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Posted: November 29, 2012 11:20 p.m.

Scharf: The greatest gift ever given

Well, it's official. Thanksgiving is over and the Christmas season is upon us. I know, the 12 days of Christmas actually start on Dec. 25, but our society can't wait that long to start celebrating. So Christmas creeps up earlier and earlier in the year. I even saw Christmas trees coming out already in October in one local store. But now that Thanksgiving is past, it is full on. Christmas is everywhere.
Lists have been made. Shopping is in full throttle. How about you? What gifts have you purchased? Or what gifts are you still looking for this year? Or maybe better, what gifts do you plan on receiving this year? Truthfully, I have no idea what might be coming my way. And really, the more I think about it, it doesn't matter, does it? As you think back on past Christmases, what do you remember? Do you remember the gifts?

I don't. I remember childhood Christmases putting up the tree on Christmas Eve because my dad would not let us forget when the 12 days of Christmas started. Then we would go to church and say and sing our parts in the Sunday school Christmas service. It took me a while to figure out why that was the one time mom didn't come early with us, but got there right as it was starting. Then when we got home, the presents were somehow all set up under the tree and all sorts of food were set out and we stayed up late opening presents and eating and singing. It was a scene that would have made Norman Rockwell proud. At least that's how I remember it. But I couldn't tell you what was in those presents we opened. I remember my family.

And as I roll forward in time, the memories that stick out aren't what I've received. I think of my kids standing in front of church reciting Luke 2, getting up early on Christmas Day and looking for the first clue that would lead them to where their presents are hidden. And truthfully, some of my favorite recent memories have come at our Christmas 4 Kids program. Next Saturday will be our ninth one. It's always a thrill to me to see how excited so many kids are to hear the story of Jesus, to sing the story of Jesus and to tell the story of Jesus.

And this year, it's all about the gift. Jesus' birth was nothing but a gift. We deserved punishment, but God gave us his son. Romans 6:23 says it so well: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I guess that's why I don't remember the other gifts. Christmas has always been and will always be about that greatest gift. God's son became one of us so he could make us God's sons and daughters. He gave us that gift of love so that we could show love. He gave us that gift of eternal life so we could truly enjoy life here in spite of all its ups and downs. He gave us the gift of joy so that we could be joy to the world, so that we could sing "Joy to the World."

So as you go about all your Christmas preparations and celebrations - remember the gift. Remember Jesus.

And to help you do that in the midst of all the commercialization and stress of the season - get into God's word. Get into church. If you don't have one, come check out ours. Each Wednesday in December, we have a soup supper (6:15 p.m.) and a midweek meditation (7 p.m.) to slow down the pace and refocus our hearts and minds on what we're really preparing for. Each Sunday, our services celebrate the gift. And then on Christmas Eve, our Candlelight service (7:30 p.m.) is one of those times to remember, and Christmas Day (10:30 a.m.) is a time to celebrate. Come join us and remember the gift.

And help your kids to do that too. Christmas4Kids is Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Give them some memories about the greatest gift given, the gift of life, the gift of heaven, the gift of Jesus. They'll have a great time with crafts, singing, games and, of course, the Christmas story. Just make sure you register them by Dec. 6 at c4k.abidinggrace.com or by phone at (770) 385-7691. May God bless all your celebrations of Jesus' birth!

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.

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