Gifts come in many forms. There are the ones that you can go out to the store and buy –sometimes deeply thoughtful. Then there are those gifts made with love – the homemade cards, cookies, cakes, wine, and crafts. Sometimes, maybe even most times the best gifts are a total surprise! They can’t be bought in stores and only come from the heart. Like the one Bill, Olivia, Pauline, and Tony got today with their children home for Christmas Eve.
There are other kinds of gifts too. Help when someone needs it. A caring hug when life seems to be turned upside down or food when your cupboards are empty or a map when we’ve lost our way. There are times when I am tempted to believe, and maybe you are like me, that our gifts – what we have to offer each other and to God – are not enough. We swarm the malls looking for designer brands and great deals that we can wrap up in fancy bows. We second guess our purchases and we mull over our decisions – and it’s not just around the holiday season – in our work, in our friendships, and in our family life – we often doubt whether or not what we have to offer is enough. We listen to those voices in our heads that tell us terrible things like, “not good enough, you will never be good enough.” And then comes this night and this ancient story that reminds each and every one of us that all our gifts, no matter how big or how small, make all the difference in the world.
Think about Mary and Joseph. They had nothing and the government tells them that they must travel all the way to Bethlehem – 157 km to get registered. Mary is great with child all because an angel came to visit her and tell her that she was favoured and chosen by God to bear God’s only son into the world. And somehow Mary summoned up the courage to say, “Yes.” Then, there is Joseph who is trying to accept the news that Mary is going to have a baby and somehow God most-holy is the father? Joseph found the courage to not only to stay, but also to be the earthly-father of the Christ-child. Both in their own ways gave gifts beyond our wildest imaging.
So the journey begins to Bethlehem. There is no public transit, no cars, and no easy way to Bethlehem. Mary, according to Luke, was “great with child.” So walking all that way was out the question. They were not rich enough to afford an animal to make the trip with. Perhaps someone along the way saw Mary’s struggle and gave the couple a donkey to make the journey easier. Maybe a family member was able to give them a loan of their donkey. This simple gesture was a gift that made the journey to Bethlehem possible.
After a long and tiresome journey, that certainly must have lasted several days, they arrived in Bethlehem and the place was abuzz with people. Not only was it a major metropolitan centre, but because of the census people had flocked from all corners of Judea and further to be registered. Every corner of Bethlehem was filled with people and all the hotels and inns put up their “No Vacancy” signs. Mary and Joseph knocked on door after door. There was no place for them to go. Mary wondered where the baby would be born. Joseph wondered how he would keep his family safe. How would this baby that is coming survive without some kind of shelter? Door after door closed; door after door shut in their faces. Mary and Joseph were losing hope. Finally, one innkeeper offered the weary looking couple the stable out back. It was nothing much but it was sheltered. The animals kept the air warm. One “yes” made all the difference as Mary carefully wrapped her baby and laid him in the manger.
Seemingly insignificant acts can multiply into something greater than we could ever imagine. Did Mary and Joseph know that their courage was a gift? Did that stranger who offered Mary and Joseph the donkey know that they made it possible for the Messiah to arrive safely in Bethlehem? Did the innkeeper second guess himself before offering the couple the stable out back? Why would they want that? It’s a stable! It would be of no use to them? Perhaps, your simple gifts of time or presence could seem to another like a heaven-sent angel.
In our decisions every day we are like the innkeeper in Bethlehem that night. We decide whether or not there is room in the inn. Will we let those negative voices dictate what we have to offer? Or will we choose, like the innkeeper to give what we have trusting that it is enough. The beautiful simplicity of our gifts can touch others’ lives in ways far beyond imagining. It wasn’t much but it was all he had and it made all the difference to Mary and Joseph as they lay their tiny baby in that manger. That small gesture may have seemed so simple, but it’s impact was so great that we gather here, over 2000 years later to remember it.
The most meaningful gifts are simple. They don’t come wrapped in fancy bows. They don’t have designer names or expensive price tags. They don’t come in 12 easy payments of $19.99. // The best and most meaningful gift is a baby, born in a manager. A gift so simple, but so profound. For that manger holds something inside of it that is bigger than our entire world – it is the gift of Emmanuel: God-with-us. It is a gift that is priceless. A gift that’s for you. A gift that’s for me.
Tonight, as we celebrate the best gift of all, we must choose how to live in response to best of all gifts – our God with us. Will we close the door and say no vacancy here or will we be like the innkeeper and the donkey and shepherds and angels and Mary and Joseph who all gave their best?