The Best Gifts
By Jon Glenn
Have you ever heard the expression, “The best gifts come in small packages?” This phrase was never truer for me than in January, 2012. Melissa and I have a tradition that we started during our first Christmas together. Every year we give each other 12 gifts, one for each day of Christmas. That Christmas the best gift that I gave came in a rather small package: a 2x2x1.5 inch box with a hinged lid. I imagine that some of you can probably guess what that gift was, since many of you helped us celebrate the engagement and eventual marriage that was a direct result of that small gift but important gift.
The Bible seems to affirm the sentiment that the best gifts come in small packages in fact we see it in our gospel reading for today. There is much curiosity about the early life of Jesus, who he was and what he did. It is only natural for us to wonder about the early years of our Lord and Savior. But the Christian scriptures don’t tell us a lot about the young Jesus. This reminds us that the gospel writers aren’t writing a biography, they are recording the teachings of the Son of God. This strange story has something to teach us. But what is it? The answer is wrapped up in the response of Simeon and Anna to the helpless child Jesus who at this point is no more than a month and a half old. These old prophets who have spent their lives in prayers look at Mary & Joseph’s little bundle and see the dawning of a new age, the glory of God, and the salvation of the whole world. This story teaches us that there is something powerful in the small and vulnerable people of this world.
I like to say that every pastor really only has one or two sermons that they like to preach over and over again. The same is true of the Bible. This message about God using the small, weak, and vulnerable things of this world to turn things around is one of the sermons that pops up in the Bible over and over again. Remember Abraham in the Old Testament who leaves his home and becomes the father of the Jewish nation. Think back to the story of Joseph and his amazing Technicolor dream coat. This young man was sold into slavery but saved the nation of Israel. Today, our first reading was from Isaiah. Do you remember this prophet’s story? As a young man he receives a vision from God, and God asks Isaiah who is a boy at the time, “Who shall I send and who will go for me” and Isaiah steps up and says, here am I send me? Or what about Mary, a young woman, who takes on the shame of unwed pregnancy in order to bring the Son of God into the world? The Bible is chock full of these types of stories where great things are hidden in the most unlikely of packages. When you consider that God has taken the most unlikely people and things and changed history through them, is it any wonder then that when God actually takes on human flesh he would come as anything else other than a baby? Our gospel text today is meant to teach us that big things come in small packages, which is good news for us.
Take a look around the room. Look to your right and to your left. There is no one sitting here today who we would call famous or powerful. The most likely candidate would be Alan because of his position as a public safety officer. In fact, many of us might feel like we are in a very vulnerable position. Our bodies don’t work as well as they used. Our minds aren’t as quick. We don’t have the money that others do. And yet, God can still make great things happen through us. Mary and Joseph didn’t do anything special the day that they brought Jesus to the temple. In fact, scripture tells us that they were just following the law, and yet look what happened to Anna and Simeon. If God has always changed the world by working through the insignificant then we are in a great position for God to use us to change the world.
The best gifts do really come in small packages, and if we may still be in doubt we don’t have to look any further than a little girl named Julia. Her illness caused all of us to rally around her family. It caused her mother to ask some serious questions about faith. And because of her we will never see rainbows in the same way again. She helped a whole congregation of church goers to understand the promises of God better than many sermons that have preached from this pulpit. Just as God used Julia to teach us, through us God can shape the faith of others. Just as one present changed Melissa’s life, so your presence can change the life of the sick, the hungry, and the poor. Just as Jesus was vulnerable we are vulnerable to, yet God has always used the small things and God will continue to use us.