Wise Christmas Gifts
Just recently, I came across an absolutely charming little Christmas story. The story burrowed it’s way down into my heart and gave shape and life to this sermon. It’s a story written by a husband whose wife went Christmas shopping one Saturday afternoon and left him home to baby-sit the children.
The father was enjoying the quiet time at home, reclining on the sofa in the den, half-dozing and half-watching a football game on television. Suddenly the children disturbed his peace by announcing loudly: “Daddy, Daddy! We have a play to put on. Do you want to see it?” Daddy didn’t want to, but he knew he would have to, so he got up and went into the living room and sat down—a one-man audience. He saw quickly that the children were portraying the drama of the First Christmas. At the foot of the piano bench was a flashlight. It was turned on and “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a shoe-box.” Then Rex (age 6) came in wearing Dad’s bathrobe and carrying a mop handle. He was followed by Nancy (age 10) who announced: “I am Mary and this is Joseph.” Then Trudy (age 4) with pillow cases draped over her arms, which she waved about, then said: “I am the angel.” Finally in came Anne (age 8) riding a camel. At least she moved as though she were riding a camel because she had on her Mother’s high-heeled shoes. She was bedecked with all the jewelry from her Mother’s jewelry box, and she carried a throw pillow from the sofa on which were three Christmas presents. She slowly made her way over and bowed before the “Holy Family”—Mary and Joseph and the flashlight!—and then she announced: “I am all three Wise Men. I bring precious gifts—gold, circumstance and mud!” That was all, the play was over. But Daddy did not laugh. And he didn’t correct his daughter either. Rather he whispered a prayer because he realized just how near his daughter had come to the real truth of Christmas. She had meant to say: “I bring precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh,” but even as she mixed up the words, she struck right to the heart of Christmas. You see Christmas reminds us that we can indeed bring to God our gold, our circumstances, and yes, even our mud! I’d like to show you what I mean…
Christmas reminds us that we can bring to God our gold.
Over the years, gold has come to symbolize our very best possessions, our substance, our material value. And from the time the Wise Men brought gifts to the manager, Christmas has been a time of giving gifts to those we love and care about in life. Santa is not the only one who is “making a list and checking it twice.” We are all pouring over our gift lists, devoting much time, energy, and effort to selecting just the right gifts for the persons on our list. And that’s fine. I love that and I am all for it. However, do we sometimes forget what this gift-giving is all about? Do we sometimes fail to include on our list the One whose birthday we are celebrating? Do we sometimes leave Christ and His church off our Christmas gift list?
There’s a wonderful little story which makes the point so well. It’s entitled “Where’s His?” It goes like this: “Once upon a time on Christmas Eve not long ago, a woman who was not rich or poor but whom God had blessed with a comfortable life and comfortable family was showing a little girl from the neighborhood her Christmas tree. The little girl asked: “What’s Christmas?” The lady answered; “Why, Child, don’t you know? Christmas is Christ’s birthday! This is the Christmas tree and these are the Christmas presents under it. The red one over there is a hunting jacket for my husband. The big green package is a television game for my granddaughter. The one with holly on it is a calculator for my son. The striped one is a blouse for my niece.” And so on, working over the large pile of presents, the lady named off each one for the little girl. When the woman finished, the little girl was silent as she looked over all the presents. Then she said quietly: “Where’s His?” The lady responded: “What do you mean? Have I forgotten someone? I’ve been over the list a dozen times—surely I haven’t forgotten anyone?” The little girl said: “Didn’t you say Christmas is Christ’s birthday? Where is His present?”
You see, Christmas reminds us that we, like the Wise Men, can bring to the Christ-child our gold. We can put Christ and His church on our gift list. So make your list and check it twice, and then ask yourself: “Where’s His?”
And Christmas reminds us that we can bring to God our circumstances.
That is, we can bring to God our joys and our sorrows, our victories and our defeats, our biggest concerns and our smallest worries. We can bring to God the everyday circumstances of our everyday lives. And when we do, suddenly the most common and ordinary circumstances of our lives are touched with glory.
A little girl was watching her mother standing over the sink cleaning up the dinner dishes. The little girl said: “Mother, how can you stand doing dishes day after day after day?” The mother smiled at her and said: “I’m not washing dishes, Jennifer, I am building a home!” Saint Anthony was known as a truly devout and Godly man. One day he heard of someone who was even more devout. He searched for the man to learn the secret of his devotion, and he learned the man was a simple cobbler in another village. Saint Anthony asked him: “What is the secret of your devout life?” The man answered; “I have no secret, but I’ll tell you what I do. I make shoes and every shoe I make I make for Jesus Christ!” There’s the principle at work—when you offer to God the every day circumstances of your life then the daily chores are lifted from mere drudgery to the fulfillment of a dream.
