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. Royal, restoring, recognized,
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
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.