Summary: Of all the Christmas gifts/presents given and received, Christ is the Greatest Gift.
Christmas Eve/Day Yr A, 24-25/12/2010
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Chaplain,
The Good Samaritan Society’s South Ridge Village,
Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Christ is the Greatest Gift”
(This sermon begins by showing the congregation a Christmas-decorated gift bag or box containing a Nativity scene inside).
Can anyone tell me what I have here? Right, it’s a Christmas present, a gift. Do you know what is inside of this Christmas bag/box? No. Do you think you would ever know what this Christmas gift is if you never opened it? No, not likely. Do you think that you would benefit from this Christmas gift in any way if you refused to open it? Again the answer is no.
Well, the same is true of the greatest Christmas gift. (Show them the Nativity scene). Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas. Yet multitudes turn away from Christ the greatest gift. Their hearts and minds are closed; their lives are filled with other gods and saviours. So many folks in our society just don’t seem to get the true message of Christmas—therefore they miss out on receiving Christ the greatest gift of Christmas. Oh yes, they do get the message about giving presents or gifts. However, the gifts they give and receive are most often material. Folks spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on the latest technological gadgets, the most up-to-date fashion clothes or jewellery. You’ve even likely seen television reports where crowds become impatient and hysterical; waiting for stores to open so they can push and shove each other aggressively and be the first to grab this year’s trendiest item off the shelf before the person behind or in front or beside them beats them to it. Yes, folks in our society do know how to give gifts at Christmas and, of late, we hear increasingly of consumers who suffer from out-of-control spending at Christmas time. They max out their credit cards on gifts and then spend a half year or more paying for it all.
Such folks live under the illusion that whoever ends up with the most material gifts at Christmas wins and is the most popular person in the world. They may even be motivated to buy all of their gifts for others with the hope and conditional expectation that the more gifts they give to others; the more gifts they themselves shall receive. Problem is, others may not reciprocate. Or if they do, the gifts may be the last thing they were wanting. Even if they do get the material gifts that they wanted—how long are they content? That old nagging reality inside the soul is still there. The writer of Ecclesiastes said it well: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Jesus, too, said it best: “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” No, all the material gifts in the world are not going to guarantee that you can achieve the happiest Christmas ever. As a matter of fact, the opposite may be true. You may be irritable and resentful because of all the added stress of fighting your way through mad crowds and traffic gridlock. The recipients of your gifts may not have shown you as much appreciation as you had expected. And, maybe an argument broke out after your spouse or children told you that your gift missed the boat altogether.
Even though we live in a very materialistic-oriented society; nonetheless, I was heartened by two YouTube videos that were sent to me earlier this month. Some of you may have seen these videos too. In the first one, a lovely pipe organ accompanies the Philadelphia Opera Company in Macy’s store as they sing Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. In the second one, the Chorus Niagara in the Seaway Mall food court in Ontario surprise customers as they break out in singing Handel’s Hallelujah chorus. As I watched these videos, it was interesting to see the expressions on those surprised faces. There was a sense of awe and wonder and appreciation for this beautiful music, which brings us to our Isaiah passage today.
Those of you who are music aficionados most likely know that Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah was inspired by Scripture. I cannot help but think of Handel’s Messiah when I read or hear the words read from our Isaiah text today. Since, as I said earlier, Christmas is about giving, and Christ is the greatest gift of Christmas; I want to focus on verse six of our Isaiah text: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.” Before we explore these words of Isaiah, we need a little background to this passage.
Most likely, according to several scholars today, this prophetic passage was proclaimed by Isaiah when Judah and King Ahaz were afraid of a military invasion on them by the Northern Kingdom Israel and Syria. In that threatening situation, Ahaz entertains the possibility of a military and political alliance with the then “evil Empire” and superpower, Assyria. It was a risky thing to cozy up to Assyria, since they might very well overthrow Ahaz and force the citizens of Judah into Assyrian slavery. So, Isaiah proclaims these words, counselling Ahaz not to form a political or military alliance with anyone. Rather, to trust in the Lord GOD. He shall send a child, and give Judah a son. Such a child, says Isaiah, shall have authority and be named: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Says Isaiah, such a One shall usher in “endless peace,” and “establish…justice and…righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.” Now most citizens of Judah and likely even Isaiah himself believed that this prophecy described King Hezekiah of Judah. However, most Christians down through the centuries and today believe that this is a Messianic prophecy, and that Isaiah is speaking of Jesus.