What if someone came up to you and asked you to fill in the blank when asked Christmas is _______? What word would you use to fill in the blank? If you’re a kid and you’re asked the same question it would be presents. Well of course! That would be my answer if I were a kid. So, what word would you use? We’ll come back to it.
Think back. What was the best gift you ever got as a kid for Christmas? Mine was a bike. Yeah, I know I’m a girl and I should say doll. But my parents already went that route only to find I’d used my dolls in my combat units as wound victims. My mother was so happy when I grew out of that phase and began to behave like a girl. I didn’t go the girly girl route but I soon found it easier to manipulate the boys rather than outdo them. Anyway, I digress.
Have you thought of that word yet? That’s okay. We’ll come back to it.
The joy of an unexpected gift. Ever experience that? Isn’t it wonderful? We all make lists of what we’d like for Christmas. That way our family doesn’t give us something that we have to pretend we like but secretly hate. Isn’t it nice, though, when you open a gift that’s completely unexpected?
Christmas is a phenomenon in our society. It drives the economy. It messes with our emotions. It takes over our lives. It can make us crazy. It can make us do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. Like the things we do for a gift. Especially gifts we purchase for our kids or grandkids.
Take for instance my granddaughter, Haylie. One Christmas Haylie was into the movie “Frozen.” She especially loved the character, Anna, and wanted a dress just like the dress Anna wore. Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it? Wrong! We’d seen the dress in a particular store but the store didn’t have Haylie’s size. They were very kind and called around to their other stores to see if they might have the size we needed. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong! No store had the dress. I didn’t want to disappoint Haylie and asked if it might be possible to order the dress. Yes! Now we were on the right track. Simple. Wrong! We could order the dress but it wouldn’t be in until after Christmas. I wanted to surprise Haylie on Christmas day. Now it looked as if that wouldn’t happen.
I decided to just order the dress and give it to her after Christmas. As I turned to leave the store, another sales lady said, “Wait a minute! I think I saw a shipment come in earlier today of Anna dresses. Let me go look in the back.”
I don’t know what magical powers “the back” had, but she came back holding the Anna dress in the exact size we needed. Christmas shopping…you gotta love it.
Then there’s the amount of money that’s spent. Blows your mind. Why? Why do we do it? Why do we send cards to every friend and co-worker we’ve ever known? Is it love? Is this what drives it all?
It’s not even your birthday and people get you stuff. But you see, it’s not only the presents; it’s the presence. It’s the story. We come back to it year after year because it feeds our souls. None of this would even happen without the birth of Christ.
The story begins like this. There’s this new tax plan and that’s why Mary and Joseph must travel to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown. The Bible calls it a census. True, but the census is necessary so the government will know how much to tax the people and exactly how many people to tax.
They make it to Bethlehem and then it comes time for Mary to be delivered. We see Jesus being born homeless but his birth changed everything. It was the presence of God with them and with us now. A baby born in a backward country to peasants who didn’t even have a place to welcome the child. But then that’s how God rolls.
They all exclaimed, Emmanuel! God is with us. Sometimes I wonder if we understand the power of it.
We are never alone regardless of the circumstances. Doubts and fears. Celebrations and happiness. Sadness and loneliness. Emmanuel—the present and the presence—God is with us always.
Thought of that word yet? Emmanuel! This is the word for Christmas. The power of this will change the way you pray. The power of this will change the way you think. The power of this will change the way you act. The power of this will change the way you lead your life.
Now I ask you. How’s that for a present? The presence of God. Jesus Christ our Emmanuel!
And that’s what I learned in Church……see ya next time!