Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Greatest Gift of All

'Tis the weekend before Christmas, a very special time;
Getting everything ready for this season sublime.

This morning we gathered to worship a great God who sent His son, Emmanuel, God with us. Brad welcomed us warmly, and candidly noted that it still blows his mind that the God of the universe would send His son to die for us. As we prepare for Christmas, Brad desired to make us aware of some special insights into this greatest gift of all.

The key announcement was a reminder that the Christmas Eve service will be at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. Then a worship time commenced, led by the quartet with Chuck, Darlene, Ken and Dale. Two great songs and some Christmas hymns moved us deeper into the service.

Pearl and Ruth Anne lit the advent candles this week. After the offering and a time of praise and prayer, Dana sang a wonderful song about sifting through the attic and recognizing that "my precious Jesus is more than an heirloom to me."

Brad then stepped to the pulpit to deliver the Gospel.

The Greatest Gift of All
The sermon today drew its inspiration from Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the Magi.

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

As with all great Bible passages many lessons can be extracted from this story. For people who seeking, one can learn much from the dedication of these seekers. And if you are in leadership, there are lessons to be drawn from the disingenuous behavior of Herod as well. But today's theme has to do with the giving of gifts, and the passage does offer insights into how we conduct ourselves in this season of giving.

Brad stated that in all his years of going to church he had never heard a sermon on Christmas gift giving, so he decided it was time. There were four lessons we can take away from this story of the magi. (1) Planning (2) Personalization (3) Appropriate Price and (4) Presentation.

How do we normally think about gift giving? There are certainly a lot of ways we can get it wrong. There's always media pressure to give beyond our means. Or we can give so much at one time that we create unrealistic expectations for the future. Then there are those who piously reject Christmas gift giving altogether. How do we sort it out? The story of the magi can help.

1) Start with Planning
The magi came a long ways to be present at the birth of Jesus. And they had to plan in advance what they would bring. They did not wait till the last minute. They invested time and energy.

Brad then suggested we take out a piece of paper and make a list of people to consider in our gift giving. Faith, family and friends are the big three things in life. But Brad encouraged us to also consider those who were outsiders, the forgotten. On our list of people who are important to us, we need to include the overlooked.

2) Think how to Personalize the gift.
Brad brought examples of gifts that had been meaningful to him. The first was a beaver skin hat that his father paid a Russian man to make for him. Brad called it "the best gift I have ever received." He also shared a Brett Favre jersey and a sticker from his son, which he wore over his heart this morning.

The point here is that each gift demonstrated a knowledge of who Brad was. For this reason each was special to him.

Likewise the magi brought gifts that were fit for a king. Their gifts demonstrated that they understood the true identity of the kingship of Jesus. "Friends, learn from the wise men. Do a little planning and personalize your gift."

3) Price
Yes, the magi spent a lot, but God was worthy. You have to give gifts that fit the price point within your God-given means. This will be a challenge for some because they do not have unlimited resources. The sticker which Brad son gave him was home made, and very special because it was made with love. His son does not have any money, so it was appropriate as well. Meaningful gifts do not have to be expensive.

Brad warned that affluent people can sometimes go overboard just because they can afford to. Often there are many gifts that are simply things we don't need. It's just more clutter. Our giving should not be with the aim of impressing others.

4) Pay attention to the Presentation
The magi worshipped first, then gave. Rather than madly tearing off wrapping paper and wildly opening the presents, take a couple minutes to read the Christmas story and thank God for His gift to us.

While the world was lost, God planned a gift to us that was so spectacular, it took heaven's breath away... a gift to us that was personalized, and pricey. Now we know why the angels sang so gloriously on the hillside that precious night. It was the ultimate gift. To meet the ultimate need.

Brad summed up by suggesting that we can follow that pattern. Let us be responsive to God with an unrestricted heart, offering Him our allegiance and affection.

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