Okay, here we are once more. Its Christmas time and everyone around us is hyped-up in the pomp and circumstance of the holiday. This year might be a little more difficult for us as we’ve had quite a rough go of it. Amidst the pandemic, riots, protests and everything surrounding the elections this year, I don’t think we’re in as happy a mood as years gone by.
Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll make time for Christmas, the season of giving, as we all could use some “happy things” in our lives today. We’ll all run out to the local stores; find something that we might feel is unique for our friends and families; and present it to them on Christmas morning hoping to have given them something they will treasure dearly.
As hard as we try, I’m almost certain, you will come across those gifts that make us say to ourselves, “What in the world were they thinking?” You know the ones I’m talking about: the ties for dads; vacuum cleaners for moms; clothes for the kids etc. We don’t really want them and we’ll probably find a way to shove them in a corner somewhere.
As I think about “gift-giving” and not wanting some of the ones we get, I think about our Bible and all the gifts that were given by God to His people yet were either rejected, not accepted or completely ignored.
Lets talk about a few of them and see if you think any of these scenarious are what we ourselves are doing today.
Between Old and New
Book of Malachi – Prophecies relating to the calling of the
Gentiles and the coming of Christ
Malachi 4:5-6 (the last verses) – “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Malachi’s warning was not without cause. The Jewish people were mistreating their wives, marrying pagans and not tithing, and the priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God.
However, the people did not put to good use either the fulfilled prophecies nor the 400 years the nation was given to study Scripture, to seek God, and to prepare for the coming Messiah. In fact, those years blinded and deafened the nation to the point where most of the Jews could not even consider the concept of a humble Messiah.
Clearly, by their actions, they really didn’t want the gifts God was promising as they did absolutely nothing to earn them. As we can see in the time between the Old and New Testaments, God no longer communicated with them as He did previously.
They denied their gifts but God waited, patiently.
John the Baptist
Zechariah & Elizabeth
Now, lets switch over to the New Testament which begins with the Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).
The Priest Zechariah was in the Temple praying as his duties called for and as he did so, here is what happened next…
Luke 1:11- 20 – 11Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.”
“13But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.”
Imagine how Zechariah felt at that very moment! Frightened and alarmed… after all, this had never happened to him before. The Angel goes on…
“14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”
“16He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’”
Zechariah was not only frightened, he couldn’t believe what the Angel was saying to him! After all, he was an old man as was his wife. So…
“18Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.’”
He was obviously frightened…scared out of his wits I would think, and didn’t think he was worthy or capable of being such a father. Again, he was frightened and really wasn’t thinking clearly as the Angel was telling him of a wonderful gift he was about to receive.
6 months later, the Angel Gabriel went to Nazareth, a little town in Galilee to a virgin pledged to be married to a man names Joseph, a descendant of David.
Luke 1:28 – “28The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’”
“29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.’”
Like Zechariah, Mary couldn’t believe her ears!
“34’How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I do not know a man?’”
Again, like Zechariah, Mary was very frightened and didn’t feel worthy or up to the task! She was afraid of this gift but, lucky for us, she was a Godly woman and would do exactly as the Angel told her.
Zechariah & Mary didn’t feel Worthy
As we’ve just read, Zechariah and Mary were both offered wonderful gifts… glorious gifts from God yet neither one could believe their ears. It certainly isn’t that they didn’t want these gifts, they simply didn’t feel they were worthy of such a present from God. Thankfully for all of us, their believe was strong enough in God that they both accepted them.
Isn’t that just a little like some of us today? We’ve all done some crazy things in our lives. Some of which we’re not so very proud of and, as simple human beings, can’t get ourselves used to the fact that God truly does love us and will forgive us of all we’ve done through the sacrifice His son made for all of us.
Jesus did not start his ministry until approximately 30 years of age and this story from Luke, the third Gospel, tells us a little about how it all began.
Luke 4:16-21 – “16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“18The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
“20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Jesus was proclaiming who He was. Wouldn’t you have rejoiced with such an announcement?
“28All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”
Here we see that Jesus’ own people, the people of Nazareth, rejected the good news He was telling them.
Once again, I asked you… is that not what some of us here today are doing? We simply don’t accept the good Word; deny it; or just flat out don’t beleive it?
We all know of Judas’ betrayal… but what happened when the mod came to arrest Jesus? Did they stand up and fight for their teach; their Lord? No, looking at Mark (the second Gospel), they simply ran away.
Mark 4:50 – “Then everyone deserted Him and fled.”
Not only did all the other Apostles run away during this difficult time, His right-hand man, Peter, denied Him… not once, not twice, but three times!
Luke 22:61-62 – “61And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62And he went out and wept bitterly.”
Let me ask you again. Are you running away from Christ because your life isn’t a bowl of cherries? Have you fallen upon hard times and deserted Him like His Apostles did? Are you “blaming God” for the things you’re going through? If you’ve read your Bible (I won’t quote here) you will remember that Jesus Himself told us we would have difficult times, but to have faith!
Jesus Delivers the Good News
I digress, please allow me to go back to the first Gospel and remind you of the promises Jesus gave us from His Father. He told us all of these gifts in Matthew 5.
