What was the best Christmas gift you ever received?
I remember the gifts received one year in particular. That year I received everything I could imagine ever wanting. Santa brought me a cassette tape player. My parents gave me a velveteen beanbag chair and my great aunt gave my sister and me a 13-inch black and white portable TV to share.
At the time, I thought these were the best Christmas gifts ever. But eventually the cassette tape player broke. During the years the Styrofoam beans in the beanbag became so compressed that it was no longer comfortable to sit in. And the black and white TV, though I kept it for a long time, did eventually give out.
They were good gifts. But they were not the best gift ever.
But at Christmas we do receive the best gift ever. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus – God’s son. When the angel met the shepherds that night, he said, “I am bringing you good news of a great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David, a savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
This was the message to the shepherds, but it is also their message to us. To you is born a savior – the Messiah – the Lord. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” God has come into our world to share our life – fully and completely. He has come to share our joys and our sorrows.
Jesus is the best Christmas gift ever.
Jesus brings God’s life into our lives. God comes to share our lives. He doesn’t remain remote and distant. Instead he comes to share our life with all its struggles and pains as well as joys. And he comes to share with us God’s life and God’s love. He came to Earth so that we could be reunited with his father. He came to Earth so that we could be adopted as God’s own children.
This is God’s gift to us.
But at times we feel separated from this gift. We may fear that we don’t deserve this gift. Maybe we have wandered far from God. Maybe we have done things that we regret. Maybe we thought we could handle life on our own – but discovered that life without God is empty. We all find ourselves in these places at some time in life. St. Paul in his letter to Romans reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But God’s gracious love is unconditional. God will always be here for us. Nothing can separate us from God’s gift.
This is why we sing “Joy to the World” at Christmas. The joy this gift brings is deeper and more substantial than mere happiness. This joy will outlast any sorrow that we know. This joy flows from the presence of Christ in our lives. In Christ’s presence we know peace – the confidence that no matter what we face, God is with us – the assurance that even when storms threaten, we have an anchor to hold us secure. We know the peace that comes from trusting that the Lord is with us.
This is the best Christmas gift ever.
This is the gift that can never be reciprocated. God’s love is gracious – unmerited and undeserved. We can never equal God’s effort. It can only be received – gladly and thankfully. We truly give thanks by welcoming Christ into our lives – as our honored guest. We show our thankfulness by inviting him to live with us. We show our thankfulness when we allow Jesus to shape and transform our lives. When we do, our lives will begin to reflect Jesus’ life. Our lives will begin to show forth Jesus’ love.
This is how we give thanks for the greatest gift ever.
As you gather around the Christmas tree, remember the greatest gift will be received. This is the gift that doesn’t break, or disappoint, the gift that doesn’t expire or need batteries. The greatest gift is the gift of God’s love for you and for me revealed in the birth of Jesus, God’s son. This is the gift that is good today and for all eternity.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, at 501 Pine St. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.