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Finding The Right Gift
Christmas Eve, 1998

Did you find just the right gift to give this Christmas? Hopefully by now, you have finished shopping! Are you happy with your selection?

I wonder what the shepherds brought for the baby? Luke doesn't tell us. We are told what the wise men brought. How many wise men were there? Trick question. Matthew doesn't tell us; he listed the three gifts they brought and we have assumed there were three persons. They brought expensive gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh. Frankincense was a powder when burned smelled like balsam, and was used for incense in worship. Myrrh was a beauty oil used to anoint the body. Myrrh was a rare and precious gift.

But, what was the shepherds' gift? Lamb, wool blanket? A medieval playwright imagined that the shepherds' gifts were simple and appropriate for a child and his parents: a "bunch of cherries, bird, and a ball." When you get an opportunity, come up to the altar to see the ceramic creche set. You will see shepherds carrying a bird, a ball, and cherries.

Evidently, the shepherds and wise men found just the right gifts to give. Did you? Bobby was cold and depressed on Christmas Eve. Bobby didn't wear boots in the snow; he didn't like boots, so he said. Actually, he didn't own any. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them, so his feet were wet and cold. But, he was determined to find a Christmas gift for his mother. His mother had been widowed for three years. She worked nights in the hospital. Her wages kept the family alive, but there was nothing left for gifts. Bobby's three sisters had made beautiful gifts for their mother, but Bobby wasn't artistic, and he had nothing to give.

Wiping a tear from his eye, Bobby kicked the snow and walked downtown to the stores. He walked from store to store, looking into each decorated window. Everything was beautiful but out of reach. Then his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun's rays reflecting off something along the curb. He reached down and found a shiny dime. Never before has anyone felt so wealthy as Bobby felt at that moment. He walked excitedly into the first store he saw. His excitement soon cooled as salesperson after salesperson told him he could not buy anything with only a dime.

He saw a flower shop and went inside to wait in line. When the florist asked if he could help him, Bobby showed him the dime and asked if he could buy one flower for his mother's Christmas present. The florist looked at Bobby, looked at the dime, looked at Bobby's clothes and sneakers with holes, and said, "You wait here and I'll see what I can do for you." Bobby, alone in the shop, conscious of the beauty around him, felt alone and afraid. Then the florist came back with twelve long stem, red roses, with green leaves and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow. Bobby's heart sank as the florist placed them gently into a long white box. Then Bobby was amazed when the florist said, "That will be ten cents, young man." Bobby was overwhelmed and reluctant to take such a magnificent bouquet. The florist, sensing Bobby's confusion, said, "I just happen to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?" Bobby happily gave him the dime!

After Bobby left, the florist's wife came out and asked, "Who were you talking to and where are the roses you were fixing?" Staring out the window and blinking tears from his eyes, the florist replied, "A strange thing happened to me this morning. I heard a voice telling me to set aside a dozen of my best roses for a special gift. When I saw that little boy I remembered how poor I was as a child with nothing to buy my mother a Christmas gift." Bobby found just the right gift for his mother. The florist found just the right gift for him to give.

God found just the right gift to give. God struggled with humankind. How to show humans how to live, how to live together with one another, how to relate to God, how to be reconciled with God from whom they had strayed. First, God sent to the world a nation, a people, the Hebrew people. God sent them as a gift to the world! Their calling, their purpose, was to reveal God to the world. When they floundered and lost their values, principles, and direction, God sent preachers, prophets to preach and teach. Have you ever thought of giving a preacher as a gift? Finally, when they wouldn't listen to the prophets, God gave a unique gift. God gave his Son. God became a human being in the baby Jesus.

Finding the right gift to give begins with receiving God's gift to you, the gift of Jesus, the gift of a new, vital, dynamic, loving personal relationship with Jesus. Three-year-old Katie sat in the middle of the room, center-stage, as she opened her Christmas gifts. As each gift was handed her, she threw up her hands and shouted. She tore off the paper, look at the unopened box, and yelled, "Thank you, it's just what I wanted!" and then reach for the next gift. It took four adults to convince her the gift was inside the box!

Isn't it amazing how often we are content with the unopened box! Isn't it amazing how we are content with the superficial trappings of Christmas and do not dig down into the package to see what God really wants to give us! However, we are not really content because we're never satisfied, and want more. We think "more and more" will fill the cavity in our hearts. A tree lifted off the floor by the quantity of gifts underneath will never satisfy the yearning for a relationship with God.

One of our Hmong young men received the gift this Christmas. He has been in state prison for two years now. After his father died, he hung around with the wrong crowd, and was convicted of being an accessory. As he was only seventeen, he was placed in Merced County's crowded, ancient Juvenile Hall for months; in fact, he spent a Christmas there. Then he was sentenced to state prison. Pastor Thao visits him frequently, with the young man's mother who is a faithful member of our church. I asked Pastor the other day how the young man is doing. He answered, "He is happy!" Astonished, I said, "Happy?" He said, "Yes, Leng told me he is happy he is in prison because he has found God." Through the ministry of Pastor, the chaplains, the prison ministry, and the love and prayers of his mother, he has become a Christian. He told Pastor that when he gets out of prison, many years from now, he would like to become a pastor!

Leng found the right gift-- the gift to receive, and the gift to give; to receive the gift of God's love and salvation and to give the gift of sharing God's gift with others.

We will now light our individual candles and sing "Silent Night". As you receive the light, which comes from the Christ candle, will you open your life and receive God's gift to you? Open your life, let God love you this evening, let God tell you how special you are and how God wants to use you in doing God's work. Receive the light, receive God's gift. Then, as you give the light to the one sitting next to you, reflect on how you can give yourself as a gift, how you can share God's love with lost, lonely, searching people.

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris