Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Midweek 1

Advent Midweek 1 – Genesis 3 and Ephesians 2

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          This year, for our Advent Theme, we will have the topic of Rediscovering Christmas – of taking time out of all the busy-ness of this time of year and focusing on again what actually happens at Christmastime, what really is going on.  We will pause and look at the Word of God, and we will rediscover what Gifts actually are, what a Birth actually is, what Feasting actually is.  And so tonight, without further ado, let us ponder the idea of gifts.

          We all know that Christmas is a season, a time for gifts.  It had better be – and you had better be shopping for gifts because the economy hinges upon shoppers flooding the stores and malls and buying and buying – that’s what we are told.  We should all know about gifts – indeed, how many of our fun Christmas Carols talk about Santa and the gifts under the tree.  But this – this isn’t really talking about gifts.  The hurried rush of shopping – that’s not about gifts.  The advertisements – no, that’s not about giving gifts… that’s about selling.  And even Santa – You better watch out, you better be nice, you better be good and I’m telling you why… he knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!  No, that’s not about gift.  That’s about bribing little kids to be quiet using a reward that you wrap up.  If you have to watch out and behave – it’s not a gift, it’s not something freely given.  It’s something earned.  We have forgotten what gifts actually are.  Instead we focus on buying and selling in Walmart, the Mall, and our other new places of worship – we bribe and tug and admonish good behavior – we turn gifts into carrots on a stick leading the horse where we want them to go.  We have forgotten what gifts actually are.

          This is the way it has been since the Fall.  Consider our Old Testament reading tonight.  There were Adam and Eve – and they had received nothing but gifts.  The Garden. Their lives.  Each other – created specifically for the other, to be together.  Nothing but gift, nothing but the goodness of God being showered upon them without reservation.  But along comes the Serpent, and what does he say?  Eat of the tree, because then you will be like God.  You won’t be the mere receiver of gifts, you won’t just be the creature who receives nothing but goodness from God.  You can be in charge.  You see, when it boiled down to it – the fall is this.  Adam and Eve decided they didn’t want God’s gifts anymore.  They didn’t just want to receive, to get gifts.  They didn’t want things to be simply about God’s goodness – rather, they wanted things to revolve around them.  And so they ate the fruit, and they fell.

          It’s the same thing we see today, especially during the holidays.  Make sure you buy the right gift – the gift that they will love and be thankful for!  That’s not giving a gift – that’s trying to make someone think well of you, that’s twisted and torn and fallen.  Hold the gift over people’s heads – make them do what you want them to do, or threaten to take the gift away.  That’s not giving a gift – that’s a twisted, fallen idea of what it is to be “like God” – that’s ego and wanting to be in control.  So much of what we see going on in the holidays isn’t about gift, isn’t about freely caring for the other person, but it’s about focusing on our wants, focusing on what people think of us – it’s selfishness.

          Now, compare what God does.  Immediately after the fall, when Adam and Eve have been bad little children, what does God do?  He gives them a gift – even as they have ruined creation, even as He has to break the news to them that they have ruined the garden and given themselves over to Satan and death – He gives them a gift.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” Even as Adam and Eve have messed up the world – I will send you Christ Jesus, and He will give you life.  Not because you’ve been good – no, you’ve been bad.  Not because you are oh so thankful and gracious.  Not because I demand praise.  No – God sends Christ because He is the One who gives gifts and gives them freely, and if you mess up His gift, He’s going to fix things and give them back to you.  Creation is messed up Adam – behold, I will make you new heavens and a new earth.  You are consigned to death, Adam?  Then I will send Christ Jesus, and He will suffer and die and rise, so that you have life again.

          This is the beauty of our Epistle lesson.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”  Our God knows what a gift is.  It doesn’t rely upon you or your strength.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been naughty or nice – because the simple fact is all of us in this room have been worse than naughty – we’ve been dead in our trespasses.  But in the face of this, God makes you alive in Christ – and why?  So He can keep on giving you gifts freely, gifts that rest simply on who He is, not upon you.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  You are given the gift of salvation – and it is free and from God and not dependent upon you.  God isn’t going to take it back.  You are given life in Christ – not because of your works, there is nothing for you to boast about, nothing where you can say you’ve been such a good little boy.  No, because Christ is good, you have life and salvation.  Even indeed your life – it’s nothing but a gift from God.  Even your good works – these are a gift from God, designed from all eternity for you.  Your place in life, your service, the fact that you are a husband or wife, son or daughter, father or mother, friend, neighbor, one who serves others  -- all gift, all given to you by God because God is the One who gives gifts, even before we ask, indeed, who planned for your gifts even before you existed.

          Dear friends in Christ – we have a strange view of gifts in this day and age – we so often add a little selfish, moralistic twinge to our gifts, to where the gifts are about us, or the gifts are sticks we use to manipulate people.  But that is not how God gives gifts.  When God gives a gift, He gives it freely.  He gives it unconditionally.  And even when you fall, when you fail, when you mess things up – He gives His gifts again – He forgives, He restores.  Because our God gives gifts, and He will have you see and know His gifts – all of them, life, salvation, communion with Him, for all eternity – and not even Satan and His lies and death will stop God from being the gift giver He wishes to be.  He sends His Son, and through Him we all are blessed, we all receive such glorious gifts that we will have eternity to enjoy.  Thanks be to Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

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