“3Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (This is for all those sad times we face)
4Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (This is for the times we grieve… times of loss)
5Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Kind of like Zechariah and Mary right? They didn’t feel “worthy” and “meek”)
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Kind of telling us here to “stay the course” and not give up on Jesus’ lessons and continue to do the right things.)
7Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Quite simply, being kind and merciful to our fellow man)
8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (I can understand why we might question this one. As far as I know, Jesus was the only person I’ve ever known that was truly pure at heart.)
9Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (When “we” stop the persecution.)
10Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (When we ourselves are the persecuted.)
11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (We’re not always the most-liked people (Christians)… especially in this day and age.)
And what I feel was His most solemn promise to us…
“12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Here, again, Jesus is simply telling us “stay the course,” do the right thing (following His lessons and doing the things He as taught us to do.) No, we’re not going to enjoy everything we go through here, but when He calls us home… our rewards are sure to be great!
I believe that today, we spend too much time drowning ourselves in our sorrows and forgetting ALL of these promises Jesus made! We need to make a better effort to remember them.
Denying the Gifts?
Probably the most popular or well-known verse in our Bible…
John 3:16 – “16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I’m sure there are many Pastors using this verse this week. But honestly, can you think of a greater sacrifice, a greater gift that could be given to us?
For all the suffering our Lord went through to bring you the gifts of the Father, are you not grateful? Do you not say, “Thank you” when someone gives you a gift?
Everything you Have
Its all over the Bible… front-to-back and top-to-bottom… everything we have in life comes from God. No matter how you look at it or where you think it may have come from, it all comes from God…
From Moses, in The Old Testament…
Deuteronomy 10:14 – “14 To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.”
From the Apostle, St. Paul in the New Testament…
1 Corinthians 10:26 – “26for, the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”
Think about the typical things we never even really think about. What gifts are right in front of our faces? Do they come from God?
- You Wake in the Morning
- Your Family (parents, spouse, children)
- Your Pets
- Your Job
- The Roof over your Head
- The Food you Eat
- The Care you Drive
- The Bike that Give you so Much Pleasure
Don’t you think you should be giving thanks every day or are you forsaking God and all that He has given you?! Maybe you just don’t feel like you need to go to Church to give thanks… maybe you are half-way correct, we can (and should) give thanks every day but…
From St. Paul, the Apostle…
Hebrews 10:24-25 – “24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
From Jesus Himself…
Matthew 16:18 – “18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
I don’t know about you, but with that promise, I feel pretty safe anytime I am in our Church.
Matthew 18:20 – “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Yup, He is sitting right here amongst us! Maybe He is sitting in the back by the door; maybe up here with me, directly behind me; maybe He is sitting in the empty chair right here in front of me. I don’t know for sure where, but I do know He is here!
We need to come to church. It doesn’t matter what you did the night before; how hard you worked all week; or what any of your plans were for the weekend.
Don’t feel worthy like Zechariah and Mary? (Good News)
Acts 10:35 (MSG-The Message) – “It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as He says, the door is open.”
What you Give
As we talked about when we began this morning, we are in the Christmas season and everyone is preparing their gifts; spending their money; and trying, oh so hard, to out-do last year’s presents.
We’ve just heard about the gifts of our Lord. Were those “material” in any way or were they not from our Father and The Son themselves? Yes, that was exactly where they came from… the gracious mercy and everlasting Love of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit… the greatest gifts ever given!
What are you going to give this year? How about doing something different? How about offering the “gift of you” this year?
- Make a greeting card, not buy one. Your words, your feelings in your own handwriting.
- Bake some cookies or a cake. Thats putting a lot more time into your gifts than if you simply stopped at the local Walmart.
- Write a poem! I know this is one I like. Often, when I write a poem to someone I care for, I find words I’ve never known before. Think about it… it takes work to get sentences to rhyme. What a great gift!
Remember most of all, its the gifts we give from our hearts that will mean the most to anyone.
Are you going to try and change things around a little next year? Are you going to realize, understand and give thanks for the gifts God has given us?
Don’t be like…
- In Malachi – God’s own people… they didn’t want God’s promise (400 years)! They didn’t listen to the Word and do as it said.
- Zechariah – He didn’t feel worthy of this gift (John the Baptist/Elijah, as Jesus later told us) He was afraid he was too old… didn’t think he had the strength – but GOD was his strength, and He is ours!
- Mary – She also didn’t feel worthy of this gift! She felt she was too young and didn’t understand – but God thought she was worthy and chose her, just like He thinks you are too and chooses you!
- Nazareth – His own people didn’t want this gift! WE are God’s people, and we should never deny His gifts!
- Apostles – Abandoned his gift… left Him standing by himself! Are we not Apostles/Disciples? Are we going to abandon Him like those closest to Him did?
- Peter – Dropped it, broke it, but Jesus took him back… and He will take you back as well!
Jesus should be our most treasured gift as He was a gift from God, creator of the Heavens and the Earth and all that is in them.
You can’t return Jesus to Walmart for a refund; you can’t ask God for a newer model because He has holes in His hands and feet.
You have received the most precious gift anyone can ever receive in Jesus Christ… the gift of Eternal Life with God the Father; Christ The Son; and The Holy Spirit.
Now, here is even better news and probably the most important thing you can do with this gift from God… Offer it to someone else!
Go with God; be good to one another; always stay humble; always be kind… God Bless (Amen)