The old cobbler said: “Everything I make I make for Jesus Christ. How about you bankers? Are you making loans for Jesus Christ? What about it doctors? When you walk into the operating theater, or when you encounter your patients, are you doing it for Jesus Christ? And teachers? When you work with an unruly or struggling student, are you doing it for Jesus Christ? What about it, homemakers and parents? Are you building your home for Jesus Christ?
Here’s the Good News of Christmas! The word of Christmas is “Emmanuel” which means “God with us”. God is with us in every circumstance of life and nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him and His love. Therefore, you can offer Him any and every circumstance of your life.
Then Christmas reminds us that we can bring to God not only our gold and circumstance, but, yes, we can even bring Him our mud!
That is, our weaknesses, our failures, our foibles, our mistakes, our inadequacies, our sins, we can load it all up and bring it to the Lord. We can even bring to the manager ‘our mud’, our clay feet and God’s grace can redeem and re-shape it all.
Thursday night, a week ago, I had returned to the church from a Christmas reception honoring one of our great members, and I had about thirty minutes before I was scheduled to speak to our Single’s Perspective group. I was at my desk trying to focus my mind and heart on the address I was soon to give. Suddenly I felt someone looking at me. Have you had that experience? I felt the presence of another person. Between the noise of the housekeeping staff vacuuming the floors in the hall and my own concentrated efforts, I hadn’t noticed anyone enter the room. I looked up and standing in the doorway was a young woman who looked to be in her late 20’s. She was crying. She said: “You don’t know me and I’m not a member here, but I need help. I need someone to talk to.” Through her tears she poured out her story—married at 18, husband deserted her two years later, years wallowing in self-pity, becoming terribly lonely, and taking up a lifestyle the opposite of every moral value she had ever been taught. Earlier that evening, as she was driving along the streets of the city, she had spotted our church’s illuminated steeple and she was jolted by the reality of what her life had become. She had come into the church and someone had directed her up to me. Then she asked: “How could God ever forgive me for what I have done?” I could see that a simple answer would not suffice. So I said: “Let’s suppose that you were my daughter and you told me your story just as you told it tonight. As a father, I would have two choices. I could say: ’Get out of my sight. You have shamed and dishonored our family. Get out!’ Or I could say to you: ’I am so sorry that all this has happened. I love you and I want to help you make a new start in your life.’ Now which one of those do you think I would do?” She said: “I think you would do the second.” I asked her: “Why do you think that?” She didn’t say anything. She just pointed to the picture of my three children which hangs on the wall of my office. “You are right,” I said to her, “and if I am capable of that kind of love and forgiveness, then how much more is God?”
That’s what Christmas is all about. Christ comes to show us that God is not a vindictive judge who must be appeased but that He is a gracious, merciful, loving Father to whom we can bring, not only our gold and our circumstance, but even our mud—and He can and does re-shape our mud for good.
Let me get you ready for Christmas with this little story told by Dr. Walter Capps. He teaches in the religion department at the University of California in Santa Barbara. He has developed a nationally famous course at that University which regularly attracts thousands of students. It’s a class on the impact of the Viet Nam War on American life and culture. Dr. Capps punctuates his own teaching by bringing in guest speakers who experienced the Viet Nam War and the decade of the sixties firsthand. On one occasion, he invited a Viet Nam veteran named John Murphy to address the class. The lecture hall was packed. John Murphy proceeded to tell the students that he hadn’t wanted to go to war; he didn’t want to be a soldier; he didn’t want to leave his wife but when he was drafted, he felt that it was his duty to go. He said to the students: “I went and did the best I could. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived a horrible year in the jungles of Viet Nam. I saw many of my friends killed in action. Somehow, I got through it with no serious injuries.” He then told how when his stint was over, he flew back to San Francisco. He got off the plane in full-dress uniform glad to be on American soil again. He ran to a phone booth to call his wife and let her know that he was on his way to her arms.
However, when he stepped out of the phone booth, he was confronted by an angry war protestor, who demanded to know if he had been to Viet Nam. When John Murphy said yes, the man began to curse him, screaming at him, calling him dirty names. When John Murphy tried to explain his situation, the man spit on him, not once, but twice. John couldn’t help himself. He exploded, grabbed the man and wrestled him to the ground. Fortunately, some people pulled them apart and the protestor ran away through the crowd. John Murphy said: “I couldn’t understand it. I felt I had done my duty. I had risked my life for the sake of freedom. I had watched my buddies die. I had been separated from my family for months. And this was the thanks I got!” John Murphy’s voice broke. Tears clouded his eyes. He couldn’t continue. When he sat down, he buried his face in his hands and wept. There was total silence in the auditorium. There were a thousand students there, but you could have heard a pin drop. Complete silence. Finally near the back, a student stood up and said: “I may be a little late with this, but, John Murphy, welcome home!” The place erupted with applause and everybody was crying.
That’s what happens at Christmas. When we come to Jesus Christ, in faith, offering Him our gold, our circumstance, even our mud, then suddenly, we hear a great voice of joy saying: