Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Art of Christmas Gift Giving

As I write this message it is Black Friday, the biggest retail event of the year. A woman was interviewed on the television news broadcast this morning. She was waiting in line with other consumer hopefuls in front of the Walmart on Peach Street to be the first, when the store opened, to buy a big screen television at a reduced cost. She had arrived during the wee hours of the morning to secure her spot. If she manages to get one she figures it will be worth the wait, she tells the reporter. The national financial prognosticators are foretelling holiday sales will be down due to a slumped real estate housing market and rising interest rates. Savvy advertising experts know that while playing "Joy to the World" throughout the shopping mall in December will bring joy to the cash registers of shop owners, "Silent Night, Holy Night" will work even better causing many shoppers cave in to the pressure to spend beyond their means. There’s always that anxiety though, when the bills roll in on January. Many other folks will feel a sense of sadness because the Christmas promised in the movies and magazines does not match their reality and buying more things is only a temporary fix. For many it has become a secular holiday, a time of giving gifts to family, friends and coworkers. Some of the gift giving is done in a spirit of love and generosity, some with obligation and strings attached. There are Several web sites can be googled for those who need nine steps to stress free gift giving this season. Once the gifts are purchased and wrapped, there’s the cards, letters, the tree, the lights, the employee parties, cookie exchanges, concerts, wait, isn’t something important being missed while everyone around us is in a frenzy preparing for the physical trappings of holiday season, this time we call Advent. Did I just see Santa boot the baby out of the manger?Centuries before Jesus was twinkle in Mary’s eye, the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Isaiah 7:14  
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name
Immanuel. God with us.
In this time of preparation, how is God with us? Can He be found in the frenetic shopping at the Mall, in the long lines at the cash register or the traffic congestion on upper Peach Street? God became man secretly wrapped under Mary’s heart waiting to be revealed to us . How do you wrap an indescribable gift? how do you wrap Love? Did Mary fully realize the nature of the precious cargo she was carrying to term? That God loved human kind so much that He came to earth as tiny child born of a poor working class woman. In the eyes of mankind a real god or king would come in spendor and wealth with a display of power.Mary was surely familiar with the further Messianic prophesy in Isaiah:
Isaiah 9:6: For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder :
and His name shall be called Wonderful , Counselor , Mighty God
Everlasting Father , Prince of Peace.
Later the baby, as a grown man, would tell his disciples, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. The world or earthly peace, Jesus was speaking of lasts only as long as happy hour or until the baby wakes up, the boss calls, the bully shows up, the house is broken into, or the next ruler decides to commit an act of aggression. On the contrary, the Peace of Christ is God given, a gift, and is a state of heart.
Our culture, instead, would like us to have our thoughts focused on Santa coming to town “You had all better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.” He’s making a list a checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice”... How much of what we think we know about Jesus is really the theology
expressed in this song about Santa Claus? I admit my view of God has been a Santa view in the past, resulting in many a misunderstanding between myself and the Savior. Santa like God is portrayed as omniscient, all knowing. Judgment day comes annually at Christmas when only good children are rewarded with gifts and bad children get coal and sticks. What if you are having a bad year financially? What if every year is a bad year? For those among us who are in financial difficulty Christmas can be cruel and anything but “good news to the poor”. Children don’t understand that getting a gift is not dependent on their behavior but on their parents disposable income or line of credit.
In Isaiah 53 we find a prophetic description of the One who understands when there is nothing under the tree no food on the table, no room in the inn,a God who stepped down from His throne on heaven on our behalf and was willing to take the rags of our sorrow, pain and failure upon His shoulders and give us the riches of His Kingdom:
1 Who has believed our message
       and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
       and like a root out of dry ground.
       He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
 3 He was despised and rejected by men,
       a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
       Like one from whom men hide their faces
       he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he took up our infirmities
       and carried our sorrows,
       yet we considered him stricken by God,
       smitten by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
       he was crushed for our iniquities;
       the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
       and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
       each of us has turned to his own way;
       and the LORD has laid on him
       the iniquity of us all.
 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
       yet he did not open his mouth;
       he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
       and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,
       so he did not open his mouth.
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
       And who can speak of his descendants?
       For he was cut off from the land of the living;
       for the transgression of my people he was stricken. [b]
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
       and with the rich in his death,
       though he had done no violence,
       nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
       and though the LORD makes [c] his life a guilt offering,
       he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
       and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
11 After the suffering of his soul,
       he will see the light of life [d] and be satisfied [e] ;
       by his knowledge [f] my righteous servant will justify many,
       and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, [g]
       and he will divide the spoils with the strong, [h]
       because he poured out his life unto death,
       and was numbered with the transgressors.
       For he bore the sin of many,
       and made intercession for the transgressors.
How can we make meaningful of this time of Advent and not miss the God With Us, Emmanuel? With the media bombardment we are tempted to hunger and thirst for more and more stuff. More holiday drink, more holiday goodies, more holiday treat and surpises, more, more more.This is a joyful season but we don’t want it to miss it’s significance by allowing it to be buried in rampant commercialism. Jesus, the humble savior, whispers to us” Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” As we desire for more this season, Jesus says in Matthew 5 “Blessed are you who hunger, blessed are you who thirst”. He doesn’t say that those who are satisfied are blessed but those who are yearning and grasping for something. Jesus is blessing the emptiness not the fullness, He is blessing something that we think makes no sense, unless
you look at it from the point of view of the Kingdom of Heaven, not this world. In the Kingdom of Heaven, It is better to come empty, being hungry and thirsting is the precondition for being filled. This season consider opening up your heart anew, presenting it as an empty container for the Divine One to fill with the gift of His righteousness, “Let every heart prepare Him room,” goes the line in Joy to the world. May this be a season when all our hearts expand to hold and treasure the indescribable gift, God with us, Immanuel.