27 December, 2015

Homily for Christmas Day - Christian gift giving

John 1:1-5, 9-14
‘To all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God’ (John 1:12)
Much of our Christmas culture about gift-giving is centred on the idea that we have to be deserving in order to qualify for a present; we have to be “good”, whatever that might be; we even have to be in good standing with our relatives and friends in order to receive a simple Christmas card.
You better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He's making a list, and checking it twice,
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice;
So sang Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters in 1943 and numerous artists ever since, outlining the very idea that we have to behave in order to please a judgmental, bearded, old man in the sky who only works one night shift a year and who alone is going to decide whether we are deserving of a gift at all, and what kind of gift that will be. But this classic Christmas hit does more than this, it reinforces our own attitude to gift giving and goodwill too. As we make our lists perhaps unthinkingly we include and exclude certain people, saving our best for the most deserving and denying others completely, even of simple Christmas joy. 

Yet, as we enter the church this Christmas morning we are confronted with a different culture regulating gift giving. In celebrating the birth of Jesus we celebrate the greatest gift of God to the human family and to all creation – the gift of his own very self. In the child of Bethlehem God takes human form to share with each one of us whatever we may be going through. And indeed God shares this gift of himself beginning from the marginalised, homeless, refugees, and poor; in other words with those whom many would not consider deserving of very much in our society. Then in our gospel reading we are told how the Word of God becomes a person among people that did not recognise or accept him, let alone being deserving of such a gift. Because in God’s eyes each one of us, regardless of what society may say, every one of us does not deserve less than the gift of God’s own very self. 

God does not seem to mind, the gift of himself to the world is there in Jesus Christ for everyone to enjoy it. God becomes human as a gift caused by his overflowing generosity and life, so that he might no longer be thought of a distant god, far up his own cloud; so that he might no longer be thought of as a judgmental, bearded, old man in the sky, so that he might bring us closer to himself through love. But the gift does not end here. To all of us who, though undeservedly, accept this divine gift of Jesus Christ, God gives another gift – the possibility of becoming like him. Our gospel reading tells us that the child of Bethlehem becomes one of us so as to give us power to become children of God ourselves; or as our last carol will sing, Jesus comes
‘pleased as man with man to dwell’
‘born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth.’
So as we go home to our Christmas celebrations, let us thank God for the only real Christmas gift – the gift of his very self, but let us also reassess our culture about gift giving. Have we denied Christmas joy to someone? Have we deemed anyone undeserving of love? Have we refused mercy and forgiveness to soemone? If so, in the gift of the child of Bethlehem God shows us another way of looking at others. He considers each one of us lovable and deserving. We should do likewise.

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