Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Gift in Swaddling Clothes

This sermon was preached in the Christmas Day Service at Tuguegarao UMC, December 25, 2012. 8:30 AM.
Text: Luke 2:1-20

The Lord be with you.
I thank the Lord God for the opportunity to bring to you the good news this Christmas. I always thank the Lord the opportunity to bring the good news. As a doctor, I often bring bad news to my patients. But today, let me share with you the good news of Christmas.
The scripture reading we read today is from the Gospel according to St. Luke and tells us the good news. I usually tell the good news at the last part of my sermon, but today, the Gospel of St. Luke tells the good news right now that the Savior is born. The angels declared, “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” The sign is that it is a baby wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger. That is the good news and it was told to the shepherds in the field.
Why were the shepherds the first one to be told about the messiah and not the priests of the temple or the king of Rome? As a little boy, I always ask this question. Our school gardener told me God came to tell the good news to those who needed it the most. That has always been the character of God – tell the good news to those who need it. The shepherds were Jews who were in the outskirts of Jerusalem, they were ordinary men who belonged to the labor group, they were outcast because they violate Jewish rules of not working during Sabbath, they were the subjects of the colony of Rome. The shepherds are insignificant by the worlds standard. But they were the ones who first heard the good news. God gave priority to these blue collar workers because God gave preference to the humble, ordinary, poor and lowly.  The shepherds were Jews who understood what a messiah meant and so they went hurriedly to see the gift of God to them. The gift is a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.
Every Christmas we receive gifts from our friends and family. I always receive gifts since I was a little boy until now. I appreciate the gifts big or small. I always say that it doesn’t matter what the gift is, it’s the thought that counts. Kaya mga kapatid, sabihan mo yung katabi mo “asan na regalo ko, it’s the thought that counts.” But in reality, the gift does matter to us. Because we look at the gift wrap and think and guess if the present is precious or not. It does matter to us if the gift is big or small. And it does matter to us what exactly is the gift inside.
For example, every year we have a Christmas part in the office, and gifts and door prizes are always given. This year we receive an appliance- that is something big and something expensive – wow, we will definitely be happy with this gift. When we opened the big gift – it was a washing machine with spin dryer – great. But we still have a 1 year old turbo washing machine in our house and we don’t need another one, in fact we still have the old washing machine and it still works. Now, we have three washing machines in the house and unless we open a laundry shop sometime soon. And so we don’t really need the gift even if it was something big and expensive. If I had received the microwave or the 21 inch TV then it would have been more useful for us because we don’t have those yet. This is also true for the little gifts that we receive every Christmas.
Another example of how it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the gift that matters. I always receive, mugs, and picture frames and clocks and wallets and towels from friends and relatives and I am grateful and say to myself that it’s the thought that counts. But what will I do with all the mugs? Will I use one mug for breakfast, another for snacks, then another one for lunch and another mug for dinner? How about the clocks? Every corner in our house has a clock? Late pa rin naman kami lagi. And the wallets. As if I have a lot of money to need all the wallets. And if I do, I will put them in the bank and not in the wallet. And so what do I do with all these “useless” gifts that I receive. I give them also as gifts to some of my friends. And I know you also do that. Kaya tanggap lang tayo ng tanggap ng mga gifts because we say it’s the thought that counts when it fact the gift really matters to us. The kind of gift we receive really matters to us. 
And so we receive a gift from God this Christmas.  A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Greek word for swaddling cloth used in the Bible is “sparganoo” and it means a strip of cloth used to wrap a baby to constrain it. It is an ordinary piece of cloth and is unappealing.  The gift we receive from God is wrapped in an unappealing piece of cloth.
And as we often do, we look at the outer side first and consider it. We often bias ourselves if the gift wrap is pretty or not and we choose the one that looks nice. In one of our exchange gifts among Pastor’s Kids, we had all the gifts in front and when your name is called you get to choose the gift you want. Of course you want the best gift and the only basis which one is the best is the size of the gift and the wrapper that was used. That is what we often do, we don’t want an ordinary looking wrapper for our gift, kaya nga nauso yung mga gift wrapping shoppes. And then we are disappointed if the gift does not match the beauty of the wrapper. Because again, the gift itself matters to us.
The gift should be something important and useful for us. God gives us a gift this Christmas. A baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. The gift is Jesus Christ. This is the good news told to us. But the question for us my dear brothers and sisters, “does that gift matter to us?” Do we need the good news we heard today? Will we receive the good news with joy in our hearts? Will we receive the gift of God? Will we receive the swaddling cloth or reject it because the swaddling cloth is not appealing to us? Does Jesus still matter to us in this time? If we do receive the gift of God, is the gift going to matter to us? Does the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes going to matter to us?
We live in a highly technologically advanced world where technology matters. We live in a world that having gadgets like iPad, cellphones, netbooks are things that matter. We live in a world where cars, houses, good jobs and career are the priorities that matter to us. And so these are the gifts that we expect and hope to receive this Christmas. If you don’t believe me, take a look at your prayers in the last days – what did you pray for? We want to have a good career or a successful business. We pray for a new car or a new house. We want to receive new gadgets or any material things. We want to receive a gift from God and that is why we pray – but we want the material things that the world dictates as important matters to us.  
But God gives us a gift that shows God’s great love to us by giving his only Son –a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Do we not live in a world that tells us to be greedy and accumulate great wealth? Do we not find ourselves cursing somebody that we hate? Do we not find ourselves indifferent to the needs of strangers? Do we not live in a world that doesn’t care for others? Do we not find ourselves committing sin everyday to someone and to our God? Is God satisfied to the kind of love we show to our neighbours? Have we understood what it meant to love your enemies? Unless we answered yes to all of these questions, we still need the gift of God. Unless all of us here have done what are expected of us Christians, we still need the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth. We still need Jesus Christ.  
John Wesley reminded us that our faith is not a onetime event when we received Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Our faith is a journey towards Christian perfection. And as long as we live and continue in that journey, the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth will continue to matter and be of importance to us. And so my dear brothers and sisters, receive the good news. Receive the gift of God this Christmas. Welcome the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.
Open your gifts and remove the swaddling cloth that covers the most precious gift you will receive today. Marvel and give glory to God for the baby Jesus is born today. It’s not just the thought that counts. The gift we receive from God - the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth still matters to us today.
In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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