A Christmas Homily by Barry McWilliams
adapted from an essay by Micheal Card in his book:Immanuel: Reflections on the Life of Christ
Christmas would not be Christmas without the receiving of gifts. How gift giving became a part of the tradition of Christmas is not clear - but since the Magi arrived with their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - Gift giving and receiving have been part of Christmas. The secular celebration of Christmas centers on gifts and the Santa Claus myth. Among Christians, gift giving flows out of God's loving gift of His Son as our Savior and our love for each other. My homily for this Christmas day on the receiving of gifts has been adapted from an essay in the book: Immanuel by Michael Card, a noted Christian Songwriter.
Micheal Card states: "There is nothing wrong with gifts. God Himself is happy to give us gifts. You can hardly open your eyes without seeing one of them. Every breath, each moment of life, can be seen as a gift from this marvelous Giver The trouble comes when we forget the distinction between the gifts and the Giver."
It is Christmas Day - A family gathered around a Christmas tree. Katie age three, and Willy are there with their parents. So too are an assortment of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Under the tree is a mountain of presents. Their contents disguised by bright paper and bows and ribbons. Packages for everyone are there. Hours of weary shopping, crowded stores, and long lines. Some purchased on impulse, for forgotten reasons. A few are products of individual handwork and craft. All sorts of toys for all ages of boys. The batteries in some will not last the day, should the toy survive that long. And of course, clothing! Some that will soon be exchanged. Socks and underwear more needed than wanted. Bric brac to gather dust or decorate the house in Christmases yet to come. Among them are a few special treasures. With presents, it is not what they are, but the love in which they were given that matters.
One of these treasures was no longer a secret. An obscure volume much wanted by him. Searched for everywhere by her, but not found anywhere in town, at last special ordered, nervously awaited and finally hidden in a closet by her only to be stumbled upon by him yet unwrapped. The nature of this special gift was not lost on him however. Filled with a joy and excitement he could not contain, he still dropped it to hug and kiss away the disappointment in the eyes of the one he knew had gone to great trouble to find it for him. Reluctantly he gave it back to her to be wrapped and hidden away until Christmas day.
"As long as we reserve our thanksgiving and embraces for our loved ones, and not the gifts they give, we are closer to what Christmas is all about."
Another special gift under the Christmas tree was a doll house for Katie. This was the first Christmas that Katie, a three year old, was aware of gifts. Her little face lit up as her "pile" was pointed out to her. She tore into the presents like a veteran. Each package ripped open, with increasing frenzy -- wide eyes, and loud shrieks of delight. Dolls, and clothes from the family. A Stuffed bear. More clothes and socks and underwear. But after a few moments of tightly clutching each gift and showing it off to everyone "See what I got!"-- ignoring the explanations of who gave it to her, she quickly tossed each one aside and tore into the next.
Her last gift was the doll house her father had made for her. Some of the furniture in it had been given to her mother on a similar Christmas many years before. While everyone else was opening gifts and laughing and talking, for a while, she was entranced by the doll house and oblivious to all else. Reminded not to touch, for some things were fragile, she looked and longed to touch the miniature world created just for her: the shingled roof, the lacy curtains, the miniature tables and chairs, the tiny books and dishes. Much like the beautiful world, God has given to us in which to live - delightful in every way. To her child's mind this was the best gift she had ever been given.
A lot of packages remained under the tree and gradually her attention shifted to them. But none of them were hers. Katie in her haste had finished opening all of her own pile of gifts. She became restless and impatient, jealous of everyone else. Finally her Mother allowed her to open her little brother Willy's presents for him, since he was only a year old and couldn't care less about presents. There were barely two years between Katie and her little brother, Willy, but they are centuries apart in their reaction to Christmas and presents. I wonder if most of us still don 't need to learn the place of presents in Christmas? Willy was quite happy just playing in the growing mountain of torn paper and discarded ribbons. For him, the fun was having everyone around him and all the attention he was getting (since he was now the baby in the family.) He had not yet learned the place of presents in Christmas, perhaps he was better off.
As Katie opened his presents, she didn't want him to have them. Her envy over his possession of what were to her "baby toys" caused her to forget completely the dolls and teddy bear and dollhouse so lovingly given to her. Her parents again and again had to persuade her to let Willy have his presents. Finally she was scolded for grabbing a toy out of his hands. She became sullen and angry.
Everyone's attention turned to a special package Grandpa handed to Grandma. It is crudely wrapped, but the hand carved item within brought tears to wrinkled eyes as she hugged his neck. After half a century together, their gifts only enhanced their love for each other. Her eyes were not the only ones filling with tears. Everyone knew it was the giver she loved, not the gift. It was all the more special for he had made it for her.
It was at this moment that three year old Katie, ignored by everyone noticed and seized the last remaining gift under the tree. She tore off the ribbon and ripped open the paper. it was a book. She started looking through it for pictures, but it only contained words she could neither read nor understand. Willy made a grab for it and a tug-of-war ensued. "Me!! No! Mine!" Somehow the cover was torn off before her mother saw what was happening. Tears of pain formed in her eyes as she realized it was the special book she had bought for her husband. "The book I got for you!" she sobbed. "Its ruined!" Then angrily she again scolded Katie who also burst into tears. After several tense moments, the father intervened. As much as he loved this special gift, he loved his angry wife and guilty child much more. The book could be repaired, though never good as new, but none of the love that had gone into giving it would ever be lost. At this moment, the reconciliation of a broken family was more important to him. Love, not tape was needed, to repair that brokenness. He hugged them both, assuring them "Its O.K."
God has given us many beautiful gifts. Creation with all its beauty. Life and knowledge. Things we can never possess or fully understand. They belong to Him. He gives them to us In love to be handled carefully for His Glory. Michael Card comments that "Their beauty is only a shadow of His beauty. And if embracing them gives a certain joy how much more joy would come from embracing Him! Perhaps we are tempted to embrace God's gifts because we desire to possess them". Paul in Romans states the human race has turned to grasp and worship the gifts (created things) rather than the Giver (Creator). "God wants us to remember that everything belongs to Him. He wants to be our only possession."
Christmas is a time of receiving gifts. God's greatest gift to us was His perfect Son, but we receive it in broken condition. For at our hands, His precious Son was torn and broken on the cross. Amazingly, in this, God's love has given us a gift of reconciliation and eternal life. This gift is the one we need most and it is received only as we are broken and with tears acknowledge it was our sins Christ died for. Then we are forgiven and restored as his children. From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another. (John 1:16)
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