The Gift You Cannot Return
Let us pray. Lord nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling. Amen.
A journey with God. Where do we begin? Well, we begin at the beginning. We begin with the gift you cannot return. Last December the 23rd – two shopping days before Christmas – I found myself entering a well-known discount store and to my surprise was greeted by a sign which said, “Attention all shoppers. All items being returned must be accompanied with a receipt.” Christmas hadn’t even arrived yet. And that store was already talking about returning gifts that we hadn’t received. Well you know what that’s like, taking a gift back to the store because it’s the wrong color or size or style. Or maybe even you know what it’s like to return a gift because you want to exchange it for something you really want. But what do we do with a gift which cannot be returned?
I have a minister friend who says that his mother-in-law, every year at Christmas, gives him five 3 pound fruitcakes. My, that woman must love that boy. Five 3 pound fruitcakes. He says of her gift that it comes with the clear understanding that there is no return. No refund, no exchange. He says that it doesn’t bother him and in fact he goes on to tease that, in fact, he saves them each year because he’s building a retaining wall with them. Well, there are some gifts that just cannot be returned. I want to suggest to you that God’s gift of Jesus Christ is a gift which cannot be returned. Understand it may be rejected, but it cannot be returned. That’s the truth you discover right here, at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke when you look at this very lovely little story of Simeon and Anna. You begin – when you work your way through the lines – to discover that Jesus Christ is a gift from God. And the gift cannot be returned. And in fact, the gift needs to be acknowledged, it needs to be accepted and it needs to be shared. All of that is found in this wonderful story.
The gift of Jesus Christ is a gift which cannot be returned, but it must be acknowledged. Allen Justin tells of how delighted he and his family were after his wife gave birth to their third son. However, he quickly adds that in the time prior to the birth, that all of them in the family had actually hoped that that third baby would be a baby girl. Not long after the birth, Allen Justin happened to hear one of his sons speaking to a neighbor boy. The son said to the neighbor, “My mom just gave birth to a baby boy. Of course, what we really wanted was a baby sister.” The neighbor boy then said, “Well, why don’t you just take him back and get a sister?” And Allen Justin’s son said, “We can’t. We already used him.” Well, you see, he understood that while the gift did need to be acknowledged, it couldn’t be returned or exchanged.
That’s exactly the lesson that Simeon wants to teach us. Understand, please, that Simeon apparently was ready to die. He makes that plain. But you see, God had promised him that He would not die until He had seen the Lord’s plan for salvation for the world. And so Simeon was waiting to catch a glimpse of God’s salvation. Now, what is it that enabled Simeon to realize that this particular Baby brought to the temple by mom and dad was, in fact, none other than the Savior of the world? Well, we don’t know for sure but what we do know is this: he was absolutely certain. He knew the moment his eye fell upon that Child that this was the promised Messiah. “Now”, he said, “I can die in peace because my eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord.” Simeon was acknowledging that the gift of Jesus Christ had come from God. Jesus Christ, as Simeon saw Him, is none other than the Savior of the world.
And Simeon wants to teach us that very same truth. You see, it is not enough for us to look at Jesus and see Him as simply a great teacher. It is not enough for us to regard Him only as a significant historical figure. It is not even enough for us to praise Him as a spiritually powerful religious leader. No, we are called to see Jesus for precisely who He is: none other than the gift of God come to this world to save the world from sin and death. Simeon saw that. He acknowledged that the Baby before him was the Savior of the world. He acknowledged that the gift had come from God. And if Simeon were here today, he would call us to do the same thing.
So the gift of Jesus Christ does need to be acknowledged, but it also needs to be accepted. It needs to be embraced. I don’t know if you noticed it in the reading a moment ago, but Luke inserts into the story a priceless little detail. He says that Simeon – when he saw the Child and recognized who the Child really was – that he reached out and took the Child into his arms. Simeon embraced the Savior of the world in his own arms. He accepted the gift personally. And by so doing, he teaches us that it is not enough for us to drop by church on occasion and tip our hat to Christ, and then go on about living the way we’ve always lived. At some point Simeon would tell us, you have to accept the gift personally. You have to embrace the gift in your own life. You have to encounter the reality of Jesus Christ in your everyday personal experience. Now many of you have had that experience in life and you know it is a wonderful one, but you also know it is not easy. Because, you see, to embrace Christ personally means that we have to change some of the ways we live. It means that we have to begin to speak up and stand up for our convictions. It means that we have to try to reach a standard of living higher than most other folks in life pursue.
Just this last Thursday night, on Larry King Live, Larry King had a panel of people representing an array of the political spectrum. And all of those different people were engaged in debating the subject for the night, which was the relaxation of standards in our society. One of those panelists was Oliver North. Now regardless of how you may feel about his politics, I want to suggest that you at least have to admire the statement that he made. He said, “Listen, I am a Christian. Christians are called to live up to a higher standard in life. They don’t always reach it, and I certainly don’t, but we must never stop trying to reach that high standard of living.” You know, he’s exactly right. And that’s the point that Simeon would drive home to us today, that it is not enough to just acknowledge that Christ is a gift from God. We have to accept the gift for ourselves. We have to embrace Christ in our own lives. And that means that we must then begin to try to live the way Jesus calls us to live.
So the gift needs to be acknowledged and it needs to be accepted. But there’s something else in this story. The gift also needs to be shared. Simeon understood that the gift of Jesus Christ was not something that belonged to him, and to him alone. You see that as the story unfolds because at one point he takes the Baby and places the Baby back in His parent’s arms, thus symbolically releasing God’s gift for the world about. In other words, Simeon understood that Jesus Christ is not something we hold on to for ourselves. Like everything else in Christianity, the only way you can keep Christ is to give Christ away.
It is at that point in the story that another older person enters the scene. Her name is Anna. Anna was a prophet. Anna had been looking for the Messiah for years. We are told that for years and years she had been fasting, and praying, and hoping to see the Messiah. And the very moment that she saw the infant Jesus, she knew who He was and she began praising God. But then, what she did next is so important. The Bible very specifically says that she then began speaking to others about this One who had come for the redemption of the people of Israel. The gift of Jesus Christ is not a gift to be kept, but a gift to be shared. And Simeon would tell us that we are to share that gift in every way we possibly can. So Jesus Christ is God’s gift to the world. It is a gift which can be rejected, and sometimes is. But it is a gift which cannot be returned. And therefore, I call us today to acknowledge the gift of Jesus Christ as having come from God; to accept the gift of Jesus Christ as our very own, but only long enough to then go away from this place; to share that gift with everyone we meet along our life’s way. If you do that today, then I promise you, your life will become an incredible journey. Let us pray.
Dear God, the gift of Jesus Christ is your gift to the world and to us. Nowhere do we see that more clearly than here at this table. In Jesus name, Amen.