Saturday, December 24, 2011

Luke 2:1-20

“Don’t Leave A Gift Unopened!”

Hope – Peace – Joy – Love – Christ

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To watch videos of this sermon, go to YouTube: 



The first gift we unwrapped this season was hope.  I guess that’s understandable, since they say, “Hope springs eternal.”  Although, so many of us find it difficult to hope again, especially after all the crap that life brings us.  It’s so hard to hope, to be optimistic, to dream after you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one or the ending of a meaningful relationship.  It’s hard to expect things to be different when you’ve been evicted from your home after a foreclosure or the temp agency calls you less and less.  “Hope springs eternal” seems so trite and false when you’re headed into the dead of winter and all around you things seem to keep dying rather than coming to life again.

But we opened the gift of hope anyway, and in it we found the “uncommon spiritual discipline” of

Creche from Pastor Allen Harris, a gift of Jon & Melba Lacey

waiting.  Waiting is a lost art in our world, especially since the advent of smart phones and social networking sites, where your every joy, burp, and breakup can be Tweeted instantly to thousands of friends or followers.  But, let’s be honest, it’s always been hard to say to someone who has just experienced a tragedy or a loss to simply “wait.”  Yet, if we take the stuff Jesus said and did, we ought to at least try it.  He seemed to be a patient man… most of the time.  Let us take time to sit with our pain, our shame, our helplessness and our hopelessness… and wait.

What this does is prevent us from making knee-jerk decisions or finding quick fixes, but really pondering the possibilities.  It will also help us to make distinctions between things we genuinely hope for and those we just desire.  Waiting can turn our despair into hope, especially if we stick close to friends and family and neighbors who have proven to be trustworthy, patient, and honest.

Waiting in relationship with trusted loved ones leads to Hope.


The second gift we opened was Peace.  Perhaps it was symbolic that we would celebrate peace just before the end of the war in Iraq would be announced, and our courageous men and women in the military would come home once again.  And yet, as peace tends to be in our world, it was an uneasy comfort, for we are still very much at war in Afghanistan, and there erupts anew conflict around the world up to our very doorsteps.  We hear Jeremiah’s plaintive cry, “They cry out ‘Peace, peace,’ where there is no peace.”

But we opened the gift of peace anyway, and in it we found the uncommon spiritual discipline of

Creche from Joe Stanley and family

discernment.  At its core, discernment is learning to “trust your gut,” believe enough in the wisdom, grace, and truth that God created us with “in the beginning,” you know, when we were “imago dei,” made in the image of God?  This is so very hard because our culture tells us to trust the experts, our fears are stoked by a security-crazed society, divisiveness is made in to an art form, and we just get so tired of thinking deeply about life’s problems and all the day-to-day conflicts and decisions that need discernment!

But we can recapture the power of spiritual discernment if we reclaim the body and it’s wisdom.  And I mean “body” in both senses.  I most certainly mean the very real flesh, bone, and blood bodies that we have, in all their true beauty and not that made up, air-brushed beauty of Hollywood and Madison Avenue.  But I also am talking about the body politic, the corporate body of all the people, the 99% of us, and the wisdom that comes from really listening to one another and living with one another’s wisdom.

Trusting the wisdom of our own bodies, whether they be physical bodies or communal bodies, leads to Peace.


The third gift we opened was Joy.  Joy is most certainly one of the standard emotions expected at Christmastime.  We’re expected to be joyful at the office party, the neighbor’s party, the family party, the church party.  But joy isn’t just one of those emotions you can turn on and off like a light switch.  Oh, you can pretend joy, and many of us do because it’s just easier that way.  No one wants to be the kill-joy at the Holiday Party.  “What’s wrong, Allen?  Let’s find a quiet corner and talk.”  Aaarghh!!!  True joy can’t be forced, it can only come genuinely from within.

But we opened the gift of Joy anyway, and in it we found the uncommon spiritual discipline of humility.

