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Based on the Scripture readings:
Luke 2

2007 December 24
Christmas Eve
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth F. Baily, Senior Pastor

Last Minute Gifts

For almost a decade, I served a church just north of Portland, Maine and just south of Freeport and L. L. Bean. On Christmas Eve we held three services, at 4:30, 7:30, and 11:15, and over the years many attendees would rush out and back between two services to complete their last-minute shopping because that store is open 24/365. This was really leaving things to the last minute, yet to be honest, it worked, and I became used to receiving gifts with that nameplate, not quite wrapped, even from my own family. I became comfortable with people leaving their preparation until the last minute, too.

Now, I don't mean this to be a survey, and certainly not an effort to reveal anything that some of you would keep confidential from your pew-mates, but has everyone finished their preparation for Christmas?

My friends who used to shop at Bean's would argue that what they got at the last minute was exactly right, and chosen just at the right time, and wouldn't have been the same as what they'd chosen earlier, which is hard to criticize. And it's Biblical.

Most of us here have probably heard the story from Luke often enough that we could recite it with the readers, although we may know slightly different versions. And although this story comes near the start of the Gospel, it includes something rather surprising which arrives just at the last minute when nearly all the preparation for Jesus' birth is in order. This last minute gift comes in a tiny package, by which I don't mean just the small size of the newborn God. I mean this gift comes in four words and literally one letter, one letter from the alphabet.

The four words are so familiar to us that we can overlook their shocking dimensions. They are spoken by an angel and you will hear them read in just a moment. They are the words David, Savior, Christ, and Lord, tied together in what the angel tells the shepherds starting with the part, "For to you is born this day…"

You could write a book -- many books -- on each of these words: David, Savior, Christ, and Lord, but in brief the books could be subtitled Royal, Restoring, Recognized, Reign. This birth was and is all that and more. In some ways, the divisions of Christianity to this day emphasize these different words, but that's another book.

Those four words are the key, the inspiration, for the shepherds to visit this newborn descendent of David, who was himself -- remember -- a shepherd. Things come together in this birth.

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Royal, restoring, recognized, reign.

Now, the one letter that is important, the single letter that is a bit unclear in ancient texts, changes the meaning of an entire phrase you're about to hear, too. The variance in this one letter changes the phrase "Peace among all with whom God is pleased," to the phrase, "Among humankind, Goodwill and peace." Which is it? An issue of God's being pleased with certain people or an issue of us treating one another with peace and respect? One single letter shows up both ways in the ancient texts, leaving uncertainty. Which do you think it is?

So, have you finished your preparation for Christmas tomorrow? Do you have everything that you need?

Our tradition -- and our world -- reveals to us how as few as four words, as little as one letter, just one person, can change a huge amount in our understanding and our condition. Therefore, I want to ask you for a last minute gift: a small one.

I ask you for something that you can still get in the time left. I ask you to make a pledge to do something to be a peacemaker in 2008. To do something to manifest the restoring, healing reign of God in pursuing respect among peoples next year. This is the perfect time to choose this gift, and tonight is the perfect night to commit to it as something that will last much longer than so much else we receive.

If you're not connected here but connected to a computer, go home tonight and Google information about some Christian peacemaking group, and make a donation, and get connected to them. If you are a visitor here from another place, get up the day after Christmas and ask your church what they are doing about peacemaking and in ministries of respect and get involved. If you are connected here, talk to me or our mission folks or our annual meeting about our healing ministries.

There is no way to hear Jesus' story, especially in a time of war, without hearing the call for everyone to be able to sleep in heavenly peace. Four words, one letter, can reflect Jesus' life.

You know that shepherds, due to their very life and profession, could not keep their contemporary religious duties in Jesus' day. They weren't able to. Yet somehow God chose them to reveal to us the importance of these four words and the message of peace to this very day. Like them, when we get these words right, we get the whole story and the whole gift and keep the faith. It's not too late. I wish you glorious shepherd gifts this night, as we all behold the peace of God.

Amen.

Copyright © 2007 Kenneth F. Baily.  Used by permission.
http://www.nhcc.net/sermons/Sermon20071224.htm
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Parent page ] Sermon "Christmas Eve" ] Sermon "Sacred Vessels" ] Sermon "No System to Save" ] Sermon "Entitled to be Thankful" ] Sermon "Welcome Food" ] Sermon "Waking Devotion" ] Sermon "Sitting at the Welcome Table" ] Sermon "Table Manners" ] Sermon "Speaking of God" ] Sermon "Singing New Songs" ] Sermon "Prepare the Way" ] Sermon "Here-ing God" ] Sermon "The Possibility of Possibility" ] Sermon "Sweet Creations" ] Sermon "Not at All Dead" ] Sermon "March for Life" ] Sermon "Planning, Praising and Pondering Palms" ] Sermon "Imagination, Dreams, and Vision" ] Sermon "Following the Magi" ] Sermon "Pushing Christmas" ] Sermon "Forecasts" ] Sermon "Ready for Christmas" ] Sermon "God in the Middle" ] Sermon "The Days to Come, the One to Come" ] Sermon "Earthly Healing" ] Sermon "Digesting Communion" ] Sermon "The Change of Prayer" ] Sermon "Unbreakable Body" ] Sermon "Seeing Clearly" ] Sermon "Right for Present" ] Sermon "In Memory of Hope" ] Sermon "These Baptisms are Killing Us" ] Sermon "Wanting Prayer" ] [ Sermon "Last Minute Gifts" ] Sermon "Praying Well = Praying Much" ] Sermon "Peace Repent, Peace Remember" ] Sermon "Choosing Church" ] Sermon "A Model Church" ] Sermon "The Empire Struck Back" ] Sermon "Love is Patient and Primary" ] Sermon "Manifestations" ] Sermon "The Green Grace of God" ] Sermon "Signs of Sacred Things" ] Sermon "A Deal with the Future" ] Sermon "With God in Death; with Each Other in Dying" ] Sermon "Facing God's Miracle" ] Sermon "Finding All Three" ] Sermon "God as a Baby" ] Sermon "What Does It Mean" ] Sermon "Controlling Christmas" ] Sermon "Finding Jesus" ] Sermon "Katrina's New Covenant Call" ] Sermon "Elevate your Expectations" ] Sermon "See: the Healing" ] Sermon "Lifeless Chaos and Living Creation" ] Sermon "Rapt Gifts" ] Sermon "Welcome to Reality" ] Sermon "Blue State Blues" ] Sermon "Are we not entitled to thanks?" ] Sermon "Ancient Pieces of Peace" ] Sermon "Noticing Neighbors" ] Sermon "Easter" ] Sermon "Sin: Currently Tense" ] Sermon "Why Are You Angry?" ] Sermon "Anxiety over Sin" ] Sermon "Isn't Marriage Gay?" ] Sermon "A Marriage Grade in Heaven?" ] Sermon "Miracles:  Seeing More in our Midst" ] Sermon "Why are You in Churchl" ] Sermon "Remember your Baptism" ] Sermon "Every Day Spirituality" ] Sermon "The Cross and Joy of Love" ] Sermon "Welcome Back" ] Sermon "Living Together" ] Sermon "Transforming Destruction" ] Sermon "The Work of Healing" ] Sermon "Peace" ] Worship details ]

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