Merry Christmas! This little piece of Luke’s Gospel – the prelude to Jesus’ birth – is often overlooked. Jesus was born in a barn, because the inn was full. And, by the way, they were only in Bethlehem to fulfill the Roman requirement to be counted in a census that would determine how much that area would be taxed by the Romans – to help fill the Roman coffers, doing little to nothing to help the plight of poor people like Joseph and Mary. And I was put in mind, as we are gathered together on this most blessed Day, that we can often gloss over the joy of Christmas and not truly realize what a gift Jesus the Christ is to us. We can look at the Christmas season as a time of obligation to go to church. Worship around Christmas may be the bump along the way before we can get off to the fun stuff, the celebrations, food, etc.
Faith, generally, can be that way, what I have heard referred to as “teeth-grinding Christianity.” Joseph and Mary traveled, her very pregnant, out of obligation to the powers that be. We, too, can allow our lives to become a series of obligations. But on this day, this Christmas Day; this day of the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we might take a moment to reassess what a gift Jesus is to us. Jesus is a pure, unadulterated, wonderful counselor and prince of peace who came among us. Jesus changed everything. Jesus redefined what holiness is, what love is, and saved us all. We can gift ourselves and take some time to push away any feeling of obligation in our lives and tap into the joy of the great gift of Jesus Christ.
Think about the obligations in your life. We all have them. To work, to family, to communities of varying kinds. Many, maybe even most, are sources of joy. Obligations don’t have to be painful or things we dread; the things we have to do doesn’t mean they are things that we hate doing; of course. But many things that we do out of love, even, can begin to feel obligatory. Gift-giving, card sending, invitations reciprocated because we, too, have been invited in the past, etc. Perhaps it would be good for each of us to take some time today to outline what our daily or weekly obligations are, just to reassess. And then, maybe we can reflect a bit on the gifts that we have been given. Who, in your life, is a gift to you and how? Why? How might you let them know that they are a unadulterated and blessed gift in your life. Sometimes perspective can shift obligation to gift.
Paul wrote this in his letter to his disciple Titus, and says much in three little verses of it:
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
God, through His grace and love, has poured Himself out upon us as pure, deep, and all- encompassing gift. By the waters of Baptism, we are brought into community. By the love and grace of God we are sustained in that community, and by the Holy Spirit we are reminded of God’s shattering love, often by the people in our lives who are Christ to us, the people we love, the people who challenge us, and the people we seek to be in relationship with. On this Day, Christmas, we are people who are captives of God’s love and grace as God came down at Christmas, in a meager cave or barn, within a poor family, and bestowed upon us the gift of gifts: reunion with God, forgiveness of sin, redemption by Christ, and eternal life. Because when we see that baby in the manger, we have to remember that child will minister, that this child will suffer and die on a cross, and this child will be resurrected to the glory of God and salvation of us all.
Finally, what gifts do we have? We are pure and unfettered gifts, made in God’s image. How are we gifted? What gifts do we have to offer to the glory of God? The gift of prayer, of joy, of hope and strength. The gift of renewal. We are surrounded by gifts so I invite you to take a few moments today, amidst whatever it is that you are doing to celebrate with family and/or friends, to think of the gift you are called to be in the world and the gift that we are invited to embrace: the gift of God’s great and unending love. Not because we ought to but because it is a gift, offered freely, through Jesus, the Son. Merry Christmas!