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Dec 16, 2018

The Gifts We Will Be Remembered For

Passage: Luke 3:7-14

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: Advent/Christmas

Category: Sermon Series

In order to welcome a new baby into the world, there are a lot of changes that take place – without even getting into the actual pregnancy itself.  When I think back to the months leading up to the arrival of our first child Amy and I started reading different kinds of books.  We’ve always liked to read, she mostly fiction, me mostly non-fiction, but now she was reading “What to Expect when your Expecting” and I was reading “The Expectant Father.”  We read the Dr. Sears tome on everything children, and of course, all manner of baby name books.  We read articles like the one titled, “2001’s top must-have gifts for your newborn baby!”  (One item on the list was a decorative cover for your baby wipe container, as it to conceal it from view, because, heaven forbid someone might think you were going to change a diaper sometime soon).  There was furniture to be added – a crib (naturally), a glider rocker for nursing.  And later, as the child became a toddler, furniture to be removed – because toddlers knock breakables off shelves as like Godzilla knocks down high-rise buildings.  And there was a baby room to be painted.  That was my job, which I began with great pride and gusto, as Amy was surviving the last trimester.  But we picked out such an elaborate stencil pattern for the border – a five-color template of animals marching into Noah’s Ark – that took so much longer than my patience allowed, that I ultimately gave up.  And so in our Ark the animals came one by one and none of them had eyes. 

Lots of changes are made when a baby is coming.  Yet all of these things are superficial (thoughtful and intentional, but still physical and on the surface of life).  And they all pale in comparison to the real ways a child will change a family’s life.  Two weeks ago, for example, we noted that whatever plans Mary and Joseph had for their futures were suddenly and drastically changed by the announcement that Jesus was coming (regardless of how and where he might be born). 

Today, we fast forward 30 years and we meet John the Baptist.  He was the slightly older cousin of Jesus.  Scripture says that he was filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth and that he was commissioned by God to prepare the people for the coming of Christ.  That’s why we think about him today.  Today is the 3rd week of Advent.  Advent is a season in the church year that is our time to prepare spiritually for Christ’s coming.  And John the Baptist helps us in this spiritual preparation.  (Read Luke 3:7-14)

John calls the people to “repent” and that word repent (repentance) means “change.”  Literally it means “turn around” – to turn something in your life around; change something about how we think or act.  John’s job is to inspire us think about what in our lives needs to change in order for us to receive Christ fully at Christmas? 

As John says this to those who came out to hear him preach, three groups of people asked him “What should we do?”  The crowds in general, the tax collectors and the soldiers.  They each seem genuinely interested in what John is saying; sincere in their desire to change.  It is as though they are telling John, “We want to repent and turn our lives around, but what specifically should we do?”  And John answers their question. 

First, to the crowds in general, he says, “If you have two coats, give one away.  In fact, whatever you have in excess, like food for example, give the excess away and keep only want you need.”  Then he turned to the tax collectors.  “You should only collect from people what they really owe, and don’t overcharge them.”  Tax Collectors were notorious for over-taxing people and then pocketing the overage.  Then John turned to the soldiers and said, “You shouldn’t extort from people, but rather you should be satisfied with your wages.  Honor the commitment you made.” 

If we read this literally, we would be tempted to think that all John is saying is “Don’t be greedy.  Don’t cheat, and don’t abuse.”  If so, that’s a pretty low bar of behavioral expectation.  Honestly.  That’s the absolute bare minimum of what it takes to be a civil human being.  It’s like saying “all you need to do to be a parent is give a child a crib, clothes to wear and food to eat.”  That’s where parenting begins, not ends.  So that can’t be all that John the Baptist means.  And it’s not.  For he certainly knows that accepting Christ is about so much more than just not cheating or abusing others. 

I believe John uses these specific things to speak to a larger, more general truth.  He’s getting us to think about what kind of people Christ wants us to be.  To accept Christ is be the kind of person who is generous, grateful, honest, kind and compassionate.  And, oh by the way, these just happen to be the Fruits of the Holy Spirit that are mentioned later in the bible.  When we are truly filled with the Spirit of Christ, we will want to share our things with others.  We won’t be swayed by the temptation to use or abuse others, because we will have compassion for them and will empathize with them, and see them as more connected to us and not less connected.  

Moreover, I believe these are the kinds of things we will be remembered for when it is all said and done.  I am always inspired, at funerals, to listen to grown children (some of them in their 50s and 60s) speak eulogies about their parents who have died.  They hardly ever speak of particular gifts their parents gave them – physical or material things, or particular presents they received from the parents at one Christmas or another.  Rather they speak of the bigger things; how their mom or dad was generous, kind, honest, compassionate.  They will speak of the things John the Baptist is encouraging us today to live by.

Which makes me think of this Christmas, just over a week away, and of our dedications today and the families these parents are forming and raising with the births of their children.  I think of how there will undoubtedly be lots of material things given at Christmas this year.  And how, with each new birth, a family will be preoccupied with physical things like baby joggers, car seats, and pack-n-plays.  But I invite us all to consider the larger gifts we’ve mentioned today – and consider giving them to your family and friends this Christmas.  Give them your honesty, your gratitude, your generosity, your compassion, your kindness.  This is how each of us prepares our own heart to receive Christ.  And, not surprisingly, when our children – or our friends – eulogize us at our funerals – they will not mention the presents we gave them on Dec. 25, 2018 – the very things we’re probably stressing about now.  They will remember the ways the Fruits of the Spirit were present in us.  These… will be the gifts we’ll be remembered for.