Last Sunday after seven weeks of Advent and a few extremely busy few weeks, morning services complete and a lovely afternoon prayer service with our seniors at the Breakers, my mind and heart were now resolutely set on the turn to Bethlehem, this sermon, and finally the most dreaded part of my Christmas preparations…. the gifts!!!
You see, I am one of those people that obsess about finding the perfect gift for everyone on my list. The perfect gadget or bobble to ensure that the one receiving it knows just how much we treasure and love them. The pressure of collapsing all of our thoughts and emotions into one object that captures all of that is quite frankly overwhelming, not to mention unrealistic!
Don’t get me wrong, as my spouse would gladly tell you, I LOVE to shop! That said, however, when the shopping experience involves obtaining a specific gift for a specific occasion, that is a completely different story. I much prefer when, on the occasion, of visiting one of my favorite shopping haunts, something will present itself to me perfect for him, or spot on for her. I quite enjoy those moments when I am able to spontaneously gift someone with a little something, to brighten their day, or lift them up during particularly difficult or dry season in their lives. Last Sunday was my turn to receive one of those random gifts, though I did not complete realize it at the time.
As I was saying, after a full day of playing and praying, I stopped by the market to pick up a few items for Sunday dinner. As I was entered I was greeted by the regular presence of a woman who sits on the sidewalk next to the store, rain or shine, in the heat of summer or in the bleak mid-winter, greeting all those who pass by most often with a song, hoping for a donation, some spare change, something to help.
Her song if often some strange compilation of fragments from old familiar cover tunes, with a few gospel standards mixed in, often taking great creative license with the lyrics. This day I took note that she, like me, had turned her thoughts to Christmas, dawning a bright red Santa hat and belting out a few Christmas standards.
As I was leaving her song was none other than, The Twelve Days Of Christmas. Her version went something like this:
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me….a partridge in a pear tree.
On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…..a partridge in a pear tree.
On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a partridge in a pear tree.
You might think that hearing this I would keep walking, hop in my car and drive off…..not so… I was captivated, mesmerized even as I stood, a parking lot away, as she progressed through the twelve days, all ending with the same gift….A partridge in a pear tree. The simplest of the gifts, not five golden rings, or even seven swans a swimming, no the gift from the first day, over and over and over.
I feel that I need to mention that it was not her singing that was holding me in my place, for as they say in the South, “Bless her heart” the woman is completely tone deaf.
When the song ended, I slowly made my way to my car and found myself not wanting to leave. I felt that in that moment this Shepherdess, had just brought to me news of the greatest gift ever, the realization that the true gift of Christmas, never changes!
That God so loved the world that God took the risk to become one with us, to walk our soil and breathe our air, to laugh with us and cry with us, to hurt and heal with us, to live and die with us so that ultimately we can live forever with God, and in God’s presence.
Perhaps he greatest gift ever given is simply presence, Emmanuel, God with us, and what I learned that day form that street corner Shepherdess, is that this great gift was not just given on the first day of Christmas some two thousand years ago, but is given to us, and available to us every day, even this the seven thousand thirty three, six hundred fiftieth day of Christmas.
The gift of Christmas is the realization that God is constantly pouring God’s self into our lives in order to be more completely and fully alive in us and with us our Emmanuel.
Be it in the first breath of that newborn babe in Bethlehem, or the breath of our song around this our Christmas table of transformation, or the breath that will sustain the remembering and reminiscing at the tables in our homes complete with loved ones who occupy that space by their presence now and in our memories….the gift is the same….God is with us!
Or a quick text from a loved ones in a far away land, Canada, as the sun rises and this weary preacher makes the final edits to this Christmas message….God is with us!
Soon we will leave this place and it will be our turn to be street corner, and home corner and office corner, and world corner shepherds and shepherdesses and with haste bring the good news to a world so in need to be reminded that regardless of how much we agonize over the perfect gift, whether or not we can even afford to buy gifts, the greatest gift ever given is always the same….God is with us!
And perhaps the best news is that it is not “a partridge in a pear tree!”