Luke 3:1-6, Philippians 1:9-11
On this second week of our series on Christmas Gifting, today we are exploring the ‘Purchase’ phase of the gifting process. As we begin there are a couple things I want you to make sure you know that I get with this subject. First, not everyone goes through the drawn out process of hunting for the perfect gift, stressing over whether, not only did I get a good price, but the gift is in fact what the other person wanted. There are those who address the shopping process as a strategy. Upon arrival at mall or store, one identifies the target. One then assesses the quickest route in and out of region of said target, claims the prize, assesses the quickest checkout line and payment method, and exits the war zone with as much urgency as getting to the next Redskins game will allow! In the process, one has already identified alternate routes as part of the strategy in case there is any delay at any phase of the execution of this mission. It’s a war out there and we go in prepared for battle!!
Second, there are those who prefer to elongate the ‘Hunt’ phase of the process because one is always concerned for getting the best deal available. So one hunts and hunts and hunts, often dragging the strategist along for the very long ride! Finally, the time of purchase comes yet one holds great angst that perhaps there is still a better deal out there but it has yet to be found. Some places have gone to great lengths to help these shoppers by guaranteeing to match whatever better deal may come along, knowing once you’ve made the purchase, very few return to claim the better bargain.
Third, there may come a time during the ‘Hunt’ phase of the process of gifting, when all bets are off. The gift in question is in such high demand, the strategists find themselves outgunned and the bargain hunters are overruled by the high cost of demand. The gift in question is literally flying off the shelves as soon as they arrive in the stores and only the true diehards are victorious. After the Christmas season, it seems there is a great surplus of said item, but the fever has passed.
Now what in the world does any of this have to do with today’s scripture lessons? Luke shares with us the character of John the Baptist, who is calling folks out from the corruption of the church and the evil of the rulers of Jerusalem. John is calling all people into the wilderness to prepare for the coming of Jesus, the one who would stand in the gap for the sins of all humankind. Perhaps the connection is in the value of the price paid for the corruption of sin in our world. God found each of us to be so valuable God sent God’s only son into the world to develop a relationship with us, pointing us toward a more perfect way of living. Jesus came to earth presenting the gift of salvation – this idea that we do not need to fear death because we have the assurance of eternal life. Jesus presented the idea that we do not need to worry about tomorrow because the keeper of the universe holds our hand. We do not need to walk in fear or self-centeredness because Jesus reminded us of the need to care for others. This whole season of Advent is about getting ready – preparing for the coming of the newborn King.
Think about this idea of value concerning the ‘Purchase’ phase of the gifting process. Do we not concern ourselves with balance? I know each year I take the time to assess how much I am spending on each of my children because I do not want to show favoritism, and sibling rivalry is a very real thing! I am careful to ensure that I give the same amount of stuff to one child that I give to the others. And now that they are adults, the pressure is on because two of my children are married, so we now have the unit for which to buy, and how do I keep things balanced with the one who is not married? Decisions, decisions!!
We want our recipients to appreciate the time and effort we put into obtaining their gifts, but also to see those gifts as valuable. How valuable do you think Jesus finds you to be? If we think ahead to the coming season of Lent and Easter, we know that Jesus valued each of us so much that he willingly laid down his life for us. Our value cannot be weighed in dollars and cents but in every moment Jesus spent suffering and dying so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.
Some of us may feel we are unworthy of such a precious gift. Yet Paul tells us, in his letter to the Corinthian church, that we are bought with a price. We sing that familiar hymn, “Jesus paid it all. All to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.” The most popular scripture of the New Testament says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God so loved the world – God so valued each of us that he provided the perfect one to stand in the gap between sin and righteousness.
Today is a day of celebration. Not only do we get to celebrate with the Lehr family on the baptism of their son Calen, but we have an opportunity to share in Holy Communion. As we come to the table prepared for us, we can welcome one another as we truly value and appreciate the gift of God’s son Jesus. In the United Methodist tradition we host what is called an open table, where all are invited to come and share in the bread and cup. We believe that healing and forgiveness can occur during communion. As we have shared a common prayer of forgiveness and received pardon for our sins, we gather together in one accord, receiving grace from Almighty God and offering grace to one another. This is a tremendous gift given to us without price or strings attached. There is no expectation of a returned favor. Grace is given and received.
Today we lit the candle of Peace in our Advent wreath. It seems ironic to be talking about this precious gift of peace when our world is in such chaos. I‘m sure by now we are all aware of yet another tragic shooting in our country – this one in San Bernadino, California. Can there be any real peace in the midst of such turmoil? I believe only real peace can come knowing Jesus is abiding with us now and always. I believe real peace comes in knowing Jesus lives and reigns in spite of the chaos. I believe real peace can only exist when we have the assurance of a personal relationship with Jesus – the baby born in obscurity yet grew to be the Lamb of God, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel. Take heart knowing you are loved by God – you are valued and precious to the Creator of the earth. Amen.