claustrophobia." It's not fatal but if not taken care of can lead to a severe case of Yule Drool, which can be quite embarrassing, especially in public. And all this in the pursuit of "Choosing The Right Gift."
The only cure for "Santa Claustrophobia" is a good strong dose of The Real Reason for the Season which refocuses the heart and mind. Listen to what the Gospel of John has to say about this season.
John 1:1-14 (NRSV)
 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
 He was in the beginning with God.
 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being
 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.
 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,
 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
Now I know that's not the traditional Christmas story but this is what the Christmas story filled with stars and angels, shepherds, wise men, stables and a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes is all about. "The Word" of God, the same Word for whom and through whom everything that is was created, "became flesh and dwelt among us," so we could "become children of God."
God was the first one to actively "Choose The Right Gift."
A. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't make that connection between Christmas and God. They just don't seem to get the whole Christmas story. It's as if this baby Jesus is totally disconnected from the man Jesus. Well, watch this and you'll see what I mean.
But this infant is God's gift to the world. This infant who grows to be a man who gives his life for us on the cross and then is raised from the dead and ascends into heaven promising to return is The Right Gift which God, Himself has Chosen for us.
B. Finding the right gift changes everything, it touches the receiver but it changes us, also. Why? How? Because finding the right gift moves us out of and beyond ourselves. It moves us from self-centeredness to looking at the needs of others.
You see, so much of the time we stayed cooped up in the country of "Me" that we never see past our own troubles, our own needs and desires to see the people in our lives, communities and world whose needs are greater than ours. Most of us have walled ourselves into this country of "Me" with brick after brick of desire and want held together with the mortar of all the memories of life, both the good and the bad. Occasionally some of that mortar crumbles and we can look out and see the world around us. But what really needs to happen is for those walls to come tumbling down like the walls of Jericho.
The message the Angels delivered to the shepherds and the song the heavenly host sang are like the trumpets of Jericho. When we here their song, we're suddenly aware of a gift in our midst. One that wasn't there before. One that suddenly appeared as we heard the voices of the Angels sing. And as we begin to open that gift we suddenly find that the walls of the country of "Me" begin to slowly crumble. For we find that this gift is too big to be contained in just the country of "Me." It's just too big and has to be shared with others.
For this gift is a gift from God wrapped with love and care in swaddling clothes. And this gift is The Right Gift, Chosen by God and it changes everything, especially our perception of everything.
A. The movie "I Am Legend" which is PG-13 and pretty intense and really not for children is the third movie based on the novella of the same name by author Richard Matheson.
In the movie, Will Smith plays doctor Robert Neville a scientist trying to discover a cure for a man made incurable virus to which he somehow is immune. He has been at this for 1001 days at Ground Zero, the island of Manhattan.
Neville is the last man on earth.
While this movie sounds like a downer, it's a movie filled with hope, and believe it or not, a very Christian message. Throughout the scenes of the movie, painted on walls and streets and billboards is the message: "God Still Loves Us." In the midst of this self-annihilation brought on by science gone bad, there's still this message of God's love and redemption. Dr. Neville deeply doubts this but he hasn't given up all traces of hope. Every day, faithfully, Neville broadcasts the same message over and over again on all frequencies. Watch this:
"My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be at the South Street Sea Port everyday at midday when the sun is the highest in the sky. If you are out there. If anyone is out there, I can provide food. I can provide shelter. I can provide security. If there's anybody out there, anybody. Please, you are not alone."
B. This gift, The Right Gift which God has Chosen for us sent wrapped in swaddling clothes, is a gift of hope. A gift from heaven reminding us, in part, that "We are NOT Alone."
And in a world filled with loneliness and despair, fueled by abject poverty, hunger and disease, the terrorist threat of attack and war, we need to hear that "We Are NOT Alone." God wants us to remember and know that there IS Hope. There is Forgiveness. There is Grace. There is Redemption. And it all comes through this Gift which God has Chosen for us. This gift which allows and affirms without a shadow of a doubt that we ARE The Children of God.
We have to make sure that the Right Gift Chosen for us, doesn't get buried in all the wrapping paper and trappings of Christmas.
One of my favorite comics is Family Circus. Back in 1988 they ran a strip where five-year old Billy was showing his Christmas presents to grandma. Over course she "oohed" and "ahhed" over them but then she asked, "Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?"
Billy thought for a moment before he answered, "No, I didn't, Grandma. But that's O.K. It wasn't my birthday."
We have to remember whose birthday this is. Celebrating is fine. Buying the Right Gift for each other is fine. God wants us to celebrate our love for each other. But God also doesn't want us to miss The Right Gift God has Chosen for us. Make sure you and your family look thoroughly under the tree this year. Make sure you make the journey to Bethlehem in heart so you can receive The Right Gift Chosen just for you and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Remember "God Still Loves Us." We are not alone. Celebrate the birth of Hope this Christmas.
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