“Christmas Grace”

December 24, 2016
Jonathan Rumburg
Luke 1:26-38, Luke 2:1-20

Introduction

It’s Christmas Eve, which means we are just hours away from the flurry of flying wrapping paper as excited kids and subdued teens tear into their presents.

Kids are fairly easy to shop for when it comes to Christmas gifts.  Santa knows he can’t go wrong with the long sought-after toy—“Hachamoles” is the big one this year I think.  Santa also knows that socks, underwear, and pajamas are to be kept to a minimum.

When shopping for adults, however, we can have problems, particularly when it comes to sending the right message to the recipient.  Sometimes, it’s a message of love characterized by the meticulous search for exactly the right gift that will thrill a loved one.

Sometimes, though, it’s a message of last-minute desperation or even distaste— a way of saying, “I don’t care enough about you to actually plan ahead, so instead, I waited  until the last minute and got you something useless.”  Useless gifts are the gifts that cause the recipient to stare at the giver blankly, wondering what possibly could have entered their mind when giving such an inexplicable gift.

Gifts take on a kind of “relational currency” that indicate how we really feel about someone, which means a bad gift says you care very little for a person.  Here are a few examples:

The “There’s Something Wrong With You But I Won’t Say It Directly” Gift.  When my cousin was a teenager, our aunt gifted her a box of acne soap for Christmas.  It was like saying, “I love you, but I can’t stand to look at your face.”

The “I Bought Me This Gift” Gift.  An example would be a husband buys his wife a waffle iron.  He’s not saying, “Breakfast in bed for you!”  He’s really saying, “Honey, now you can make waffles…for me!”  This works conversely too with gifts from wives to husbands.  Julie once gave me for Christmas “Breath Rite Snore Strips.”  Infer what you will.

There’s the “Worthless Novelty Gift.”  How about a wallet that looks like it’s made of bacon?  The giver thinks, “She’ll get a kick out of this!” No, she won’t.

There’s the “Cheapskate Gift.”  This is the gift of things like excess office supplies lifted from work, or the “free gift” that came with an actual gift purchased for someone else.  A sub-category would be the “re-gift”— something the giver once received, hated, and decided to re-gift to you.

And one of my favorites is “The Passive-Aggressive Mother-in-Law Gift.”  These paradoxically gifts always say, “I love you but I wish you were someone else.”  An example would be the gifts of preppy shirts and sweaters that send the message “Maybe wear something other than a hoodie and a ball cap.”  I never get this kind of gift from my mother-in-law.

It’s easy to get caught up in the message a particular gift might be sending—the relational currency—for good or ill.  Christmas Eve reminds us, however, that there’s one gift whose message is consistent every year and for every person.  In sending Jesus Christ into the world of human experience, God sent a strong message about divine love and grace.  And that message was…

In a world where there seems to be little love and grace, evident when we see three year olds killed in acts of road rage and terrorists driving trucks through crowds of holiday shoppers—God comes to be with us, bringing, again; giving, again, not a useless gift, but instead the greatest, most needed gift we will ever receive—the gift of grace and love found in Jesus Christ, born, again, in our hearts, tonight.

Move 1

“The grace of God has appeared,” says the Apostle Paul in his letter to Titus, speaking of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.  Paul is telling Titus, and us, grace is the gift of God and it appeared with the birth of Jesus.  But this is no ordinary gift.  It is no useless, passive aggressive gift.  There is nothing novel about it, nor is it a gift for only the giver.  The only thing this gift has in common with the useless Christmas gifts we sometimes get is that the gift of grace causes us the recipient to stare at the giver blankly, wondering what possibly could have entered the mind of the giver when giving such an inexplicable gift.

God gave this immeasurably precious and loving gift, and God did so in lavish measure to all, regardless of the worthiness of the recipient, for indeed, no one is worthy of such a priceless gift since we are all sinners who have no room to boast about our standing or accomplishments before God.

We, in fact, deserve the lousiest of gifts, if any at all, and yet God gives us only the very best.  God gives us Jesus, the Prince of Peace, savior of the world.  This gift appears wrapped in a manger, on Christmas, bringing “salvation to all.”  It’s a gift offered to everyone who will simply receive it.  But like all the useless gifts we’ve open and tried to feign excitement for, all the while wondering what possibly could have entered the mind of the giver when giving such an inexplicable gift, the gift of grace can often leave us bewildered and in disbelief because too often we don’t know what grace is, let alone what to do with it.  In a world where there is so little of it, just what is grace?

