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11.28.10 Who Gets to Open Their Presents First, Luke 2.1-24, Sermon Summary

by on November 29, 2010

Summary Points

  • True Christmas and the Bible reflect and reveal God’s values, nature, and program
  • Only the poor, and the poor in spirit, open God’s present at Christmas
  • Faithful and unfaithful attitudes towards the poor

What’s the tradition at your house on who opens Christmas presents first? In the kingdom of God, it is those who are poor. How can we who are rich understand God’s heart for the poor? One way is to read the Bible. In the Older Testament, idolatry is the only topic addressed more frequently than the relationship we have with money and others. In the Newer Testament, it is 1 verse in every 16. In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and teaching it is 1 in 10. In Luke’s Gospel specifically it is 1 in 7.

The reason the Bible has so much to say about the relationships among us, our money, and others, is that the Bible reflects God’s values, God’s nature, and God’s program. The Exodus from Egypt most dramatically revealed God’s concern for the marginalized and oppressed. The laws arising from that experience protect the marginalized from majority neglect and abuse. God values the alien, the orphan, the widow, and the poor.

And why wouldn’t he? Christian doctrine teaches that God is triune. God in the very divine nature is social, a community, and not only so, but a society of equals. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that each person in the divine nature is present with each other. They have solidarity. There is no hierarchy in the Trinity, only respectful, balanced relationship.

And so God made us in God’s image, gave us laws to help us live in a society, and sent us Christ to demonstrate the balanced relationship between divinity and humanity. Jesus reveals how we are to think of ourselves and relate to one another, for he revealed God’s values, nature, and program.

At Christmas, when we reflect on the gift of Christ for the world, I don’t think it’s an insignificant coincidence that Jesus was born to a poor couple, and that the announcement came first to poor shepherds. The first people to receive the original Christmas present were poor, and that is not by accident. God intended it that way. A book I read recently put it this way, “When God voted with his birth, he voted for the poor.”

Why did God choose the poor? Are they more virtuous than we who are rich? Or is it simply that they are more aware of their need for God? I believe the awareness is key, because in Luke’s account of Jesus’ stump sermon, he says “blessed are the poor,” but by Matthew’s account, he says “blessed are the poor in spirit.” We may not be poor, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be aware of our need for God. Even we who are rich can be poor in spirit.

It’s important that we become poor in spirit, for it’s the poor, and the poor in spirit, who open God’s Christmas present. If we do not become poor in spirit, we can’t open the present God has given us in Christ. We can’t receive the “good news” (gospel) that came to the shepherds. We’ll have, as Richard Stearns titled his book, a “hole in our gospel.” A hole exists in the gospel of those who confess Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, but not their public or political one. It exists for those who worship well but don’t do good works. It exists for those who have religion but no relationship.

This Christmas, we want to fill the hole in our gospel. We want to experience the whole gospel. We want to be faithful, being not only receivers of God’s Word, but doers of it as well. We can do that by being poor in spirit, and then helping the poor. And we can help the poor. “For the first time in history we have the information, knowledge, technology, and resources to bring the worst of global poverty to an end. What we don’t have is the moral and political will to do so.” (Wallis, God’s Politics, 270)

To do this, we have to overcome some inaccurate attitudes we have about the poor. Attitudes like: Hard work is blessed and if you’re poor (especially in America) it’s your choice; that material means are God’s blessings and deficit is God’s punishment; that poverty is moral failure resulting from laziness, stupidity, or bad choices; that poverty is beyond our ability to end.

In place of these unhelpful attitudes, God call us to an attitude of faith. God calls us to act in love—self-sacrifice out of benefit for the other (all others, including the poor). God modeled this for us in Christ, and empowers us for it in Christ’s Spirit. And God gives us abundant opportunities to help the poor: large and small opportunities; immediate and distant ones; individual and communal ones.

This Christmas, those of us who want to see Christ should look for his rebirth within us—that is, if we become poor in spirit. And Christ is reborn in a second place also, among the poor. Mother Teresa said that Jesus appears in “the distressing disguise of the poor.” So this Christmas, get involved with serving the poor. If you want to open the gift of Christ God gives to you this Christmas, then go to where the gift is opened first. Go serve the poor. There you will find the present being opened first.

On the Faith Connection Card this week:

  • I will vote with God
  • I will seek the newborn Christ in both places
  • I will provide presents for those who open first
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