Sunday, December 27, 2015

“Receive the Gift” (Colossians 3:12-17)

Christmas Day has come and gone . . . how’d ya do?

I am not always comfortable with Christmas.  I am quite comfortable with the “faith” side of Christmas . . . it is the “giving and receiving” side of Christmas that often makes me uncomfortable.  I have never been comfortable in receiving gifts whether they are physical or verbal gifts . . . I’m always quick with a “thank you” or a humorous quip in receiving; but most of the time I am not really sure why anyone would be giving me a gift.  And, I am not the only one. 

Recently our oldest child, John Andrew, confessed his uncomfortableness with the Christmas season and its emphasis on giving.  After receiving several anonymous—and very nice gifts, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Christmas has never been my holiday. I don't hate it but I just don't like receiving gifts from people. For a long time (and now) I just never thought I deserved anything from anyone.”

Now don’t get me wrong . . . I like Christmas . . . I appreciate the gifts that I receive; yet, it still makes me uncomfortable . . . uncomfortableness that is often expressed with a quick and mumbled “thank you” or a humorous quip acknowledging the “gift”.  Christmas seems to be a time when we shower those that we love with gifts . . . often gifts of things that our loved ones would never give to themselves.  Christmas seems to be a time of extreme graciousness on the part of those who are doing the giving . . . and, they do it because they love those whom they are giving the gifts.  It is an expression of love.

I think that we all have that feeling about gifts that we receive from time to time . . . that sense of awe and bafflement of a gift so gracious that we wonder why we are the recipients.  For example, the gift that God gives to all of us on Christmas . . . the gift of God’s own love . . . a gift of grace . . . God’s own son.  It is a gift of great grace that opens up the greatest gift of all—an intimate relationship with God . . . a call to take our rightful places in God’s family . . . to enter into the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that knows no end.  It is an overwhelming gift that makes us wonder . . . why us?  We don’t deserve this gift of grace and love.  Yet, God bestows the “gift” upon us.  God does it because God love us . . . loves us more than we could ever comprehend.

Thus it is that we are called upon to receive the “gift” . . . to step up and take our place in the family, the family of God.  Yeah, God loves us whether we love ourselves or not . . . God loves us.  Because God loves us, let us receive the “gift”.  Let us rip off the wrapping, tear open the box, and embrace the “gift” . . . let us jump up and down in excitement at the wonder of it all . . . and, with sincere hearts us repeat, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”  That’s the least we could do for such a cosmic and profound gift as this miracle of God with us.

Now a gift is not fully received or received until we respond to the actual gift.  For example, and I confess this . . . but, I have gifts from years past that are stashed away in the nooks and crannies of closets that have never seen the light of day since the day I opened them.  They just sit—hidden and out of sight, never used or acknowledge beyond the day they were opened.  Is this a “gift”?  I don’t think so.  I think that a “gift” becomes a “gift” when we acknowledge it and respond to it . . . when we start to actually appreciate and use it.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians he is sharing some common sense practices of faith with the freshly converted.  True, Paul waxes on about the things and ways that the faithful should change their lives, but he also shares with them the possibilities of new life filled with opportunities . . . new life filled with opportunities because they have received the “gift”.  They are “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved . . .”  And, if this is the case, says Paul, then to really receive the “gift” is to respond to the “gift” in such a way that it reflects it.  Nowhere does the Apostle Paul expect mystical practices or heroic sacrifices or special esoteric knowledge from those who receive the gift.  No, the apostle expects something simpler . . . he expects the faithful to be Christ-like in their everyday living.

The apostle writes: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

To receive and respond to the “gift” . . . of claiming one’s spot in relationship with God and in God’s family . . . is to be Christ-like in one’s life and the way that one lives on a daily basis.  It is to embrace and live love.  And, it all begins when one can truly open up his or her heart, allow the grace and love of God to enter in, and to accept it . . . to embrace it . . . and, discover the peace of Christ.  And, it means to be able to say, “Thank you.”  To say “thank you” whether you understand the reason why you received the gift in the first place.  It is to acknowledge God’s love . . . for you and for everyone else.  The apostle writes: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . and be thankful.”   This is how we are to receive the “gift”.

Then we are to make the “gift” our own . . . we are to respond.  We are to respond in love . . . not mere words of love, but in actions of love . . . we are to become Christ-like in our lives and actions. 

The true “gift” of Christmas, as we all know, is not a gift that is meant to be kept and hoarded . . . it is a “gift” that was meant to be given away.  It is in the giving away that we know that we have truly received the “gift”.  It is in the giving away that God knows . . . that God knows that we accept and understand the graciousness and love of the original gift.  Thus, to truly receive the “gift” of Christmas . . . we have to give . . . to give of ourselves and of our love.

In a quote that has been attributed to many: “Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.”    Author Amy Carmichael writes: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”  And, Mother Teresa writes: “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”  The Apostle Pau tells the faithful: “. . . put on love . . .”

To receive the “gift” of Christmas is to receive the gift of love, but it does not stop there . . . it must be re-gifted . . . it must be given away if it has really been received.  Saint Francis tells us: “For it is in giving that we receive.”  As we ponder in our hearts all that this Christmas season has given to us . . . let us ponder how each of us can respond to this “gift”—this immense gift of grace and love . . . let us ponder how we can give it away on a daily basis . . . with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and most importantly with love.  As Paul writes to the Colossians: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In this season of Christmas . . . receive the “gift” . . . and go forth to share . . . go forth in love.  Amen.

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