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Christmas Sermon from: 24-25 December 2012
December 24 & 25, 2012
Christ Church, Millwood, Cunningham Chapel
The Rev. Karin MacPhail
Welcome to all of you and especially to those who are visiting with us today. We are so happy you are celebrating the birth of Jesus with us.
For many people, Christmas is their favorite season, full of warm memories and traditions to celebrate with friends and family. We make special food and decorate our homes and businesses and all sorts of once-a-year happenings fill the calendar.
Christmas can however be a difficult time of year if you are missing loved ones who are far away or who have died. Our entire country has joined in that grief this year as the shooting at Sandy Hook broke through our usual Christmas preparations and celebrations.
The families in Newtown remain very much in our minds and hearts and in our prayers this morning. We also remember and hold in our prayers those who are lonely or hungry today, who are homeless or sick, and those who might be feeling ashamed by how little they could put under the tree or worried about how they will find the money to pay their bills.
I want you to know, whether you approach this Christmas with joy or sadness or worry or a jumbled up mix of emotions, I want you to know that the greatest gift of Christmas is the gift of God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, and that gift is given to you no matter who you are and no matter what your life is like.
Jesus is for you—for every one of you. The gift of God in Jesus Christ is a gift for all people.
You may open many presents today. You may have opened many presents already. But the greatest gifts of Christmas are the ones that God gives.
God’s gift of hope is built on the promise that the loving God who has already blessed us in so many ways has even more blessings in store for us, blessings that we can’t imagine. Hope sustains us in times of sorrow or difficulty and gives us patience for God’s future.
Brazilian theologian Rubem Alves said, “Hope is hearing the melody of the future.” The gift of hope—God’s gift that lets us hear the melody of God’s future—lifts our heads when they are bent in sorrow. Hope reminds us that the God of love, a love embodied in Jesus, will bring all things to good. In the birth of Jesus, God fulfilled the hope of generations, and the birth of Jesus reminds us to continue to hope for the complete fulfillment of God’s peace.
Which is the next gift God gives you at Christmas—the gift of peace. This is a fragile gift and one that requires careful attention. The gift of peace is God’s promise to you that God wants a world full of love, where we can all live together in harmony and good-will.
The gift of God’s peace comes first as a calm stillness in your heart and mind that the world cannot give—like the peace you felt in the lap of your mother or father when you were a child—the calm certainty that you were safe when you felt afraid, that you were loved when the world seemed hostile, and that everything would be OK.
God wants to fill you with that peace still, even today. And then God wants you to take that peace and pass it on. Say you are sorry when you have hurt another. Forgive when you are wronged. Love even those you might hate or fear, remembering that we are all children of God and we belong to each other. The gift of God at Christmas is the peace of Jesus Christ—who lived out this peace in his life and his death, loving and forgiving even from the cross—and taught us to do the same.
Hope and peace are two really wonderful gifts, gifts we would probably all agree the world needs much, much more of. But hope and peace aren’t the only special gifts God has for you this Christmas. God has another gift ready to be opened—the gift of faith—faith that God loves you, that God is for you and always with you, even in the darkest
Now, the gift of faith does not mean that you never have questions or doubts. In fact, true faith grows when it is fertilized by doubts and questions. Faith’s roots grow much deeper when it is not blind trust untested, but rather has endured difficulties and struggles and come through them stronger than before, knowing that God is big enough to hold you with all of your questions and doubts. God wants you to keep struggling through them and reaching out to him anyway, trusting that he is always reaching out to you.
Another gift that God gives us, a gift that we love especially this time of year, is joy. Joy is not just happiness. Joy goes much, much deeper than that. Joy is the dance of hope and peace and faith together. Joy sees that life is a wonderful gift and notices the small, everyday sorts of things that make life so amazing. Joy delights in the sunrise and the birth of a baby and the smell of rain and the crunch of leaves and the silence of the first snow. Joy is the laugh that makes tears run down your face and a fireplace warming your house, friends to share a meal with and a beautiful
starlit night. Joy sees God all around us, every minute.
Today we celebrate God’s gift of joy in the news the angel brought to the shepherds—the news that for no other reason than love, God will save us. Joy was the news that this baby born to Mary and Joseph would be the Savior of the World. Joy is the fulfillment of the long-awaited hope of salvation, the peace that fills our hearts in the knowledge of God’s love and the faith that God will make all things new.
And finally, God’s gift of Christmas in the birth of Jesus is most simply and profoundly…love. How else to explain the fullness of God taking flesh to live among us and experience everything it means to be a human being—sickness and sadness, grief and joy, temptation and hunger, anger and pain, and finally, finally, betrayal and death. How else to explain that God would come among us as one of us so that God and humanity would be evermore bound together in love?
God loved his creation from the beginning, and the history of God and creation is the story of God always, always reaching out in love to pull us closer, to pull us back from the brink of our own destructive tendencies, from our capacities for evil and darkness. God is always trying to pull us into the light of God’s presence, into the light of loving relationship with God and each other.
God coming to us in Jesus Christ is the swan-dive of God’s love right into the pool of creation, to better pull as close as our own bodies, to show us how, literally, to embody love for God and one another in a human life.
Love is the greatest gift of Christmas. God’s uncontainable, expansive, extravagant love poured out for us—for you and for me—in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God wants that love to so completely transform you that you also pour out God’s love in your own life.
Mother Teresa said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” Jesus, of course, is God’s love letter to the world, most fully. And you are, too. You are God’s love letter to the world, too.
All of these Christmas gifts: hope and peace, faith and joy, and most especially love expand as we share them. They grow by the same measure that we give them away. They are not only for Christmas morning. They are not only for the season of carols and evergreen trees, tinsel and gingerbread. They are the gifts of God to you everyday and from your mother’s womb God has been giving them to you.
So as you enjoy all your gifts this Christmas, give thanks for God’s gifts of hope and peace, and pray that they may increase in your heart. Give thanks for faith and joy, and ask God to help you share them with others and live a life transformed by God. And most especially give thanks for love. The love that came down at Christmas…the love of God in Jesus Christ and the love of God in your own life. Ask God to help you love everyone God puts in your path, so that love may grow in our families and communities, our country and our world.
May your life be filled to overflowing with God’s love, this Christmas and always.
 The idea of the five gifts of Christmas is taken from my children’s sermon at the 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service, which was in turn adapted from “What Can I give? A Dramatic Dialogue with Children for Christmas Eve” by the Rev. Mindi Welton: