Do you remember the best gift you ever got? What was it? Who gave it to you? How long did it last? Do you still have it?
Every gift is a little different: some are big, some are small, some make a lasting impact, some are used up and soon forgotten. The best gifts, I think, are those that create a memory of good times; perhaps the best gifts are those that can be shared.
God gives us gifts too. And some are big, and some are small, but all of them are important to us and to others. In this season of giving, I’d like to take a moment to talk about God’s gifts, and how they are to be enjoyed. There are four points I want to make.
First, God’s gifts are given to be used. They’re not supposed to be like an action figure that is to be kept in its package and preserved so it can be sold in ten years for a lot of money on eBay! They aren’t like the “good china” some of us have and almost never use. They’re supposed to be used for our happiness and God’s glory. So if it’s a talent for sports, we ought to play. If it’s intelligence, we ought to study and research and invent. If it’s creativity, we ought to paint or act or sing. Keeping it in a box and denying it is an insult to the Giver.
Second, God’s gifts are never just for us. God gifts us in ways that we can build up our community and our world and help people to come to know God’s love for them. Always. Mary never could have kept Jesus to herself, and we’re not supposed to keep our gifts to ourselves either.
Third, we will never know how wonderful our gifts are until we share them with others. Our gifts are supposed to create memories and bring people together and help people to know God. When that happens, the full wonder of those gifts will be revealed to us and in us, and we will enjoy them in ways we never could have before we shared them.
Finally, we don’t lose our gifts when we share them. They don’t get used up when we give them away. Just as Mary didn’t lose her Son when she gave him to the world, so we won’t lose what God has given us when we share it with others. That’s just how God’s gifts are.
In today’s Gospel, Mary received a gift. I don’t know how any of us would feel about that kind of gift, but Mary received it in faith, because Mary was full of grace. She received the gift of a Savior before anyone else did; her fiat meant that she received salvation before it was ever played out on earth. It was the best gift ever, and she got to watch it all unfold before her. Some of it was difficult and painful, but so much of had to be amazing.
Because of Mary’s faith, God was able to send the best gift possible to be shared with all of us: the gift of his only-begotten Son. Jesus took on our flesh as a little baby, and grew to become a man like us in all things but sin. He walked among the people of his time and helped them to know of God’s kingdom. Though he was without sin, he eventually took on our sins and went to the cross for all of us, dying to pay the price for our sins, and canceling out the power that sin and death had to keep us from God. Because of Mary’s faith, we received the gift of salvation, if we are open to accept it.
And just like all our other gifts from God, those same four principles apply: we have to use, or live our salvation; we have to share the gift of salvation with others; salvation becomes more wonderful every time someone else is saved, and salvation is not something that ever gets used up – it’s meant for everyone.
So this is a bit of a “pep talk” for the coming feast of Christmas and how we should receive and live that gift of salvation. Let’s be clear: we always need a Savior. We are sinful, and in our sinfulness we could never enter into relationship with God. And in this year, our need for a Savior seems to be even greater: the darkness of a pandemic and the sadness of racial unrest and all the other societal unrest we have endured this past year. This year has been hard on families and workers and schools and just about everybody. We need to be people of faith and follow our Savior more than ever. And we have to be people who share that gift with others, pointing them to the love and salvation we have in Jesus.
Our salvation, our relationship with God, is a gift, and it’s up to us to spread it around. It’s a shame if someone doesn’t know about God and his love for them. But if they don’t know because we didn’t use our gifts to tell them, then it’s a sin. This is the season for giving gifts. The very best gift you can give to anyone is a relationship with God. Whether it’s your children, or coworkers, or people in the neighborhood, your gift will do so much to make the world a better place. All we have to do is respond like Mary: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.”