Are you ready for Christmas? Amazon and FedX have been doing their best to help! You can have this year’s hottest Christmas gifts delivered to your door within 24 hours. (Those of you who haven’t gotten presents yet – see what gas stations are open.) This year, the best-selling presents for children include a Baby Shark Song Puppet with Tempo Control, a “Frozen 2” Elsa doll, and the gaming system Nintendo Switch Lite.
I remember when my children so desperately wanted Cabbage Patch Dolls. They were sold out everywhere, and I struggled with every ounce of my being to find a good connection. I ended up owing a co-worker my life. As a single mother, I was so excited to be able to give them the one gift they wanted more than anything. I even woke up early on Christmas morning, even before they did. Once the box was unwrapped, they simply tossed them to the side. By Christmas morning, Cabbage Patch dolls were no longer on their wish list.
What to get the ones closest to our hearts is often a struggle. It must be perfect for them because it will show how much we love them. The opposite is just as true; we believe that if they are disappointed in our gift, maybe they will be disappointed in us. All our Christmas gifts have one thing in common. Giving gifts is our way of expressing that we value someone, and our relationship with them. Whether the recipient is a teacher, your hairdresser, or your child, we struggle with the search, taking delight in the giving, and agonizing over little things. No matter how perfect we try to make our gifts, our parties, our dinners, our cookies, we wonder if they will ever express what we would like them to. Will they be enough? Could we have done more? It’s exhausting!
Here we are, taking a break from the craziness—both ours and the world’s! Tonight, into the world’s imperfection, God’s perfect gift is born. Tonight we hear the borning cry of Jesus. With Mary, we ask, How can this be? God’s answered, not in words, but in living, breathing flesh.
On this night, a young girl and her husband, both with unanswered questions, could not find an even moderately comfortable and clean place to stay. In a small town, far away from the center of power, an innkeeper took pity on this very pregnant girl and offered them all that he had left, a place to sleep among donkeys and cows and sheep and all that went with it –their animal noises and earthy smells. It would be anything but a quiet night. Straw and hay making their beds anything but comfortable. The birth of our hope takes place in a barn. I don’t know the life that Mary had hoped for, but most likely it did not look or smell like this. (When concerns about your Christmas popup, remember Mary, Joseph and Jesus’ first Christmas!)
God’s angels first announced Jesus’ birth to shepherds, who were not much cleaner or smelled much better than the animals that surrounded Jesus. The glory of the Lord shone around them, we are told. Then the angels said, Do not be afraid! This is always the first thing that the angels say. The shepherds went to Bethlehem as the angel had instructed them. There, among the sheep and cows, they found the baby Jesus, wrapped up in a blanket, and lying in a feed trough.
We long for Jesus, our Savior, to be born, envisioning still nights with bright stars and angels singing who sound just like our choirs! It’s as if we dream of being transported up to the heavens with God. There’s no traffic jams, or people shouting, or pecan pies that come out of the oven too hard. But these are the very things God dreamed of when he sent his son to us. Jesus was born in a barn, not in a castle, he was among goats and shepherds, not presidents or kings. There were no satin sheets on a memory foam mattress.
While we come here to find Jesus, God sends him to us where we are. God comes for us and to us, as a baby in and among ordinary human settings. Heaven and earth are joined together this night, and the heavenly hosts respond with joy, singing, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. Our response is a human one. God’s glory resounds in our singing, and the light of God’s presence is the flames of our candles.
In the search for the perfect gift, and the in the middle of the chaos of our lives, it is so easy to forget how much we are loved. God loves us just as we are. It’s exactly into our worries and struggles, our noisiness and forgetfulness, into our fleshy mess that our inexplicable hope is born for us. We come tonight to find the sacred and holy, and discover that in the birth of Jesus, God makes us holy, too. Perfect love–this is God’s perfect gift.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin