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Posted: December 20, 2012 7:10 p.m.

Blessed are you

You can tell a lot by a gift's reaction, can't you? - about the gift, the giver, the receiver, their relationship. So, since reactions to gifts are so important - think about your reaction to the greatest gift of Christmas -Jesus.

It's probably true that we could use some reminders of how truly great the real gift of Christmas is, isn't it? In Luke 1:39-55, the story of some of the first reactions when the gift was given. Open up your Bibles and read Luke 1. In verse 39, Elizabeth, and even unborn baby John, saw what a big deal this was. So Elizabeth shouted out, "Blessed are you." Blessed are you Mary because you are a part of this gift. Blessed are you because God has made you what you were not - highly favored. That is nothing but a gift from God - so Elizabeth and baby John and Mary celebrated it.

Why is there ever disappointment in a gift? It's because we think we deserve better, isn't it? Right there in that word "deserve" - we are changing the definition of "gift." A gift is something given without expectation - without reciprocation. It's undeserved - a gift, not a contract. And we forget that and so often that throws a wrench into our joy in our parties and celebrations and relationships. But here's the real problem. Satan wants us to do the same thing with this greatest gift we're talking about today. He wants us not to realize how big a thing it is. He wants us to let the gift of Jesus' birth get thrown into the background, so it doesn't capture our hearts and fill us with excitement - so that he can get us frustrated with the human disappointments and upset with the unequal gift exchanges. Now that's a contradiction in terms, isn't it - "gift exchange?"

Think of what a real exchange would be with God - our sins for his wrath. That is fair. Punishment, pain, loss, death. That would make sense for our failures. But all too often we forget that and get upset when we don't get just the specific variety of blessings we had picked out for ourselves, as if we deserved any of them. And that just makes us worthy of more pain and suffering. So realize what a gift it is that Mary was with child. Elizabeth was excited because the mother of her Lord came to her house. Well, here in God's word - the Lord himself - Jesus, the Word made flesh, is here with you. We have real reason to jump for joy.
God made the gift exchange. He took human flesh so that he could die for our punishment. He paid for the cure for all of our selfishness and pride. His blood bought our ticket to heaven. He made it so that Elizabeth's words to Mary are just as fitting to us: "Blessed are you! And Blessed is Jesus who did all of this for us.

And then look at how Elizabeth repeats herself and then adds a little bonus in verse 45:"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" That's what makes the difference. The gift, the gift is ours when we believe it. Because it is in that faith that this gift changes our lives.

Look at the glory of God hidden in so many of our encounters, when things that pass as coincidence are really miracle. But look at what a blessing it is to see God, and to know that God keeps his promises. What a difference faith makes!

So Mary could rejoice even though she looked like a knocked-up unwed teenager, running away so she wouldn't get stoned by the authorities when they found out she was pregnant. Given that comparison, isn't it a whole lot better to realize that instead you are the miraculous mother of God by the gifts of the Holy Spirit? What a difference faith makes!

Or take what happened last Friday in Newtown, Conn. That tragedy, that massacre - without faith - that would destroy you. The loss, the sadness, the anger, the rage, the senselessness - how could you ever cope? Even with faith it's tough. But see what the Holy Spirit reveals - even in this evil - God is working good. God has promised to be there - with his hope, with his healing, his comfort, his peace - to all who would have him. What a difference faith makes.
We sometimes get frustrated that we are the minority in believing the Bible is really true - that God really made the world in six days, that Jonah really was swallowed by a fish, that God designed marriage so we really should go by his definitions, and all those other things that we're made to look backwards for. But realize what the hidden truth is. God really is that powerful. God really does love us that much. God really is in control. And like we talked about last week: God is cheering for us.

So, now, instead of sulking, we're celebrating. Instead of stressing, we're singing. Our reaction to our greatest gift is real so all our other gifts can be seen as real gifts. Now, what Elizabeth said about Mary is true of you because God has caused you to believe his promises too. Blessed are you. Blessed are you who have believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.

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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