All I Want for Christmas: Gifts We Pass On to Others

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Sunday - 9:15 AM Sunday School, 10:30 AM Worship Service

by: Denise Robinson

12/30/2021

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Gifts We Pass On to Others

Matthew 2:1-12

Next week is Epiphany Sunday, the day the church celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. This comes to us through two events: the visit of the wise men to see the child and some 30 years later Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. But, this morning, as we conclude our Advent series, we remember the Magi came to Jesus with gifts. For the past four weeks, we’ve looked at the gifts we receive through the birth of Christ; this week as we look at the wise men, we are reminded of gifts we can pass on to others not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

How old were you when you first discovered the joy of giving to others? Of course, I am making an assumption that you have all gotten to this point. I went through a phase where I loved giving gifts disguised as something else. I don’t really remember the occasion, but I was giving a gift to my brother one year and my mom had somewhere gotten a giant box of popcorn bunnies. Instead of popcorn balls, these were pink and yellow individually packaged popcorn bunnies. I don’t know how many of the things were in the box, but it was probably at 3’x3’ box and the gift that I was giving was nice, but small. So, I carefully opened the box of popcorn bunnies, hid my gift inside, and then resealed and wrapped the box. I still remember his face when he thought his gift was pink and yellow popcorn. I think the most special gifts are the ones that require time and planning. As most of you know, I am not artistic – but I know some of you make gifts for others that take days if not weeks of effort. The older I get, the more I am convinced that the best gifts we can pass on to others are the gifts where we give something of ourselves. 

We don’t know exactly how far the wise men traveled to get to Jesus or how long it took them to get to him, but we do know that they didn’t arrive in Bethlehem at the manger but came later. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they were led to Jerusalem to find Jesus, where they encountered King Herod. Herod, threatened by the young child, determines his probable birth date and directs that all male children of two years of age and younger be killed. The wise men are described as coming from the East, which in biblical times would place them in the area of northern Arabia or Mesopotamia, meaning they traveled anywhere from 400-700 miles to get to Jesus. If they followed the star to find Jesus, this would mean they traveled by night which would have slowed their travel considerably. Scholars estimate that their one-way travel would have taken them at least a month. So, while the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the most valuable gift they gave was their time.  

Is there someone in your life who needs the gift of your time? The gift of time is always appropriate and it’s a gift that always fits. It doesn’t require batteries and it won’t break. But it is infinite, that is, you can wait too long to give it. For many of us here this morning, we can look back and think of times in our lives when we were too busy, or thought we were too busy, to give our time to someone else and now that person is gone and we can’t make it right. We think we have all the time in the world, we think someday our schedules will slow down and we will spend time with loved ones then – then life happens and we have lost the opportunity to give the greatest gift of all. 

The second gift we see in the visit of the wise men is the gift of kindness. The wise men came in the spirit of joy, bringing with them gifts for a child they had never met and wouldn’t be expected to appreciate at the time or remember later. They had reason to be afraid and all kinds of excuses for calling off the search, beginning with Herod. Herod wanted, expected, that they would lead him to the child so he could eliminate what he perceived as a threat to his rule. Offending Herod could’ve been dangerous, even had deadly consequences, for these Magi, but they followed the star and worshipped the child to whom they were led. 

We live in a time of stress and anger. It plays out on social media every day. A shooting here or there, a fight in an airport or on an airplane, protestors on one side and counter-protestors on the other, increasing incidents of road rage. Being right has become more important than being kind. Despite our own stress and fear, kindness is a gift we can give because the child that the wise men found is the Savior we follow. 

The third gift we find this morning is the gift of appreciation. The wise men, with their wealth, could’ve hired someone else to take their gifts to the Christ child. But they not only gave their time, they were showing appreciation to someone who was to make a difference in their lives. Stop and think for a moment about all of the people who have been there for you in large ways or small. In high school, I had one teacher who made a difference. His name was Walt Cook and he was our speech and debate coach. We called ourselves the Mighty Mouthy Bruins. He was an ex-Marine and could be intimidating and he was demanding. But he cared. Years later several of us from the speech team were together in Fort Wayne for the funeral of a parent. The next day we got together for lunch before going our separate ways and decided to see if we could drop in at the school and surprise Mr. Cook. When we walked into his class, the surprise and the joy on his face was obvious. He told his class about us and we spent just a few minutes with him between classes telling him the difference he had made in our lives. I’ve lost track of him since, but I think of him often because he was the first person to help me learn to speak in front of people, something I have done now for over 30 years. There are so many other people whose lives have influenced my life, and I don’t often enough say thank you. 

Our fourth gift we can give this year is the gift of encouragement. Think of the impact of the visit of the wise men on Mary and Joseph. They know better than anyone who Jesus is, but it’s been almost two years since his birth and they while the child they are raising is the Son of God, he’s also a two-year old human child. Have you ever wondered what a two-year old Jesus was like? The Bible doesn’t tell us much of anything of Jesus’ childhood, but I wonder if there weren’t days when Mary had one nerve left and Jesus was on it. Maybe not. But we do know that 30 years passed between Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his ministry. The wise men’s visit had to be affirming for these young parents. Here are strangers who come not just with gifts, but who kneel and worship the young child. 

There is a wonderful verse in the book of Isaiah where the prophet announces that God has given to him “an educated tongue to know how to respond to the weary with a word that will awaken them in the morning” (Isaiah 50:4). Wouldn’t it be great if we all used our educated tongues that way more often instead of too often remaining silent or minimizing someone else’s pain? I don’t know about you, but when I encourage someone else and lift them up, I almost always find myself encouraged as well.

Our last gift this morning is the most important gift of all, it’s the gift of love. Martin Luther was preaching a sermon on the Christmas story and he asked his congregation to reflect on the events of Jesus’ birth as if it were their story, as if they were part of the story. He told them he knew what they were thinking. He told them they were thinking, “If I had been there, I would’ve made the trip with the wise men, I’d have brought a gift to the Christ child.” Luther went on to tell them they would’ve done those things because they knew how great Jesus is and how he died and rose from the dead for them. But if they had been there at the time, without knowing Jesus, would they really have planned for a month-long trip, bought the supplies, left their families and friends, purchased expensive gifts, and made the two or so month round trip? Luther confronted his congregation, asking them, “Why don’t you do it now? Why don’t you serve your neighbor now? For what you do to your neighbor, you do to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.” Luther’s message is clear: when we love others, we do nothing less than love Jesus himself. 

Time, kindness, appreciation, encouragement, and love. These are a few Christmas gifts that always fit and are gifts we can pass on to others any time of the year. When we give these gifts to others, we give them to Jesus just as the wise men brought their gifts. And the amazing thing is, when we give these gifts, we receive much more than we give.      

Gifts We Pass On to Others

Matthew 2:1-12

Next week is Epiphany Sunday, the day the church celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. This comes to us through two events: the visit of the wise men to see the child and some 30 years later Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. But, this morning, as we conclude our Advent series, we remember the Magi came to Jesus with gifts. For the past four weeks, we’ve looked at the gifts we receive through the birth of Christ; this week as we look at the wise men, we are reminded of gifts we can pass on to others not just at Christmas but throughout the year.

How old were you when you first discovered the joy of giving to others? Of course, I am making an assumption that you have all gotten to this point. I went through a phase where I loved giving gifts disguised as something else. I don’t really remember the occasion, but I was giving a gift to my brother one year and my mom had somewhere gotten a giant box of popcorn bunnies. Instead of popcorn balls, these were pink and yellow individually packaged popcorn bunnies. I don’t know how many of the things were in the box, but it was probably at 3’x3’ box and the gift that I was giving was nice, but small. So, I carefully opened the box of popcorn bunnies, hid my gift inside, and then resealed and wrapped the box. I still remember his face when he thought his gift was pink and yellow popcorn. I think the most special gifts are the ones that require time and planning. As most of you know, I am not artistic – but I know some of you make gifts for others that take days if not weeks of effort. The older I get, the more I am convinced that the best gifts we can pass on to others are the gifts where we give something of ourselves. 

We don’t know exactly how far the wise men traveled to get to Jesus or how long it took them to get to him, but we do know that they didn’t arrive in Bethlehem at the manger but came later. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that they were led to Jerusalem to find Jesus, where they encountered King Herod. Herod, threatened by the young child, determines his probable birth date and directs that all male children of two years of age and younger be killed. The wise men are described as coming from the East, which in biblical times would place them in the area of northern Arabia or Mesopotamia, meaning they traveled anywhere from 400-700 miles to get to Jesus. If they followed the star to find Jesus, this would mean they traveled by night which would have slowed their travel considerably. Scholars estimate that their one-way travel would have taken them at least a month. So, while the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the most valuable gift they gave was their time.  

Is there someone in your life who needs the gift of your time? The gift of time is always appropriate and it’s a gift that always fits. It doesn’t require batteries and it won’t break. But it is infinite, that is, you can wait too long to give it. For many of us here this morning, we can look back and think of times in our lives when we were too busy, or thought we were too busy, to give our time to someone else and now that person is gone and we can’t make it right. We think we have all the time in the world, we think someday our schedules will slow down and we will spend time with loved ones then – then life happens and we have lost the opportunity to give the greatest gift of all. 

The second gift we see in the visit of the wise men is the gift of kindness. The wise men came in the spirit of joy, bringing with them gifts for a child they had never met and wouldn’t be expected to appreciate at the time or remember later. They had reason to be afraid and all kinds of excuses for calling off the search, beginning with Herod. Herod wanted, expected, that they would lead him to the child so he could eliminate what he perceived as a threat to his rule. Offending Herod could’ve been dangerous, even had deadly consequences, for these Magi, but they followed the star and worshipped the child to whom they were led. 

We live in a time of stress and anger. It plays out on social media every day. A shooting here or there, a fight in an airport or on an airplane, protestors on one side and counter-protestors on the other, increasing incidents of road rage. Being right has become more important than being kind. Despite our own stress and fear, kindness is a gift we can give because the child that the wise men found is the Savior we follow. 

The third gift we find this morning is the gift of appreciation. The wise men, with their wealth, could’ve hired someone else to take their gifts to the Christ child. But they not only gave their time, they were showing appreciation to someone who was to make a difference in their lives. Stop and think for a moment about all of the people who have been there for you in large ways or small. In high school, I had one teacher who made a difference. His name was Walt Cook and he was our speech and debate coach. We called ourselves the Mighty Mouthy Bruins. He was an ex-Marine and could be intimidating and he was demanding. But he cared. Years later several of us from the speech team were together in Fort Wayne for the funeral of a parent. The next day we got together for lunch before going our separate ways and decided to see if we could drop in at the school and surprise Mr. Cook. When we walked into his class, the surprise and the joy on his face was obvious. He told his class about us and we spent just a few minutes with him between classes telling him the difference he had made in our lives. I’ve lost track of him since, but I think of him often because he was the first person to help me learn to speak in front of people, something I have done now for over 30 years. There are so many other people whose lives have influenced my life, and I don’t often enough say thank you. 

Our fourth gift we can give this year is the gift of encouragement. Think of the impact of the visit of the wise men on Mary and Joseph. They know better than anyone who Jesus is, but it’s been almost two years since his birth and they while the child they are raising is the Son of God, he’s also a two-year old human child. Have you ever wondered what a two-year old Jesus was like? The Bible doesn’t tell us much of anything of Jesus’ childhood, but I wonder if there weren’t days when Mary had one nerve left and Jesus was on it. Maybe not. But we do know that 30 years passed between Jesus’ birth and the beginning of his ministry. The wise men’s visit had to be affirming for these young parents. Here are strangers who come not just with gifts, but who kneel and worship the young child. 

There is a wonderful verse in the book of Isaiah where the prophet announces that God has given to him “an educated tongue to know how to respond to the weary with a word that will awaken them in the morning” (Isaiah 50:4). Wouldn’t it be great if we all used our educated tongues that way more often instead of too often remaining silent or minimizing someone else’s pain? I don’t know about you, but when I encourage someone else and lift them up, I almost always find myself encouraged as well.

Our last gift this morning is the most important gift of all, it’s the gift of love. Martin Luther was preaching a sermon on the Christmas story and he asked his congregation to reflect on the events of Jesus’ birth as if it were their story, as if they were part of the story. He told them he knew what they were thinking. He told them they were thinking, “If I had been there, I would’ve made the trip with the wise men, I’d have brought a gift to the Christ child.” Luther went on to tell them they would’ve done those things because they knew how great Jesus is and how he died and rose from the dead for them. But if they had been there at the time, without knowing Jesus, would they really have planned for a month-long trip, bought the supplies, left their families and friends, purchased expensive gifts, and made the two or so month round trip? Luther confronted his congregation, asking them, “Why don’t you do it now? Why don’t you serve your neighbor now? For what you do to your neighbor, you do to the Lord Jesus Christ himself.” Luther’s message is clear: when we love others, we do nothing less than love Jesus himself. 

Time, kindness, appreciation, encouragement, and love. These are a few Christmas gifts that always fit and are gifts we can pass on to others any time of the year. When we give these gifts to others, we give them to Jesus just as the wise men brought their gifts. And the amazing thing is, when we give these gifts, we receive much more than we give.      

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