The Best Present of All
December 24, 2010
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear Friend, a very Merry Christmas to you!
This is the holiest night of the year.
On this night, we remember that Almighty God parted the curtains of heaven, and sent down to us a gift of unspeakable worth.
God chose to embrace the world through the gift of a little Baby.
As his own dear mother, Mary, held the Baby in her arms,
I wonder if she knew that those beautiful eyes she saw in her beloved Son,
which sparkled with the reflection of candlelight,
would one day look with compassion on all the people of the world,
all that had been born, all that would ever be born?
Mary, did you know?
Friend, did you ever look at the hands and the fingers of a little baby?
How perfectly formed; how long and lovely are the fingers;
How gentle and tiny are those hands!
Mary did you know that those arms would one day mysteriously reach out to embrace the whole world,
That the Love of Almighty God Himself would embrace the whole world through this little baby?
Mary, did you know?
Joseph, did you know?
Did you know that one little Baby, in such a very short time - could do so much?
Mary, did you know?
Joseph, did you know?
Every year, I like to lift up one word or one phrase from the Christmas story.
This year, the special word is, "With".
Joseph went to Bethlehem with Mary, his promised wife, being great with child.
And there were with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, peace, good will, to everyone!
Not just herald angels, mind you, but a whole army of angel singers whose only job that night was singing the glorious song of Jesus' birth. Nice work if you can get it. And to think that we share this task with heavenly angels. Amazing - and thrilling.
With implies companionship. With implies being there. With implies togetherness. With implies presence with a "ce" at the end.
It seems to me that presence with a "ce" is often the best gift of all.
A squadron of angel musicians come for a remarkable moment to be with shepherds to treat them to a heavenly concert the likes of which they never heard before or since.
And most importantly of all, God Himself came to be with us.
Emmanuel means, God with us.
God was out to settle the question once and for all.
God is with us.
He came to shepherds to show that His love embraces every class of people and every condition of life. God used the stars of the heavens to tell some gentile astrologers and teachers that His love embraced them too - Jews and Gentiles, all together.
He is with us at the Communion Table and at the kitchen table.
He is with us when we're washing the dishes and when we're wrapping presents,
When we are at prayer, and when we are at play.
That's the best news of all this Christmas.
His best gift is His presence.
His presence is His present.
And so is yours and mine, my friend.
At Christmas, we struggle to give good gifts to those we love, don't we?
This is a lovely and honorable thing.
And don't we always wonder if we've gotten enough, or if we've gotten the right thing?
It's all born from love, and from the desire of the human heart to bring smiles and joy to the world.
May I say, though, that there is one thing we ought to remember -
The gift of your presence is the most precious gift of all.
A personal visit, a phone call, a personal note on a card, even email, brings the light of your presence to another.
We often worry
about the gifts we give, don't we?
I read of a man who decided one year that the best way to take care of the Christmas present thing
was to just go out and get the same present for everyone. So that's what he did.
He went out to one store, and that year, everyone on his list got a stapler.
The next year, the gift for everybody was a flashlight.
Now, I'm not knocking this.
Flashlights are useful.
But did his grandmother really need a flashlight that took 6 D cell batteries, had a floodlight in front and a flashing red light in the back, and could be used to ward off attackers if necessary?
Is this what she really needed?
But - well, how about a visit, or a phone call, along with the flashlight?
I'll bet if it came along with a smile and a caring conversation,
That would become a cherished present indeed.
Our presence is the best gift of all, isn't it?
I was visiting with one of our members in the hospital not long ago,
Or perhaps it would be better to say, we were visiting with each other.
As we spoke in that darkened room,
I realized that we had brought the presence of Christ to each other -
I to her, and you to her, by virtue of my office,
And certainly, she brought Christ's presence to me through the gift of her remarkable faith. All on a dark, cold, winter's evening; the light of Christ was shining.
My Starlite Chorale singing ensemble performs at Christmas for several groups who cannot otherwise get out to hear live performances. We were performing at a home for retired sisters. I am thinking of the swirl of energy sparkling round the walls of their remarkably holy chapel, and how the sisters there, advanced in years but young at heart, were smiling smiles that may be all too few at other times, clapping, singing, blessing, encouraging us, lifted in the physical and spiritual heart.
I am thinking of one sister who greeted me after the concert. She was recalling a request she made on behalf of the sisters years before, and said with a playful smile, "You owe me a Day of Recollection Retreat." Is she aware that my denomination is slightly different than hers? Does she care? Does it matter? Should I really do it? We'll see.
I am thinking particularly of one other sister who directs her wheelchair with puffs of breath into a little tube. She was steering toward me as we were putting things away after the show. She signaled me to get close, and whispers, "Will you come back.... in the Spring?" She smiles a most beautiful smile, a smile that speaks not of her hands, curled round little blue pillows, but of sparkling youth and spirited Spring. Such was her smile.
There could only be one answer, of course.
Our presence may be the greatest present.
This coming Sunday, I look forward to telling you a story about one of the most amazing visits I've experienced in my life. It's a visit I had with someone I have not seen in 54 years. Thatís right - more than half a century. Not really a very long time - if you're a tree.
I assure you, it was amazing. And some very beautiful things have come from it. I am very much looking forward to sharing this story with you.
But it is Christmas Eve, and I am sure you have much to do, so I will let you go.
Let me simply say this.
Tonight is the night in which we celebrate the "with-ness" of God.
Tonight is the night on which God opened up the curtains of heaven,
And let the shining light of His loving Son shine through.
Just so He could be with you.
Let Him into your heart.
Let Him be with you.
And as I send you back out into this chilly winter's evening,
Won't you please remember this:
There is very probably someone out there in this world
Who is longing for the gift from you.
Give them the best gift of all.
Give them your presence.
And when you do, may you go forth, with a heart full of Christmas joy,
For you will have given the Christ-like gift of your presence
On this night of nights.
God loves you, and I do, too.
Merry Christmas to you, and all whom you love.
God bless you.
© 2010 Anthony J. Godlefski