Creche from Colleen Munley and family.

Humility is one of the most counter-cultural aspects of human nature, and yet it is one of the most fruitful.  Often mistaken for it’s evil twin, humiliation, humility is actually life giving.  We noted the ministry of John the Baptist, who, though he had every right to claim the spotlight, insisted on only being a messenger, one who would prepare the way for someone greater than he.  He knew that his place in the world must diminish so that Christ’s place in the world might increase.  Now that’s true humility.

But how does humility lead to joy?  Because it unearths a fundamental human truth that is oft touted but rarely realized in our world: It is better to give than to receive.  Understanding that our true place in the world is not at the center, but at the side with God in the center, enables us to be ourselves in a way no spotlight can tolerate.  Serving others, especially the least, the lost, the lonely, and the less loved inspires a joy within that is beyond imagination.

Finding our right place in the world and serving others leads to Joy.


The fourth gift we opened was Love.  Love is perhaps the most talked about and the least practiced human sentiment around!  Ask anyone who’s been dumped, duped, or despised about love.  You’ll get an earful!  Love would seem to be the last thing possible in the Christmas story.  An unwed mother, a suspicious fiancé, poverty so crippling that only the stalls for the animals would be made available for sleep and the cattle’s feeding trough for a newborn’s crib.

Too many among us know the same story, and scratch to find the love in it all.  Too many of our young girls are getting pregnant before they finish school.  Too many of our young fathers are so uncertain about things they avoid responsibility.  Too many of our neighbors are in such desperate poverty that they become acclimated to terrible living conditions.  Those of us with enough and more than enough simply strengthen the security around us and bar the door to our hearts with cynicism, selfishness, and spite.

But we opened the gift of love anyway, and in it we found the uncommon spiritual discipline of bold confidence.  We saw in this young woman, Mary, the

Creche from Patty Groetsch and family, created by Jean Borelli.

rare and compelling quality of a brave humility, a self-less courage, and a deep trust in her own God-given beauty that radiated from her.  In the crucible of an unimaginably terrifying and undeniably traumatic moment, she believed audaciously in the God who made her as having made her beautiful, capable, and ready for just such a moment in her life.

It is this humble yet confident courage that leads to Love.


And so tonight we open the final gift.  Really, if we have sincerely opened the other four gifts, this one comes naturally, expectantly, certainly.  If we wait patiently with Hope… If we trust the wisdom of our bodies with Peace…  If we humble ourselves with Joy… And if we live confidently with Love… Then the Christ child will be born in us again most surely.

And this Christ Child will be the very light that shines through us.  That’s the true message of Christmas.  It isn’t something we’re going to receive from “out there,” whether from Santa, from our parents, from our lover or spouse, or from society.  This light will come from within, from the One who made us with these gifts already deeply embedded and completely intact within us.  We have Hope.  We have Peace.  We have Joy.  We have Love.  God sent us Christ to try in the most amazing and non-god-like way possible to get us to believe this.  It’s not anything new!  From creation through the judges, kings, priests, and prophets God has been telling us that we are all something pretty special!  We are ALL a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people!  But we forget!

And so, we celebrate Christmas each year to help remind us of the Gift that simply can’t be left unopened.  And, knowing full well that we humans are so very, very human, Christ, in one of his very last acts, decided to remind us of the power of this Gift in a act he called us to do, as often as we could.  On a night when his closest friends and followers would forget, too painfully and too quickly, of the gift that he was and the gifts they were, he gathered them at dinner, at table.

And after dinner he took the bread, blessed it, and broke it saying, “This is my body, broken for you.  Each time that you eat it, do so remembering me.”  And in the same way he took the cup, blessed it, and gave it to them saying, “This is my blood, shed for you.  It is a new covenant for the forgiveness of sin.  Each time you drink it, do so remembering me.”  This is the Gift of God for the People of God.  Come, for all the gifts have been opened and are ready for you.