Sunday, January 4, 2009

What Gift Can I Bring?

(Read Matthew 2:1-12)

The three wise men were seekers, willing to undertake a great and unknown journey to find the child who had been born a king. We too are on such a journey searching to be near our Lord and King. It is a great journey in that it consumes our whole lives from the moment we are born until after our physical death. It is a great journey because along the way, we experience several mini births and deaths that enable us to mature as spiritual beings and be transformed in the way we feel, think, act and speak. The journey is filled with both great joy and great sorrow. It is also an unknown journey in that we do not know exactly what are lives will be like, what will happen. The mystery of living another year unfolds before us even now. What will 2009 contain? How will it affect you, your family, this church, this community, and the world?

The spiritual life is a great and unknown journey indeed. Through it all, Jesus is the light that guides us. The Holy Spirit is the power that moves us. And Almighy God is the one who faithfully watches overs us and reveals to us our life purpose.

Walking the spiritual path is challenging, but it is the most rewarding way to life your life. The spiritual path brings meaning to your life as you grow in discipleship and service, as you grow in wisdom and holiness, as you grow in compassion and love. A missionary from the United States named Marcus knew just how challenging and rewarding walking the spiritual path was. MArcus moved to India in his 20's to spread the message of the gospel and help the poor in that country. He left the US with excitment and hope in his heart, but soon felt overwhelmed and deeply saddened by the great need of the people in India. Not long after arriving he got sick from the food and water, and it took him months to recover. For years, he lived in poverty with the people and served one person at a time, questioning whether or not he was really making a difference, but he spoke his fears to no one. Then one day, a young woman came toward Marcus with a great, big smile on her face. Marcus recognized her from having helped her some time before, but could not remember her name. She told him her name was Ludmilla, and she said that she had gotten married since the last time she had seen Marcus and that she was now expecting a baby. She had come to find Marcus and to thank him for the food and medicine he had given to her, and also for the hope that he had given her. She thanked him for telling her the stories of Abraham and Sarah and Mary and Joseph. She thanked him for telling her the story of Jesus. After Ludmilla had come to tell Marcus how her life was going in a wondeful direction and how he had helped her, his doubts dissolved. When he finally returned to States years later, he said of his experience as a missionary in India: It was the most exhausting and painful time of my life so far, and it has also been the most worthwhile. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve even just a few of India's people.

Whether you are a missionary in India or a mechanic in Indiana, as long as you stay faithful and actively participate in your spiritual journey, as long as you respond to God's call, as long as you spread love wherever and whenever you can, you are living the most worthwhile kind of life possible. A life united to God, following in Christ's footsteps.

When the Magi, as the wise men are often called, journeyed to find Jesus, they brought with them gifts to pay honor to the newborn king. That got me thinking. If we are on a great and unknown journey to find Jesus like they were, then shouldn't we also bring gifts to Jesus like they did?

The gifts the Magi brought were gifts fit for a king. The Scripture says, "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered [the baby Jesus] gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11). The gifts they gave Jesus were very valuable monetary and material gifts. We are accustomed to giving monetary gifts to Jesus as well. And while these gifts are greatly appreicated and necessary for Christ's Church to continue, they are not the only kind of gift we can bring.

Do you know the song of "The Little Drummer Boy?" The opening lyrics are this: Come, they told me, a newborn king to see, our finest gifts we bring, to lay before the king, so to honor him, when we come. Baby Jesus, I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, thats fit to bring our king, shall I play for you, on my drum?

Mary nods yes to the little drummer boy, and so he gives the gift of his music to the baby Jesus. The last words of the song are: Then, he smiled at me, me and my drum.

This song is so touching because it tells the story of a humble, small child who offers to Jesus a seemingly simple but genuine gift. The gift of himself. The gift of something he can do. God rejoices in such gifts. Jesus smiles at him. I see you giving those gifts to God all the time in your service to the church and kindness to one another. As long as the gift we give is from the heart, as long as it is a part of who we are, Jesus smiles and gratefully accepts what we have to offer.

The gift of giving one's self or something true to one's self is the most precious type of gift we are able to give to God.

This type of gift giving reminds me of my grandmother, Anna. She passed away in 2005, but on December 22nd she would have been 96 years old, so she is on my mind. My grandmother was born in Hungry and lived there for 40 years before moving to the United States with my grandfather and their two children (my mother and my aunt). Well into her 80's, my grandma would go back to Hungry to visit her sisters and neices and nephews. She loved going there. They would go swimming in these hot springs outside of Budapest, and I swear, my grandma always seemed about 10 years younger when she came home from her trip to her native land. She used to bring traditional Hungarian gifts to everyone in our family. Plates painted in the traditional style; tableclothes and shirts embroydered in the traditional style. My family values these gifts more than any other ones grandma ever bought us here in the US, even if they were exactly what we wanted. Why? Because these gifts she brought from Hungry were a part of who she was. Whenever I see them, I remember my grandma and think of how much I love her.

Today, along with the monetary gift you give to Jesus through the church, you also have the opportunity to give him a spiritual gift that is a part of yourself, something you want to share with God. A gift that will remind God of who you are as his beloved child, a gift that will carry your essence to the heavens. The way we are going to do this is you are going to write what your gift is on a slip of paper and bring it forward and put it in the offering plate. By writing the name of the gift on the slip of paper and putting it in the offering plate, you are expressing your intention to actually give that gift through your life, through the way you live.

Here's a few examples just to get you thinking. What gift can I bring?

Your joy. Your happiness. When you are happy, laughing, enjoying your life that is a form of praise to God. It is also a form of gratitude. God has given us our lives, and when we appreciate and rejoice in them, God rejoices with us.

You could also give to Jesus your willingness to change, your willingness to be transformed, your willingness to do something new or different. A willinging heart is all God needs to refresh your existence.

You could give God your confidence. When you live your life with confidence in God, you become a living witness to the Light. You help to spread the light in what you say adn do, and how you live by faith.

Give your loyalty to God. In doing so, you will stand out in the world as a Christian. You will stand apart from other people as you reject the allure and trappings of this world. You will refuse false Gods, and you will not be tempted by worldly riches.

You could even give to God your pain and suffering. It doesn't sound like much of a gift, but our God, our Savior welcomes our pain and suffering with open arms. When we give this gift, it provides God with a chance to comfort us and heal us. Or instead of giving your pain and suffering, you could give to God your endurance and your resiliance. You may have had a hard life, been through some seriously tough times, but you made it. And God is proud of you that you are still standing and moving on.

What gift can I bring?

Be creative. Pick something that is essentially you, something you love about yourself or think is special about you. When we think of all the wonderful things that God has given to us- His love. Our lives. The creation. Each other. Jesus-- What a priviledge it is to give something back. Make it something good.

You know how sometimes you give a gift to a person, a gift you think is really special, and you are so excited to see the look on their face when they open it? Then, when they do, its like they don't get what's so great about it or think its special, and your left feeling disappointed. Well, that will never happen with God. The gift you decide to give will be the best gift he's ever received. God always rejoices in what we have to offer him.