01-01-20 THE GIFT

John 1: 1-5;14

At Christmas we give and receive gifts; they might delight us or disappoint us. Finding or creating those gifts takes our time and our energy, as they should. Gifts rightly given, are expressions of our love, or our appreciation, or our desire to participate in a traditional season of giving. But at the heart of it all, is “The Gift.” The Gift is Jesus, born in a stable, and perhaps already born in your heart. If not, you can even prepare him room today. What other gift have you received this year or some other year, that touched your heart, or changed your life? People have written about such gifts and they have been placed into the annals of our seasonal literature. Take, for example the short story by William Sydney Porter, known by his pen name of O. Henry. His story, “The Gift of the Magi,” starts with these words: One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty of it was in pennies. Three times Della counted it…. And the next day would be Christmas. There was nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it…. There were two possessions that Della, and her husband Jim, called valuable. “One was Jim’s gold watch, which had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair.” It was beautiful, cascading, and brunette, falling below her knees when combed out. So—spoiler alert—Della sold her hair to buy Jim a beautiful chain on which he could attach his gold pocket watch, while Jim sold his gold watch to buy expensive hair clips—really hair combs—made of pure tortoise shell with jeweled rims for Della’s long hair. But now what was the use of combs for Della’s short hair? And what use was the chain without Jim’s watch? O. Henry concludes his story saying:
The magi, as you know, were wise men—wonderfully wise men—who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. … And here, I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise these days, let it be said that of all who give gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.”

So, there are gifts of sacrifice, one of which has been described in the first chapter John, when the essence of God—a gift of love—was born into a world that would receive him not. It was the supreme sacrificial gift, the one around which others may aspire. God—safely in the world of the eternal—came to the world of the mortal. Through the ages, there have been stories of those who have sacrificed their lives for their friends, their families, or for others in arms. More recently, there have been stories of people who have sacrificially given a kidney, or bone marrow, or blood so that others may have life. What a gift that is. I have given blood, and I have decided to be an organ donor at my demise, but those other gifts are truly sacrificial.

This season sometimes includes sacrificial gifts, but most often gifts of love and joy. The gift described in John chapter one is both. Dr Brian Blount, President of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia wrote a significant article for the Dec 23, 2019 issue of Presbyterians Outlook. Here is an excerpt:
God saw a world struggling in injustice, brokenness, and oppression….God came to this world. The Word became flesh and lived among us. Divinity incarnated itself into flesh. And we saw the glory, the glory of light breaking into darkness, so that all who encountered this light-infested flesh would see and know the truth of God’s intention for this world. God committed…. The author of the Gospel of John explained it this way: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” ….The moment the Word became flesh, the Word took a side. A human side. For there is nothing more human than flesh.
And that was God’s great gift. Gifts from the heart are great gifts.

In this season, other stories have helped expand our image of what a “gift” truly can be. Back in 1941 American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis wrote a song that at first was called “The Carol of the Drum,” but became known as “The Little Drummer Boy.” “In the lyrics, the singer relates how as a poor young boy, he was summoned by the Magi to the Nativity of Jesus. Without a gift for the infant, the little drummer boy played his drum with approval from Jesus’ mother, Mary. And, referring to Jesus, the little boy said, “I played my best for him,” and “He smiled at me.” [Wikipedia]

“The Gift” has been the title of at least two modern books, one by Richard Paul Evans, and one by Lewis Hyde. But THE gift, the gift to the world, is Emmanuel: “God with us.” The gift was a baby who was placed in a rudimentary manger for his bed. The gift was surrounded by Mary and Joseph, but also by animals and shepherds. Such a place, such a way, for “the gift” to be given. And yet, he was; and he is. That gift has inspired stories over the centuries, along with acts of love and kindness. The Gift of Jesus may have entered or touched your heart this year or another year. Good! If not, as I said, you can still prepare room in your heart for him today. But what other gift has touched your heart this year? Cherish it; give thanks for it, even as you give thanks for Him, the Lord Jesus. Today, focus on the one who was born a King, so that wise men who read the stars would travel long distances to bring him the most meaningful gifts they had.
May this day be the day you remember “The Gift,” and the gifts.
Let us pray: Hear our prayer, O God, as we come from the old year into this new one. As we call on you for guidance, wisdom, and comfort, remind us of your love, and always, of your gift. Amen.

Jeffrey A. Sumner January 5, 2020