Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Christmas Day 2016
Text: Luke 2:10-11
Christmas and gift-giving. You can’t have one without the other.
All Christmas gift-giving arises from God’s gift of new life in Jesus’ birth. Christ’s birth is the gift which keeps on giving. He’s the faith that originated Christmas gifts. He’s hope by which Christmas gifts are anticipated. He’s the love from which Christmas gifts are given.
Faith, hope, and love are the wrapping paper around God’s gift in Jesus’ birth.
Christmas receives all sorts of attention for gift-giving. But gift-giving is humanity’s responsibility every day of the year. Christ’s gift of new life is to be given and received every day, not just at Christmas.
Restricting gift-giving to Christmas limits Bethlehem’s influence on daily life. Confining gift-giving to Christmas obstructs God’s gift of new life. Putting boundaries around giving gifts to the season of Christmas denies God’s daily gifts of new life.
Christmas Day isn’t the only day God gives the gift of new life. What happened so long ago in the manger culminated over 1,000 years of Jewish celebration for God’s gift of new life in one specific day – Christmas Day!
The origin of God’s Christmas’ gift was long before Bethlehem’s manger. God’s Christmas gift was first given during the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. The day Israel’s first born were spared was the first gift of new life God gave his people. It was followed by the sea being parted to free it from Pharaoh’s army. Then it was manna in the desert, a pillar of fire, and on and on and on.
God’s chosen people knew His gifts of faith, hope, and love saved them. Their faith in God protected them from evil. Their hope in Him was answered. Their love for Him, and His love for them changed Israel’s future by giving them new life.
Even after the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, Israel experienced God’s Christmas gift of new life. This nation was restored. God’s unending giving of new life changed His people. It generated a thousand years of celebration that inspired faith, hope, and love for God. It uplifted families and gave them new life.
It inspired their prayers for a Messiah that was answered in Jesus’ birth.
The Passover or the parting of the Red Sea probably didn’t happen December 25th. God’s miraculous days could have been any day as far as the Old Testament is concerned. They daily inspired the Jews to give thanks to God.
Jesus could have been born any day of the year as far as the New Testament is concerned. The Bible doesn’t specify which day Jesus was born. The Puritans concluded Christians ought to live every day with thanksgiving as if it was the day Christ was born. Christ’s birth generated Christian thanksgiving that inspires us daily to give gifts of new life to other people.
The challenge is to associate God’s gift giving at Christmas with every day of the year. Every day is blessed with the gift of Christ’s birth. Connecting moments of gift-giving the rest of the year with Jesus’ birth is our daily joy.
Giving gifts from love – love for our families, love for our friends – comes from God’s love in Jesus’ birth. Giving gifts from a humanitarian concern for the poor, for the needy around us, originates in God’s concern for us in Jesus’ birth. Giving gifts out of obligation for a gift someone else gave us begins in our obligation to God for the gift of Jesus’ birth. We give new life when we celebrate Jesus’ birth other days than Christmas.
But we also receive the gift of new life from God other days of the year than at Christmas. We may not link those gifts of new life in June, July, and August to Jesus’ birth when it is the summertime. They’re God’s Christmas blessing just the same!
I was reminded of this by a Christmas letter I received from a new friend last year. My friend is a psychiatrist who delves deeply into the motivations of people. In this case, he was linking Christmas to his childhood, in 1956.
His Christmas letter remembered a difficult moment in an elementary classroom in Aleppo, Syria – where his family lived. The experience deeply moved him to ask, “Why me? “ Why was this happening to him? He was a Christian living as a minority in a Middle Eastern world that needed Bethlehem’s gift of new life.
He didn’t know at the same time his scholarly father had been told about rumors that associated his father with enemies of Syria’s government. He didn’t know his father and mother were anxious about Syria’s secret police. He didn’t know until he was much older that these threats motivated his parents to pack all they owned, like Joseph and Mary, and leave their home for a foreign land.
It wasn’t December 25. It was August 6, 1957. That day my friend began to understand the gift of new life that Christmas gives. That was the day he and his family arrived at Idlewild Airport in New York City. It was the day of God’s Christmas gift.
He was free to cherish and enjoy his family, his friends, his pets in a new world of without fear. He was free to celebrate Christmas every day. He was free to help other families find peace and joy. He could daily give the gift of peace through his profession from his gratitude for God’s gift of new life.
For my friend, the question, “Why me?” has challenged him – especially this year. He has family still in the Syria who daily seek the joy of Christmas’ gift-giving despite the destruction surrounding them in Syria. He treats patients seeking the joy in Christmas’ gift of new life every day.
He knows the joy of Christmas gift-giving extends through 365 days of the year. He hopes for that for all people.
He watched some family members escape Syria for the West the four years ago. They’re like the Holy Family leaving Bethlehem for Egypt. Their escape from Aleppo is a gift that changed their lives. But not everyone receives that gift. Many don’t experience the gift God offers in Jesus’ birth. They’re casualties of a world that forgets God’s Christmas gift of new life is to be given every day of the year.
And so my friend asks, “Why me?” in his Christmas letter. Why did I receive God’s gift of new life that Christmas gives when so many others don’t? Why have I been blessed by the Christmas gift of new life that others never receive?
All he knows is, “I’m thankful.”
I’m thankful for the gift of Jesus’ birth that gives the world new life. I’m thankful for the gift of Jesus’ birth that gives the world the promise of peace. I’m thankful for the gift of Jesus’ birth that frees me to devote my life to give the gift of new life every day of the year as a psychiatrist.
God gives the world new life through one solitary life. We receive God’s life’s gift from a single life in a manger. The world is blessed by that one person’s gift that has forever changed our lives and the course of world history.
Christmas’ gift of new life came from a man born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village where He worked in a carpenter’s shop until He was 30. For three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book, or held an office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn’t go to college and stayed away from big cities. He never traveled 200 miles from where He was born. He did nothing we usually associate with greatness.
He had no credentials but Himself. He was only 33 when the tide of public opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. He was turned over to His enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for His clothing, the only property He owned. When He died, He was laid in a borrowed grave through a friend’s pity.
Twenty centuries have come and gone and He is the central figure of the human race. He is the leader of human progress.
All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected life on earth as much as that one solitary life.
His birth is God’s gift that has inspired 2,000 years of gift-giving.
Christmas and gift-giving. They can’t be separated from one another. Neither should they be separated from every day of the year. Jesus birth is the gift which keeps on giving.