Friday, 2 December 2011

:: Advent 1 - Gifts ::

Have you ever been in the awful situation when someone gives you a Christmas present and you didn’t buy them one? It’s so embarrassing - I don’t know about you but I never know quite what to say or what to do in that situation. Do we rush out and get something the next day and pretend we had it at home all the time or do we say thank you and own up that we haven’t bought anything in return? But why should we feel like this? Doesn’t the bible teach us that we don’t give to receive? Shouldn’t the giving be the joy? Shouldn’t our giving be from the heart to show people that we love them, that they are special and that we care about them? To be honest I enjoying giving presents far more than receiving them. I love picking something out that I hope my loved one will like, or spending ages making something special, the nights I have spent into the early hours trying to finish knitting something for my daughter. Then I love to wrap the parcel up so that it looks lovely - I can’t wait to see the face of my friend or family member when they open it. It brings me so much joy – to me this is enough in return for the gift that I have given. Receiving something back isn’t the point for me.
As I prepared for this sermon, I thought about Gods great gift to us all – the gift that we never tire of talking about, the precious gift of the light of the world. I thought about His excitement when He sees us receive this gift when we accept His son as our lord and saviour. The delight that He must feel as He see’s us use His gifts, the over flowing love that He has for us – the joy that He must feel from those who love him and thank him for the most wonderful gift that we could ever receive. I remember somone saying that the angels dance and rejoice in heaven when someone is saved. What a wonderful image.
But I feel that the society we live in is trying to steal that joy from us. Society is actually robbing us of the heart felt joy of giving because from August onwards it seems to me that we are bombarded from every direction with what to buy, what to give, how to show our love, how to show our gratitude how to show we care. And how do we show it? We show it by spending more money than we can afford on more than we need. They want us to try to replace the joy and love of the Christmas message with greed and want.
As Christians we know the true spirit of Christmas, we know that Advent isn’t all about endless shopping lists, frenzied shopping trips wearing out our credit cards and spending money we don’t have. We know that Advent is a time of preparing ourselves spiritually to receive the greatest gift we could ever receive - Gods gift - the light of the world. This gift is freely given and God doesn’t expect a present back, His joy is seeing us receive the gift, to celebrate the receiving and to use the gifts we are given. Gods gift did cost the earth, but was given to save the earth.
But for so many people Advent, and the lead up to Christmas has become a very stressful time. A time of great pressure, rather than joy, a time of endless lists of Christmas cards and presents, of festive food and drink, of menus and celebrations and of course making sure we have the money to pay for it all. Somehow the spirit of Christmas seems to be completely lost in this world we live in. A world which is completely obsessed with commercialism, making everything bigger and better so that every Christmas the latest gadget is new and improved and a must have on every letter to Santa. Nothing ever seems good enough and the wanting seems to go on and on.
It makes me very sad that amongst all this greed and envy, want and desire my Jesus gets lost, the good news of his birth is hidden under television adverts for the latest iphone or Nintendo D.S., emails from comet telling us what everyone wants for Christmas or billboards encouraging us to buy that new sofa now, so we have it in time for Christmas. The greatest gift ever given to mankind is forgotten in the mad dash to fill our supermarket trolleys at Morrisons because they are closed for one day at Christmas and we don’t want to run out of food do we! To me, and for many other people the Christ is often left out of Christmas.
I actually avoid city centres at Christmas if I can because I find this atmosphere of greed quite repulsive, especially when you see, only a few hundred yards away some poor soul living on the streets without a penny to their name. Last year I visited St Georges Crypt with a delivery of toys from our school. I was overwhelmed as I went into this huge hall filled with donations of gifts which those on a low income can take for their children at Christmas. Isn’t that what Jesus would ask us to do? Didn’t he tell us to give our brother the shirt off our backs? But instead the crowds walk on by with credit cards at the ready laden with bags of things they don’t need, or want or that they can’t afford. The commercial world would be quite happy to leave Christ out of Christmas!
But we aren’t going to let them are we? Because our Christian values are not about greed and having, our beliefs are the opposite – we see worth and value in very different things. So we cant sit back in amazement and watch as people go into mad frenzies, spending too much money panicking about Christmas dinner what to wear what to buy for people what to watch on TV. If we are appalled by their behaviour and attitude then we should do what Paul commissioned the believers in Corinth to do. To share Gods blessings because if we aren’t telling them about the true spirit of Christmas, and if we aren’t sharing the good news with them who will?
This society that we live in, which is consumed by consumerism may not be very much different to the society in Corinth which Paul speaks of in the scripture we heard today. Corinth was a very prosperous port which was a cultural melting pot, with a great diversity of wealth and of religious and moral standards. The busy port entertained many visitors, including wealthy merchants with time and money on their hands which led to it becoming a hot bed of corruption and sin. Idolatry flourished and there were dozens of pagan temples which employed thousands of prostitutes, in fact Corinth was famous for its prostitutes who were known as the Corinthian girls.
