December 24, 2007
"The Greatest Gift Of All"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
The family is gathered, all the characters in place, waiting for the guest of honor to arrive. And as much as the children anticipate, the guest of honor is NOT Santa. The guest of Honor is the One about Whom the Angels sang. The One Whom the Wise Men came bearing gifts. The One for Whom the shepherds left their flocks to run and see. The guest of Honor is this tiny, helpless baby who shed the throne and all the raiment of heaven and is now lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. Listen to Luke's familiar version.
Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.
 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.
 All went to their own towns to be registered.
 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.
 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child.
 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.
This baby wrapped in swaddling clothes is The Greatest Gift Of All.
A. Years ago a read a story about a family of children who decided to put on a Christmas play for their parents and family all gathered for Christmas. They had worked on it for days. They rushed through Christmas dinner and hurried into the family room to set it all up. When ready, they called all the rest of the family to watch their production. With only the lights from the Christmas tree to light the room, the audience could see a feed trough made from an old shoe box.
The first characters to enter the room were Joseph helping a very pregnant Mary into the room. It was obvious that the bulge was cause by a large square pillow but Mary waddled into the room and took her place next to the manger. Joseph, obviously playing more than one role, then rushed from the room. He and his little brother entered the room with broomsticks in their hands as staffs.
They turned to see the youngest daughter, wrapped in a sheet, stand on a chair and spread her wings. The boys fell to their knees and looked up. She grinned at everybody in the room, did a little curtsy and shouted. "Boy, have I got good news for you. A baby has been borned in Bethlehem and his name is Jesus Emmanuel Christ. It means "God is with us." Go see him, he's Mary and Joseph's kid." Then she jumped off the chair and ran down the hall. All of a sudden everybody heard her shout, "Oh, yeah. He was borned in a barn because Holiday Inn was full."
The shepherds walked out into the hall, turned around and came back. By this time, Mary was looking in the shoe box which glowed. It was flashlight wrapped in a towel. The Shepherds came and bowed down to the baby. Both the boys said, "Awe," and then left.
In just a couple of minutes, with a little commotion and the sound of a few disagreements like, "No, that's my crown. Yours is the silver one." "But I want to wear the gold one." Pretty soon in entered the three Wise Men, decked out in Mom and Dad's robes. And wearing possibly every piece of costume jewelry found in the house. They each carried a jar or a wooden box. The brought them to Mary (Joseph was now a Wise Man, too) and laid them at the foot of the glowoing shoe box. The little brother started to say something and froze. Big brother (who had played the dual rolls of Joseph and the shepherd) nudged him. He finally said: "We are Wise Men from the East and we bring you presents of Gold, Circumstance and Mud." And then he bowed. They other brother punched him in the side with an elbow and the little brother hollered. "What?"
With a signal from big brother, little brother said: "Oh!" Turned to the audience and said: "The End."
B. Little brother may have gotten the gifts mixed up but not the intent of the gifts. Because you see, They did bring Jesus Gold, a gift fit for a king. Jesus did come into our world and our circumstances so we wouldn't have to be alone. And, He became one of us, who were created out of the dust of the earth. Add a little water to dust and what do you get, Mud.
So while the boy got the gifts wrong, he also got them very right.
And this gift that God gave to us, this babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, was and is the most important gift of all.
CLIP: THE MOST IMPORTANT GIFT
This is the most important gift of all. This is the gift which defines the reason for giving gifts. This is the gift that IS the gift the keeps on giving. It usually comes in a plain brown wrapper, not with fanfare or fireworks. And yet, because this gift comes from God. It truly IS the Most Important and Greatest Gift Of All.
Not only that but it is also The Perfect Gift. God knows what we want most of all, despite what all the ads on television say. God's knows what we want AND what we NEED the most. And so God gave us the Perfect Gift.
CLIP: THE PERFECT GIFT
This Perfect Gift offers us hope because this Perfect Gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes offers us second chances.
This infant gave up the Gold of His Throne and Crown, to take on the Mud of our flesh and blood so He could step into the middle of our Circumstances and change them. That's why this night is so Precious. That's why this night is so Holy. For the night itself is wrapped in the swaddling clothes of God's love for us. And we are held like a mother holds a newborn babe, safe and secure in the arms of God our Lord and our Creator.
When we come to partake of the Sacrament, we realize just how Important and Perfect this gift from God is. This Greatest Gift Of All is the Light of the World, who pushes back the darkness and changes everything with His love.
1. I think the original version of this was written or included in a collection of stories by Norman Vincent Peale.
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