Sermons

Summary: Advent week 2 in which changing the way we give has the power to impact ourselves and others for the sake of Jesus

The last time I preached this series I told you about a pair of guys who had exchanged the same pair of moleskin pants for over a decade. Each year they tried to outdo one another with the only rules being they couldn’t damage the pants and they had to use scrap material. I’d left the story with Kunkel having received the pants in a safe which had been welded shut. His gift-giving cohort, Collette received them back in a metal box which had once been a 1974 Gremlin. A note attached to the 2,000-pound scrunched car advised Collette that the pants were inside the glove compartment. He countered with an 8’ high and 2’ wide tire filled with 6,000 pounds of concrete. On the outside Collette had written, "Have a Goodyear."

A 17.5’ red rocket ship in ’ filled with concrete and weighing 6 tons. A 4-ton Rubik’s Cube made of concrete, baked in a kiln and covered with 2,000 board feet of lumber. And a station wagon with 170 generators welded together were just some of the ways this gift was conveyed. In 1989 the giving came to an end when Collette tried to encase the pants in 5 tons of jagged glass.

In the pouring process an oversized chunk of glass fractured and transformed the pants into a pile of ashes. The ashes were deposited into a brass urn and delivered to Kunkel along with this epitaph: Sorry, Old Man Here lies the Pants. The urn now graces the fireplace mantel in Kunkel’s home. [1]

I don’t think our two friends are the most unique or adventurous gift givers but they have come close. So consider the wish gifts in the Neiman Christmas Catalog. They include a private concert for 500 friends by Sir Elton John and a much more affordable 100’ long dragon topiary.

Giving gifts is a good thing. But if we’re tempted to crush a car in order to package our gift it is important to take a step back and ask, "Why give gifts at all?" This is a good starting place for each of us. Sometimes we give gifts out of habit. Sometimes it is because we feel obligated or that it is expected of us. And sometimes it’s because it feel good to give to others.

Yet perhaps as Christ’s people our giving should be done as a reflection of the gift which God gives us in Jesus. What’s more is that our giving is best when it is marked by the same characteristics of God’s giving, namely, generosity and graciousness. John the Baptist is the herald of this grace of God. He comes announcing Messiah’s coming and telling the people to be ready. His message isn’t the warm fuzzy one we generally hear at Christmas. He tells those who heard him that God expects them to be content, to not cheat or lie, to give to the least of these, and not to trust that their heritage will guarantee them a place in God’s Kingdom.

When John calls on the people to "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" he was calling into question the very sacrifices upon which these people based their trust of God. They were to be responsible and share with those who didn’t have anything. They were to be honest and not greedy. They weren’t to be pushy or abusive simply because they had the power to do it. Today this is still true but the way it works out is a bit different.

First of all we are to give generously. It is our nature to equate money with generosity but that’s not always true. Generosity is an attitude that may or may not be tied to an amount of money. Most of us know people who didn’t have two dimes to rub together who were generous with their time. We know people who were generous with their hospitality; opening their homes to others without a second thought. Some are generous with their tears as well as their times. Perhaps we could even be generous with the message of what Jesus has done for us.

Christmas of 2003, Pete Winn, Associate Editor for Focus on the Family, found himself at the post office just before Christmas. The postal clerk uttered her standard line: "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Pete then says, "I quipped, ’Can you help me pay for Christmas?’"

Without missing a beat, she replied, "He already paid for it."

I was stunned. Pleased, surprised, a tad embarrassed—a strange mix of emotions. But most of all, stunned. I murmured something profound in response—like, "He certainly did"—and left. Then he comments, ’I know the Postal Service isn’t an arm of the government anymore, but still—it was the last thing I expected. A simple phrase had put everything in perspective.’

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