What is the best gift you have ever received? What is the most wonderful present you’ve ever been given? What story can you tell about your best gift ever?
My story about one of my best gifts takes place in 7th grade. At the last Girl Scout meeting before Christmas, one of my leaders asked if any of us knew a gift we were getting for Christmas. A few of the girls spoke up and told about a special item of clothing they’d been asking for or some new piece of jewelry they really, really wanted. I tentatively raised my hand, and when my leader called on me, I said I knew about my one big present but I was afraid they would all think it was silly. The girls and my leaders assured me that no one would think that, and no one would make fun of me no matter what the gift was. I took a deep breath and said,
“I’m getting my doll house.”
You need to understand that my doll house was a gift that I had dreamed about and saved for a long time. For at least two years, I had saved every penny I earned or was given and bought some miniature piece of furniture or accessory to go into my future doll house. Family and neighbors knew that I was collecting items to decorate it, so I received gifts of tiny mixing bowls for the kitchen and a wee little set of books to go into a miniscule bookcase. So that fall when my mother found a lady in Franklin who built dollhouses, it was a big deal. And when we went to her shop and she let me pick out what I wanted for my floors and on the walls, it was an even bigger deal. And knowing that the doll house was going to be waiting for me under the Christmas tree was the biggest deal of all. I might have been the least cool seventh grader in Middle Tennessee, but I could not have cared less. I was getting my doll house.
Until the Christmas of 1998, I would have said that was one of the best Christmas gifts I had ever received. But in 1998 I held my ten day old baby daughter in my arms and knew that the gift of my doll house had been topped. A little over two years later, Christmas came in July when my baby boy was born.
You’re probably thinking that this is going to be a message about the true gift that we receive tonight. And it is. The coming of the Christ child is a gift unlike any other, but what does this gift mean? Is it a gift that you can only understand when you’ve had a child yourself? No. As much of a joy as it is to have a baby, this gift is more than just something only a parent can grasp.
Is the gift ushered in by Jesus’ birth one of salvation? Of course, God becoming one of us through the birth of his Son was and is a gift we can never repay. Not only did God choose to become like us, God chose not to be born to royalty, to wealth, to worldly power or empire, but to be born instead to the lowly and the marginalized, the poor, and the overlooked. Yes, that is a gift unlike any other.
But I think there is another facet to this gift we receive on this night, this holy night.
We receive the gift of memory.
No, we do not have physical memories of a young couple finding no room in an inn or of a baby being born in a shelter designed for animals.
We cannot call to mind the sound of the heavens reverberating with angel song. We do not have a recollection of shepherds, another group of forgotten and overlooked people, rushing from the hillsides to see a baby.
So what is it we remember? What is this gift of memory we are given tonight and every Christmas Eve?
We are reminded in this beautiful story of what God intended and intends for the world.
We are reminded of who God created us to be.
We are reminded that God called creation into being out of Love for Love and because of Love.
We are reminded that we are part of that creation. We have value and worth in God’s eyes.
We are reminded of our calling as God’s children, as those who seek to follow his Son.
We are reminded that although our world is so broken, so far from what God intended, Light still shines in the darkness.
We are reminded that as long as we have hope, as long as we keep even one candle lit, the darkness will not overcome the Light … or us.
Tonight we are given a gift. We are given a chance to remember and to see through God’s eyes.
Tonight we are given a gift, and this is one that will not break or lose its shine.
Tonight we remember that Love was born in our midst.
Tonight we remember that the Good News came into the world in the way we all do, in the birth of a baby, in the cry of a child.
Tonight, on this Holy Night, we remember our most precious and wonderful gift, Christ our Lord. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen and amen and amen.