Sermon for Christmas Day, December 25, 2016
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 2:1-20
Sermon Theme: “The Gifts We Unwrap Today”
(Sources: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 1, Series A; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 27, Part 1, Series A; Online jokes about Christmas gifts; original ideas and examples; Online sermon shelbyvillechurchofchrist, The Greatest Gift)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Last year, because my wife and I have difficulty getting up and down a ladder, a friend of ours put up hooks for our Christmas stockings. Because she loves our cat Gatsby so much, she included a hook for a burlap stocking she found in the tool shed that she thought was perfect for Gatsby. So this year, our cat has a stocking hanging this morning for gifts from Santa.
I just read something written by television host and comedian, Jimmy Kimmel. He said that every year Americans spend millions of dollars on Christmas gifts for their pets, which makes no sense to him. Your pet doesn’t know it’s Christmas. In fact, your pet doesn’t even know he is a pet, so giving your cat a sweater is about as useful as giving your microwave a hat. I think he’s got a point there. Gatsby hasn’t even noticed he has a stocking.
But the rest of us know that we have a stocking, and we know how many gifts we bought this Christmas, and we wonder whether the recipients will like them or not. One of my greatest anxieties at Christmas is what if my wife or my daughters or my granddaughters don’t like the gifts I got them. They might not say anything, but you can see on their faces and in their eyes that they didn’t like what you gave them and were disappointed. But is that what Christmas is really all about? If so, then it’s a miserable festival.
It is about gift-giving, however, but not the kinds of gifts that make people greedy and avaricious.
I want to talk about two gifts this morning. One is MY gift to you. And the other is GOD’S gift to all of us.
I read about a pastor of an impoverished church during the Great Depression. Although they were very poor, and they paid him a very small salary, his parishioners always gave him Christmas presents, — these were presents like a link of deer sausage, a carton of fresh eggs, a coffee can full of native pecans, a pound of homegrown potatoes, a jar of homemade jelly, etc.
He knew these were gifts of love, and he appreciated them very much, and because he loved his members, he wanted to give them something, too. But he had nothing like that to give, and he couldn’t afford to buy gifts. Then it occurred to him that he could give them the gift of his sermon, which would be a sermon about the greatest gift of all. It made him happy to think he did have something to give them. A Christmas Day sermon!
That story was heart-warming to me, because, I, too wish I afford to give each member of St. Paul Lutheran Church a Christmas gift. I was broke last week already, so I can’t buy any more presents. But I can give you the gift of my sermon today, knowing that it’s a good gift, because it is all about the greatest gift of all.
Although I never thought of it as a gift before, I have given you the same gift every Christmas, — a sermon about the Savior’s birth. So, in that sense, it’s not an original gift. But it’s kind of like the water color sets I wanted for Christmas every year as a kid, — my parents could have given me a hundred water color sets, and I would never have gotten tired of them. Christians can hear a sermon about the Christ Child born in Bethlehem a thousand times, and never grow tired of it! So in that sense it’s a good gift.
I must warn you, though, it doesn’t come with a receipt, so that you can take it back the day after Christmas and exchange it for something else. So I’m afraid you’re stuck with it, but I promise you, it will bring you joy.
The SECOND gift I want to talk about is God’s gift to us at Christmas. Without God’s great gift to us, my gift would have no meaning this morning.
The greatest gift of all – God’s Son – was delivered in modest wrapping. So you can’t judge a gift by its wrapping. This gift was wrapped in rags of cloth and it was placed on a bed of straw, rather than tinsel, in a smelly barn filled with animal noises. It wasn’t a music box that played “Jingle Bells.”
Our sermon text describes the birth of Baby Jesus like this: “And while they were there, the time came for Mary to give birth. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
This most precious gift of all – God Himself – was packaged in the flesh of a vulnerable infant. He was born of peasant parents and wrapped in swaddling cloths – ordinary strips of fabric. And He was laid in a manger, which would normally hold fodder for the animals. All this because there was no place for them in the inn. Even the local motel wouldn’t accommodate this little family!
This child was welcomed, not by state officials and the elite of society. Instead, on that night, He was greeted by shepherds, who were regarded by most people as lowly and unclean, even as outcasts from society.
So it was an angel who was sent to unwrap the identity of this child and to reveal the true nature of the gift. Our text says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’”
The angel makes it unmistakably clear who this child is. He is none other than the Christ – the Messiah promised of old. He is the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the Savior, the one anticipated since the time of Adam. He is God in human flesh, the greatest gift in all history!
In our materialistic world today, the giving of gifts has become, in some cases, beyond opulence. A Sheik gave his bride a 25 million dollar watch as a wedding gift. A computer mogul gave his girlfriend a 16 million dollar engagement ring (they later broke up). A movie star couple exchanged 1 million dollar cars as Christmas gifts. One rich man gave his daughter a 2.5 million dollar cell phone.
Some people give extravagant gifts to show off. Some give gifts to buy favor. Some give gifts in an attempt to buy respect with money. Jesus condemned this in Matthew 5:16, when He said, “When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”
In spite of the sinful aspects of gift-giving, whether at Christmas or for some other occasion, giving gifts is by no means a bad thing. Christians show appreciation to God by giving gifts above their tithe. Husbands give gifts to their wives to show appreciation. Gifts are often given to repair broken relationships. Gifts are given to show honor and respect to others. The Wise Men brought and gave very expensive gifts to Jesus, gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.
The ancient tradition of giving gifts to the baby when you visited the mother and the child was widely observed in Jesus’ day. The shepherds could even have brought gifts to the Christ Child, as some of the Medieval Morality plays suggest. The Wise Men got there a little late, but they still gave the child gifts. In the case of this baby, these gifts were to show honor and respect.
In Jesus, God has given to us the ultimate gift. The greatest gift ever given! In Jesus, God gave us the gift of salvation from sin. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death,” so the debt we owe is beyond our ability to pay.
In Jesus, we are given God’s grace as a gift. Grace is something we do not deserve and cannot earn; it must be given to us.
In Jesus, we have been given righteousness. “There is none righteous, not even one,” says Romans 3:10. Even though we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God, we are made righteous in Christ. His grace is greater than all our sins.
Christmas should be a day of thanksgiving, thanking God for the greatest gift of all, the Messiah, the Christ, the Redeemer, the Savior of all mankind. So, even though I have given you this gift of a sermon, don’t thank me for it, — thank God with great joy and gratitude in your heart! What a gift for you to unwrap on Christmas Day! Amen