In this passage Paul is encouraging the believers in Corinth to have spiritual unity and to behave with a Christ-like character in this town rich with money, overflowing in greed, being dominated by lust and paganism. He reminds the followers that they have been given the gift of Grace and he encourages them that in a world of noise confusion and relentless pressures that people are actually deeply longing for peace. Like the believers in Corinthian we too have all been blessed by God and given the spiritual gifts that we need to witness to Christ, to walk a Christian line through the streets of glitter and gold, bright lights and tempting Christmas offers. We too are commissioned to show the world around us an alternative way of living that is not obsessed with wanting and having the latest and greatest new fad.
Paul is commissioning his fellow Christians in Corinth to firmly establish the message of Jesus. He sees that the people of Corinth are receiving their blessing, they were not receiving the wonderful gift that God had given them, they were consumed with other things, worldly things, they had become consumed with sin. Paul tells them that the world isn’t receiving Gods blessing because Christ isn’t established as their Lord and saviour. So he encourages his friends to establish those blessings in their lives, to share their God given gifts and share them with those around them so that the message of Jesus is in their hearts and so that they too can receive Gods gifts, Gods blessings.
As Christians I think it is vital that we demonstrate that the gift of Christ’s birth is not only central to our Christmas celebrations, but our whole lives because as Christians we not only keep Jesus in our Christmas celebrations but for all the days of our lives, day after day. How do we do this? we do this by keeping him present in our lives day after day, daily revealing the gifts he gave us, the character, the love and the spirit of Christ that dwells in us, we do this by allowing these traits to shine through our actions. By giving the poor soul in the door way a cup of tea and by giving them the time of day or bringing in gifts for the shoe boxes or the toy appeal.
In 2 Corinthians 8 : 7 Paul says: “See that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
In my last sermon I spoke to you about the fruit and the vine. I asked if we were bearing fruit? Surely our response to this is more pressing as we prepare for advent. Surely our response to this gift given to us from the heart of our God, surely this should be to bear fruit, to share our gifts to set the people free by lifting the yoke which consumerism has set about their necks. If we as Christians don’t show them the spirit of Christmas then who will?
This Christmas I am sure we will all been blessed with gifts and celebrations with our families. But this year, as we prepare for the coming of the light of the world, I would like us to give God a present. As we come to a time of prayer I would like you to think about giving God one very special gift. Just one from you to him. It wont cost any money but it will cost sacrifice. I have made some little gift tags, which you were given when you came in. One is for you to take home and put in your bibles, this one is to remind you every day of the gift you want to give to God. Let this gift be something personal that no one else needs to know about, and let it be a sacrifice. David said in 2 Samuel v24 that he would not offer a sacrifice to God that cost him nothing.
For example, maybe your gift to God will be to
forgive someone you've needed to forgive for a long time. You may discover that you've given a gift back to yourself. Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian who survived extreme brutality in a German concentration camp after rescuing many Jews from certain death during the Nazi Holocaust was an incredible woman and witness to her faith in God, after the war she was able to forgive her persecutors and say, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you."
Or you could give time. I recently heard of a church in a big city. The older members of the church, who found they didn’t sleep at night decided to open the doors of their church at closing time. They offered hot tea and comfort to young people at closing time. They moped the tears of the girls who had been dumped, calmed down the lads who had been in a fight and sobered up those who had had one too many. Because the gift they had was the gift of time, they had the time and the wisdom to know how to listen, they knew the right words to say and they knew how to use their gifts to heal broken hearts and angry hearts and lonely hearts. They befriended theses young people, who regularly went started to go to the church every weekend and eventually – you guessed it the young people gave their lives to Jesus and started going to church on a Sunday morning instead. I believe that our gifts to God will change over the years but everyone, from the oldest to the youngest member of our church family, everyone has something to give. The one thing that some people here today have is time, something I spend my life chasing after. What a wonderful gift. You have no idea what a blessing it is. I regularly spend time with my friend Marion and she always has time for me, and she will always listen to all my worries and woes and she gives always gives me good advice sharing her years of experiences and wisdom. To me the gifts that she has and shares with me are priceless.
Or perhaps your gift will be to commit to
spending more time with God every day. It doesn’t matter what it is, because it’s between you and God – but I encourage you to make this your most important gift of the season.
The other tag has a tie, it is for you to tie onto the tree of promises which I have made for our church. All you have to write on the tag is the message that you usually write on gift tags and your name. After the intercessions the children will come back in with their tags and we can all tie our gift tags to the tree together as a family. Each week the tree of promises will remind us of our gift, our promise to God as we prepare for Advent and they will remind us of the coming of the light of the world and the amazing gift that our gracious God gave to us.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful sermon!
    I hope you have a glorious Christmas,
    wishing you well and sending a big hug.


It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H