Move 2
Philip Yancey is the author of numerous best-selling books on faith and theology.  His books have garnered 13 Gold Medallion Awards from publishers and booksellers.  He currently has more than 15 million books in print, published in 35 languages.  He travels worldwide for speaking engagements and is considered a foremost theologian of today. So when asked if he could define grace, one might think he would have no problem doing so.  After all, he has written a book entitled, “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”

But when he was asked to define grace, Yancey responded saying, “I don’t even try.  Jesus talked a lot about grace, but often through stories.  So instead, I’ll tell you a story.

          I once got stuck in Los Angeles traffic on my way to the airport, in a rental car.  As each minute ticked away, I was aware that my return time was drawing closer, and I grew more distressed and angry.  Eventually, arriving 58 minutes late at the Hertz rental desk, I walked up to the attendant, in a bad mood, put the keys down and said, ‘How much do I owe?’

          The woman looked at me, smiled, and said, ‘Nothing.  You’re all clear.’

          Hesitantly I responding, saying, ‘But I’m late.’

          She smiled more, and said, ‘Yes, but there’s a one-hour grace period.’

          So I asked, ‘Oh really, what is grace?’

          And she said, ‘I don’t know.  I guess it means that even though you’re supposed to pay, you don’t have to.’”

Yancey concluded his response to the asker’s question saying, “I think that’s a good start to a definition of grace.”

*******

          Because Jesus was born, and became God in flesh, to live as one of us, we all have been given a Christmas grace-period.  Even though our sin means we are supposed to pay— we don’t have to.  It’s not only an hour.  It’s not only one day.  It’s not even only a season that we think will end come Monday.  This Christmas grace period lasts for all of eternity.  A grace filled gift that comes at Christmas.  It is a gift that doesn’t require anything, however it does ask for something.

Move 3

When the Apostle Paul talks about the gift of grace, he always couches it in terms of response.  To Titus Paul explains that the gift of grace in Jesus requires the response of “giving our lives”— not just our intellectual assent to the idea of grace, but the actual, practical living out of the gift in our everyday lives.

And that practical response to the gift of grace isn’t merely for us to receive and rejoice in for ourselves, rather Paul explains the gift implores a response, it is given for the purpose of “training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly” says Paul.

Jesus Christ, the gift that comes tonight, not only saves us from sin and death; but this gift comes to save us for the good, redemptive work Jesus calls us to do.  And that redemptive work is to share the gift we have been given, and we do that when we live lives—and extend acts—of love and grace.  When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty.  When we receive the lost, the broken, the refugee.  When we treat all people with value, worth, dignity, and respect.  When we bring hope to the hopeless, peace to those who have none, joy to the desolate, and we love the unlovable.  That is what the gift of grace, which we receive at Christmas, asks of us.

Conclusion

It’s Christmas Eve, which means we are just hours away from the flurry of flying wrapping paper as excited kids and subdued teens tear into their presents.  Sure, there will probably be some clunkers, maybe even that bacon wallet.  But really who doesn’t like bacon?  Think of all the intrigue, interest, and envy you hear when you pull that out in the grocery store.  These are the gifts about which we can laugh for years.

The gift of grace, however, is different.  It is a gift exquisitely designed to send the right message to the recipient—that we are loved, that God desires our salvation, that God sees us as worthy.  How can we not respond to this inexplicable gift except by offering our lives in service back to God?  God’s gift is the best gift, it is a gift we must share with others.

*******

          In a world where there seems to be little love and grace, evident when we see three year olds killed in acts of road rage and terrorists driving trucks through crowds of holiday shoppers—God comes to be with us, bringing, again; giving, again, not a useless gift, but instead the greatest, most needed gift we will ever receive—the gift of grace and love found in Jesus Christ, born, again, in our hearts, tonight.

So may we, prepare ourselves to receive all the gifts that come to us—good or not so good.  But may we prepare our hearts, minds, bodies, and lives to not only celebrate the birth of Jesus, but may we prepare to share what his birth has brought to us, with all, in all the ways God leads us to share God’s Christmas grace.  Merry Christmas.  Amen.

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