“What Did You Get?”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church
December 26, 2021
Luke 2:25-35 nrsv
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Did you get that one gift? You know, the one you really, really wanted? And don’t go all “peace on earth” on me, ya know? Maybe you didn’t, but what about this: did you give that one gift you really, really wanted to give? Were you able to give someone what you knew was the “homerun” gift? That’s a good feeling isn’t it? We get to that point in life as adults when it is more about the pleasure we get from giving than the in receiving gifts don’t we?
I think a lot of times it is hard for us to receive gifts because we think of all the reasons we don’t deserve it. Some people seem hard to buy for because they seem so picky about things that they never seem satisfied with anything anyone gives them. But I wonder if that is really a cover for the nagging, worrisome feeling that somehow they don’t deserve, not only the gift, but the love the gift represents. It is hard to accept the gift of love from God if you are worried about not being worthy, of not being lovable enough.
Some of us who are always trying to clean things up feel like God can’t love us because our lives are so messy. I was encouraged when I read a story about “two old ladies from North Dakota. I want you to imagine two little old ladies, both in their young 80s. They were old spinsters living in North Dakota. They were not only living in North Dakota, they were living on a farm in North Dakota. It was not only a farm in North Dakota, it was a dumpy farm in North Dakota. It was the dumpiest farm you have ever seen in North Dakota. The chicken coop was falling down. The barn was falling down. The rusted machinery was falling apart, and the old rusted spinsters were falling apart. These were two old spinsters and they were as tough as nails. They had weathered every storm for the past sixty years and they were tough. Well, it so happened that a nephew came to visit them one fall day from the city, and he took out his camera to take a picture of his weather worn aunts, with the barn and the chicken coop and the rusted machinery in the background. The aunts just stood there, strait and stiff for the picture. The nephew took a picture and later sent them a copy. The old aunts just loved that photograph, and they decided to use it for a Christmas card that year. At the top of their picture, they put the words, Merry Christmas, in bold, black letters. And at the bottom of the picture, in big bold letters were the words: ‘God is with us in our mess.’”
That is the real gift of Christmas that makes a difference to you and to me. “God is with us in our messes. God is with us in our geopolitical messes, our interpersonal and societial messes, in our spiritual and relational messes. God is with us and won’t abandon us. God says, ‘Even if a mother forgets her breastfeeding infant, I won’t forget you.’ That gift is the first gift of any Christmas ever, and it is still today the real gift for you and for me this Christmas too.
So your first gift this Christmas is the promise, the knowledge, the faith, that God is with you in this mess, whatever your mess is. It is not too much of a mess for God. House covered in torn wrapping paper? Dirty dishes from the feast still in the sink? Too many kitschy Christmas decorations that you shouldn’t have put up but did because someone gave it to you and you were feeling like you had to put it up? God is with you in your mess. Life torn up and messed up with relationship issues, health issues, financial issues? God is with you in that mess. World torn up with crazy political situations, terrorism, and injustices everywhere? God is with us in this mess.
really want to talk about 2 Christmas gifts for you this year. The first is “God is with us in this mess.” Your second Christmas gift this year is knowing that God gives this gift so you can share it with others.
Again, remember how good it feels to give – even the Bible acknowledges that “it is better to give than receive.” Some of us have lost sight of that maybe. It seems on a wider level that a lot of people have stopped caring about helping other people who are hurting. They simply want what is theirs and everybody else can suffer, tough cookies. But I know, and you know, the joy of giving to someone else comes back in spades to the giver. I think sometimes it is important to remember if we have had our own hard times then maybe the empathy and compassion for another comes out. I remember my mother, a child of the Great Depression of the 1920’s and ‘30’s, telling many stories of folks who had little, helping others who had less.
A while back I read a story about a woman named Agnes Ash and how she received this gift of giving at Christmas. It came from back in that time when things were so much harder than they are now. “In 1934 Agnes Ash’s father had been ‘downsized.’ [ as we say these days ], from his job working construction in New York. He and his family left the big city for Indiana, to a few acres with a house he had managed to buy. There they started a garden and bought a few turkeys to raise to get them through the winter months. Those turkeys quickly became quite the backyard bullies. They would nip at Agnes’ ankles and her brother claimed one of them had actually eaten his baseball. Once when a particular gobbler had chased her across the yard she turned to it and hissed at him, ‘I’ll soon have your gizzard in gravy!’ The bird ignored her, she said, shook his wattle defiantly and ate a gum eraser she had dropped when it had pecked at her.
“Christmas Eve Agnes came home from visiting a neighbor and noted that the yard was strangely quiet, and suddenly realized that the silence was due to the fact that the turkeys were all gone. Her mother told her they had escaped the pen and were last seen strutting through the neighborhood like a gang of street thugs and no one had shooed them home this time. Her father had gone looking for them in the family’s prized old 1928 Auburn touring car. Agnes remembered that they so prized that car that they used to shout, ‘The Auburn’s here,’ instead of ‘Dad’s home,’ on after-work evenings back in New York.
“Finally, her father returned home with the turkeys tied around the legs and bouncing against the Auburn’s convertible top. The flock had been sighted terrorizing visitors at the local cemetery who had been laying wreaths at family members’ graves. A man was later seen collecting them and carrying them away in the bed of his old pickup truck. When Agnes’ father finally tracked him down, it turned out he was a destitute widower with no job and four children at home. He had already sold two turkeys and was planning to sell the rest to come up with something to give his four children for Christmas.
Agnes watched as her father, who had little more than the turkey wrangler himself, came home and took fruit from their cellar, a bushel of corn, a bagful of other groceries and took the lot to the man. He declared it a reward to the man for finding the turkeys and keeping them in good condition.” That kind of generosity I have heard repeated time and again from those who lived through that era. It seems that in their common poverty they recognized their common bond and it inspired generosity and compassion. It seems to me that those are qualities that inspire hope, peace, joy, and love.
Agnes said the story “so inspired her mother that she allowed them to have their first live Christmas tree to be brought into the house and put up, all three feet and crooked trunk of it. The size of the tree matched the limited gifts under it; a small manicure set for Agnes and a toy truck for her brother. She comments that the turkey, tough as he was as a ‘free ranger,’ was ‘equally tender on the Christmas day table.’” For her a “downsized” Christmas was made memorable not for what they had, and not for what they had been given, but for what they gave.
A long time ago, an old, old man came to the Temple in Jerusalem, for like the 900 millionth time it must have seen like to him. Every time he came he was looking for one particular thing. Seemed like 899 million times he went home disappointed. But finally, finally, he saw the gift he was literally dying to see. Simeon was waiting for the a sign, a sign of God’s intention to save the world from its messes. And finally he saw it. And he knew. And he told that mother – just because that child would save the world, he would still suffer. And his suffering would pierce her heart. But he also knew he had been given the gift he had waited for. His soul was at peace. His own eyes had seen the one who would redeem all the messes, transform all the brokenness, lift all the broken-down ones and more. He got it and now he could go in peace.
Christ the Lord has come, the gift of God is with us. His love can clean up our messes, transform our world, bring the true reign of love and justice everywhere. That love is the gift we have been given. May we be the ones who carry that gift out and share it with the world. AMEN.
 Agnes Ash, “A Downsized Christmas,” Vero Life, Dec. 08, vol. 11, no. 7, p. 28.