Sermon on the reading of Matthew 1:18-2:12
Well, the time has come. The stores are closing after a long retail season, marking the end of another holiday advertising blitz. To celebrate why don’t we all take a deep, relaxing breath and welcome Christmas into our hearts.
Since becoming a father, Christmas has made its way to the top of my favorite holidays. I get such joy out of watching my kids count down the days until the 25th, and the closer it gets the better they seem to behave. Tomorrow morning will bring the great unwrapping of Christmas magic, and I look forward to experiencing their joy.
A few years ago, Kathleen and I decided to up the magic factor by transforming December 25th into a day that we call “Yes Day.” This is the one-day out of the year where we say yes to everything. As long as the kids don’t ask to burn down the house or want to practice throwing knives at one another, then “No” is not an option. This isn’t a day of merely spoiling our children. The kids also have to say yes to what ever we ask of them; like taking a few more pictures by the Christmas tree or washing their hands before they eat another bag of potato chips.
By saying ‘yes’ to both the fun and the not so fun stuff, the household is soon filled with the right kind of Christmas spirit. There are no fights over toys, there is no complaining over who gets to do what, and there is no resentment or anger, simply because we chose to say “Yes” instead of “No.” For one day in our house, there is truly Peace on Earth.
This time of year also highlights what seems like an endless wave of commercialism whose only goal is to remind us that “It is better to give than to receive.” True, giving does have its rewards. I think about the look on a child’s face as he opens that one special gift he had been hoping for. But in order to experience such joy also requires one to first receive the gift that is being offered.
As you know, this Holy Day marks the giving of God’s greatest gift, the incarnate Christ. But the gift would be meaningless if we did not receive it freely and cherish it as the wonderful gift of life that it is meant to be. And so we invite you to celebrate Christmas Day by saying, “Yes” to God’s most perfect gift of endless love.
Now proper etiquette would suggest we also give God something in return for the wonderful gift of the Christ child. But where does one even begin to find the perfect present for a Divine King who has given the world eternal salvation?
I went online. Naturally I began with baby items. Rock Star themed outfits are still trending these days, but it’s hard to imagine little baby Jesus in a black onesie with AC/DC’s Highway To Hell printed across his chest. Since the Magi brought gold, I thought jewelry might be a nice touch. While browsing religious necklaces on the Zale’s website, it dawned on me that I was not going to be the one who gives God a golden cross to wear.
My son thought a gift card to Macy’s would work, but like my wife once told me “Why do I need a gift card when I have your credit card.” On so many levels she was right, because God already has everything at his disposal. And so I kept searching, looking for that one thing that God doesn’t already have. Believe it or not, I found it at Costco. Sitting among the tables of discounted books and bulk candy, was a box of Christmas cards that simply read, “Peace on Earth.”
When I read it, I realized what God wants from us is for us to receive the very thing that God gives. God wants us to say ‘yes’ to the gift of Peace that flows from God’s everlasting love. The peace that comes with knowing we are saved through the incarnate Christ, the one and only prince of peace.
Sadly, not all will accept this amazing present. Not everyone will say yes to God’s love. Some of us are like Herod, who fear it and will even try to destroy it. They do not understand God’s love is greater than any hatred or pain or suffering they can dish out. They don’t want to believe that even when the world looks as if it is coming to an end, God’s love endures forever. But it is in this everlasting love that God places peace in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities, and into the entire created order. And so Christmas is a day of receiving God’s peace by simply saying, “Yes.” By saying yes, you give God what God desires.
Like the shepherds in the story we know from our Christmas pageants and nativity sets, the Magi were not looking for a savior. They were attending to their work when they found themselves startled by what they saw in the heavens. A star so amazing that they would pack up a caravan and follow it into foreign territory. It is doubtful they would have known about the ancient promises of Israel’s prophets or that they could comprehend the very concept of a messiah born to save the world. They were simply drawn to a star and understood it as the sign of something monumental. And so these wise men said, “yes” and followed the star to Bethlehem.
If you ask me, the star is the real star of tonight’s reading. It is God’s imprint in the night sky that guided the Magi to the Christ. But this star is more than just a remote incandescent body of light like the sun in our universe; it is the visible presence of God’s wonderful life shining down upon all creation. It is the light of peace that draws us closer to God, illuminating a path of righteousness in a dark and often scary world.
What if the Magi had said, “No?” What if they remained in the safety and security of their own country instead of facing a jealous and fearsome ruler like Herod? Did they know what to expect or that they themselves were in danger? They could have easily studied the movements of the star from their far away land. But instead they followed this brilliant light. They said yes.
In a warm glow, they find the incarnate Christ lying in the manger. Bowing before Him, the Magi give over their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; each one highly symbolic to the joyful and resounding “Yes” that Jesus said to God. From one simple word, the world would be forever saved from itself.
The gift of gold, that precious commodity that is still desired today, is the gift of a king. As the King of all Creation, Jesus will rule not by force, but by love. He will rule over our hearts, not from a throne but from a cross. Jesus said, “Yes” to becoming the precious commodity of all life; he is the gold, which we desire.
Frankincense is the gift of priesthood. As our divine priest, Jesus is the bridge for the entire world to enter into God’s heavenly kingdom. In saying, “Yes” Jesus becomes a servant King who prepares our way back to God’s faithful righteousness.
Myrrh is an ointment used in preparing the body for burial; it is the gift of one who is to die. Jesus came into this world to live for us, and in the end, to die for us. To be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, Jesus said “Yes” to God without condition. Yes, knowing he would suffer under Pontius Pilot. Yes, knowing he would be crucified and buried. And yes he would rise again. God gives this gift of life to us without condition. So then why would we say anything less than “yes” to this amazing gift?
The perfect gift we can give God is to receive the gift of Christ that has been freely given to us. To simply say, “Yes” to God’s offering of peace and love. In doing so, we will live a life of peace, in the perfect imitation of Christ our King who taught us how to live in love and in community with each other. As we live in peace, we pass the peace on to others in the ways we have been taught. As they receive the peace, they too pass it on. And before long, God truly gets what He wants for Christmas, Peace on Earth.
It begins with us saying, “Yes.”
Merry Christmas. And Happy Yes Day to you all.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”