Christmas is this Friday. The final shopping weekend for Christmas has come and is nearly gone. There are but a few days remaining for you to find the right gifts for your loved ones. If you were thinking of ordering online, I hope you have Amazon Prime, because otherwise, you may be clear out of luck of having the items delivered in time to make it under the tree for Christmas morning. May we be mindful this week and say an extra prayer and word of thanks for our Postal Service workers, and those of other delivery services, in these final days before Christmas, the busiest days of their year.
Does anyone else struggle with knowing just what gifts you should buy? I remember as a child, I made lists for my parents every year. Perhaps your children have done the same. I was just stubborn enough as a child to ensure the items I received on Christmas Day came from that list. I should probably make a public apology to my parents for that – I realize now how my stubbornness then was probably less appreciated on their part than mine.
Perhaps it’s the advancement of technology that has made wish listing more popular and accessible, but today, I rely on wish lists for buying gifts for everyone – for Jen, for my parents, and for my sister. Amazon, kind as they are, allows you to create shareable lists that others can browse. And because, why not, you can add items from someone’s wish list to your shopping cart at the click of a button. Other websites, like wishlistr.com, allow you to add items from a multitude of websites. You can add items from multiple online stores, collaborating them all together, so your family and friends looking to buy you items have a single list from which to shop.
Having a wish list from which to choose gifts ensures that I will not need to fear purchasing an unappreciated item. Because, you and me, we have all received one of those unappreciated items before. And try as we might, we never hide the disappointment from our faces as well as we like. And no gift giver ever wants to see that face.
But as we have been discussing over the past three weeks of Advent, where we often go wrong in this season of preparation for Christmas, is to confuse the celebration of the birth of Christ with the excuse to ask for and to receive the gifts we so long to obtain.
I hope you have your Christmas shopping done for all of your family, because the hardest decision is still to be made – what are you getting Jesus for his birthday? We’ve been saying for three weeks, Christmas is not your birthday – but it is the celebration of Jesus’ birth – so, what are you getting him?
In case you have accidently over looked what it is you’re getting Jesus, you’re in the right place today. Securing a gift for Jesus is not necessarily the easiest. I mean, what do you get the Lord of all Creation? What do you offer as a gift to the one who gives you life? Well, this morning, we’re going to see what it is that is on Jesus’ wish list.
In the scripture we heard read from Matthew 25, Jesus is speaking regarding the eschatological expectations for creation. That is, he is addressing the scenario that will take place when Christ comes in final victory, and the kingdom of God is experienced in full. Hear what he says in verse 31, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”
It tells us that as the Lord takes his seat of glory, before him will be all the nations of people. And in that time, this multitude of people will be divided into two groups – the sheep and the goats. Those who are placed at the right hand of the almighty will be the sheep.
Here is how the sheep will be known: The Lord says that these people, the sheep who will sit at the right hand, will have been the ones to have fed him when he was hungry, to give him a drink when he was thirsty, and to welcome him when he was unknown and seen as a stranger. They will have given him clothing when he was naked, they will have cared for him while he was sick, and they would have been the ones to visit him when he was imprisoned.
Now, taken just as that statement is made – not looking forward to what comes next in the conversation, it would be good to write down and note …. One of the items on Jesus’ wish list is for his disciples to do these things: feed the hungry, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger.
But that statement in and of itself is perhaps unfaithful to the full text we are reading. Jesus continues to speak, and here is what he says, “The righteous people,” that is the sheep whom he has moved to his right hand, “will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we do these things? When were you hungry and we gave you food? When were you in thirst, and we gave you something to drink? When were you in prison, and we visited you?’”
And you know Jesus’ response, “Just as you have done to any of those created by my Father, you have done it to me.”
Jesus is talking with his disciples while sitting atop the Mount of Olives. In his speaking, he is not only calling on his disciples, both those of that day and those of this day, to care for those who are experiencing some form of poverty – some kind of brokenness – he is also calling on his disciples to care for those experiencing any form of brokenness without even thinking about whether there is a just reward in helping the person. “Lord, when did we do these things to you? … ‘Truly, I tell you,’ he said, ‘when you did them to any, you have done them to me.’”
The righteous, that is, the sheep, in Jesus’ teaching, were surprised that they had done well. They had offered the care and mercy of God to persons who were broken, without even thinking – it was part of their being. “[They acted] out of genuine compassion, without any awareness that the king might be present among the least ones and without any thought of potential reward.”[i]
And of course, in his story of the end times, Jesus goes on. He goes on to name the fault of omission by the goats. The goats have been moved to his left hand, and they are accursed, for they have failed to offer drink, food, shelter, companionship, support, and care. Jesus says, “just as you did not do it to one of my own, you did not do it to me.”
In this story, Jesus makes it pretty clear what he is expecting of his disciples. Jesus asks for our relationship with him to be experienced and lived out in relationship with one another. Just as you have done to any … or just as you have not done to any … you have or have not done to me.
Let’s take a closer look at this understanding of discipleship.
When considering what it is we are called to offer Jesus for his birthday, we must first consider what it is we have to offer. Jesus is always calling his disciples to be living faithfully, which manifests itself best in the faithful use of our God given resources. We often refer to this faithful use of our God given resources as stewardship. It is the appropriate and faithful use of our time, our talent, and our treasurer.
As we are invited by God to join in the work of transforming the world, our initial response is often to claim ourselves as not having the right gift, or enough of a gift, to respond to God’s call to participate in the miracle working of God. So we use the word ‘but’ as our excuse to not offer what we consider may be too little of a gift.
Have you ever used the phrase, ‘I would, but not this month’? Or what about, ‘I’d like to, but I don’t think I have enough to offer?” Or my favorite, ‘I know I should, but it’s been a rough year.’
There are similar responses in the Biblical story as the early disciples also felt they too had little to offer to participate in the work of God.
Remember in the feeding of the multitudes, the people were grumbling because they were hungry. The disciples, fearing a mob would break out, came to Jesus to disperse the crowds before anything bad could happen. Jesus responded to them, “The people are hungry, what do you have to feed them?” The disciples, looking around, brought forth 5 loaves of bread and two fish. They made available what little they had, considering it perhaps too small a gift to even considering offering. “But Lord, we ONLY have fives loaves and two fish.”
Jesus says to the disciples, ‘Bring them here.’ He gives thanks for the offering, blesses it, and then gives the food back to the disciples to go forth and feed the multitudes. Rev. Mike Slaugther says that this story demonstrates, “When we obediently release what is in our hands, God blesses it, multiplies it, and then gives it back to us for the purpose of distribution.”[ii]
This offers us a glimpse at what else is on Jesus’ Christmas list. The Lord wants faithful givers – those who use the gifts they have been given – time, talent, and treasure – to faithfully serve the Lord. But what amount do you give? How much of your time do you offer? Which experiences and knowledge that you have been offered do you offer back for the benefit of the Lord?
2 Corinthians 9: 6-7 says, “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will reap generously. Each of you must give as you have made up in your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
You get to decide for yourself how God is calling you to respond in giving to Christ out of that which God has given you.
There is no question that there are people throughout our community, our nation, and our world who are living in poverty. The biblical understanding of poverty is that poverty is any kind of brokenness that “restricts people from living in the fullness of humanity that God intends.”[iii] God is seeking to restore our lives, the lives of all of creation, and the hope and call on your life is that you will participate in this work of restoration and transformation.
Christmas is not about celebrating and exalting ourselves. It is about receiving the gift of God in Christ, and celebrating that God would give his Son to us as an invitation for each of us to be part of the work of sharing God’s light in the world, that we may offer as a celebration of what God has done for us in Christ, a gift – an offering – to Christ of our gifts talents, resources, and treasures in service to God, participating in the sharing of God’s love through the work of transformation with others.
I offer you this final thought: 1 John 3:16 and 17 says: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help? Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
To sum up Jesus’ wish list, Christ wants you to reflect the love of God. “[This] love is not just a special way of feeling; it is an orientation of life and action.”[iv] It is an offering of what little we may feel we have to offer, that in the blessing of God, we may use our resources together to participate in the work of God, transforming lives, and ensuring each life knows the hope and light that we celebrate in the birth of Christ.
As my boys would say, Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus. May we offer to you a gift fit for our Lord and King. Amen.