I have a file in my filing cabinet that I’ve kept for about 25 years or so. Once in a while I add something to it, but I never take anything out of it. It’s the most important file I have. I brought a few things that I keep in there. . . .
(drawings, notes, hand-made cards – all from children)
If you put monetary value on these gifts, they’d total less than $5.00. Yet they are priceless. Because these were gifts and notes from children who took the time to make them themselves. For me. Specifically. Personally. No one else will ever get a gift like any of these. They were made for me.
Which would you rather get for Christmas? A bracelet that someone picked up on their lunch break, or a macaroni and glitter picture of each member of your family, their names spelled incorrectly, but carefully and lovingly made just for you?
No choice as far as I’m concerned. Not even close. A gift’s real value isn’t be measured in dollars, but in the amount of love it expresses. Personal expressions of a caring relationship are so much more meaningful than even the most expensive technological gadget. Because these thoughtful declarations of love come from someone’s heart, they are like a heart connection between the giver and the receiver. One person opens their heart to give it away, and the other person opens their heart to receive it. And both of them end up with bigger hearts, even more filled of love.
We’re conditioned to play down the significance of these personal expressions of a relationship. Instead, we’re conditioned to express our care with dollars spent. If we don’t spend as much as we can on someone, we are made to feel that they will think we don’t care. Dollar amount equals love amount. We’ve been falsely conditioned to believe that the person who spends the most on you is the one who cares the most about you.
But our experience tells us that’s not true. The gifts that touch us most deeply the ones that are the most personal; the ones that celebrate a relationship. The price tag is usually irrelevant.
Aren’t those the best Christmas gifts? Isn’t that the very heart of Christmas anyway? Christmas is the celebration of God giving the most personal, most thoughtful, most loving gift to the world. God gave God’s own self to us, entering into our world as a deep expression of personal love. God opened God’s own heart to give us Jesus, and in that gift, our hearts are opened to receive him. There isn’t a more personal celebration of the relationship God shares with us than the gift of Jesus.
Our text for today calls that out: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Can you imagine if God decided the best gift God could give was a really nice sweater? Good thought, I guess, but that hardly expresses the depth of God’s love for us, does it? The gift God gives is the very presence of God’s own self, coming into our world, becoming one of us.
The greatest gift God could give us was also the most personal. The deepest expression of love God could pour out on us came from deepest place in God’s own heart. And this Advent, we can re-discover this aspect of gift-giving: a personal expression of a loving relationship.
Lois has a nephew stationed in Oahu. He and his wife just gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, and they named him Calvin (Cal). The only problem is that Cal was born several weeks too early and weighs just over two pounds. He will spend many weeks in intensive care, and has a ways to go.
His parents are first-time parents and have no idea what to expect. They are obviously stressed, worried, and feeling really helpless. So what do you think will be more significant to them? A T-shirt that says “I’m a new mom” or a baby blanket made with love and care by LCM quilters and covered in prayer last week by this congregation? They are in Honolulu, thousands of miles away from any family. But such a caring, personal gift doesn’t count the miles. It’s our heart to theirs. Their heart to ours.
Two weeks ago, we re-discovered what has been missing: Mary’s Magnificat revealed her new heart poured out in praise as she stepped into God’s activity of love and justice.
Last week we re-discovered contentment as we recognized that we can take power away from wealth and consumerism. We actually can spend less and in so doing, recognize the power of Christ among us.
Today we re-discover that we can actually give more—even if we spend less. When we give from our hearts, when we celebrate the love we share, gift-giving actually looks like God’s gift of Jesus.
We can do this. We can give gifts that celebrate our relationships, that reveal God’s love in Christ. Instead of a video game, give someone twelve lunch coupons, redeemable once a month for lunch with you. Give a collection of photos of places or things that remind you of that person, with a note for each photo telling why.
It will take thought, it will take imagination, it will take time. But if we give more deeply instead of more expensively, we are actually sharing the gift God gave to us, the giving of God’s own self. The gift of love. The gift of Jesus.
As we celebrate the birth of Christ, we are opening our hearts to God’s heart. As we give gifts to others, we can actually reflect the gift of God entering our world as one of us. This is the gift that changes the world.