Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Unopened Gift (Christmas Day 2014)

Christmas Day
25 December 2014

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
         In the summer of 1972 my mother arranged an interview for me with the personnel manager of the new, then state-of-the-art J. C. Penney department store in Colorado Springs’ first covered shopping mall.  The manager was a friend of my mother and had known me since I was a boy.  I was immediately hired.
         I worked at J. C. Penney for the next three summers and three Christmases while I was in university and then for a full year after I graduated.  In the summer of 1976 I left on the first stage of my professional journey which would eventually lead me here.
         For most of my ‘career’ at Penney’s I worked in ‘Toys, Lawn and Garden’.  Christmas always brought an expansion to the floor space allocated to our department.  Our shelves were full of the latest toys and games, Christmas decorations and supplies as well as anything else that had caught the fancy of our department manager.
         Now, if you have ever worked in retail sales, then you will understand my mixed feelings about this time of year.  People ravage the shelves, damaging packaging and merchandise.  Everyone wants a lower price and refuse to understand why a salesperson can’t just cut the price in half --- ‘After all, it’s Christmas!’  And then there is the endless loop of Christmas music playing over the store’s sound system.
         Then comes the real horror:  the days following Christmas.  Customers cannot --- or will not --- understand why you will not refund their money without a receipt or, in some cases, why you will not refund them for a product your store has never carried.  ‘Ho!  Ho!  Ho!’ quickly becomes ‘Oy!  Oy!  Oy!’ as holiday cheer is replaced by a widespread post-holiday depression.  And through it all the sales staff have to remain professional and cheerful, terminally cheerful.
         Perhaps it is that experience that has made Christmas Day itself one of my favourite days of the year.  Most shops are closed and there is a quietness, a calm, which descends upon the city.  Celebrations of the eucharist, such as ours today, have a certain peaceful and domestic informality as if we were in the family room still in our pajamas with the debris of opened presents around us.
         For some of our neighbours today is the calm before the storm.  Tomorrow there are trips to the malls for the Boxing Day sales.  There may be relatives to visit or to take to the airport for return journeys to their own homes.  Still others may begin to feel the first symptoms of the post-holiday depression I’ve mentioned, especially if the promised ‘batteries included’ proved to be an empty promise.
         Perhaps some of us here this morning share these feelings and experiences.  Christian faith is not an invisible force field that deflects human disappointments from touching us.  To the contrary:  our faith awakens us to the realities of the human condition, but it also helps us to view the present through the eyes of a compassionate and generous God.
         What Christian faith teaches us is the lengths to which God will go to care for creation.  Even as Adam and Eve go forth from the garden in disgrace, God provides clothing for them.  Even as God floods the earth, Noah, his family and breeding stock are preserved in the Ark.  God will even go so far as to come among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to experience our joys and sorrows, our hopes and fears, an act of divine solidarity with human beings.  And that act of solidarity has created a people who are rich and poor, strong and weak, old and young, wise and foolish, near and far.
         On this Christmas Day I dare to say that we are a gift given by God to the world.  To be truthful we are a gift that many of our contemporaries have left under the tree.  Perhaps they think of us as that ugly sweater our least favourite relative sends to us every year without fail!  But, my friends, even an ugly sweater has something to offer.

         So, in the quiet and calm of Christmas Day let us draw strength and warmth from one another.  Let us renew our faith in the God who gives unexpected gifts to us and to all humanity.  Let us reveal to our friends and neighbours what lies underneath the wrapping paper.  After all, we may be just the gift they’ve been waiting for all their lives.  Amen.

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