The Judgment of the NationsMatthew 25:31-40 (NRSV)
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Friends, at Christmas we hear many stories of gifts being brought to the baby in the manger. The Magi or the Wise men brought gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. There is the story of the little drummer boy playing a song for the baby because he has nothing material to give. Each of the animals in the stable share what they have: The donkey carried Mary safely to Bethlehem. The cow gave his manger for a bed, and hay to pillow the baby’s head. The sheep gave his wool to keep the baby warm. And the dove cooed the baby to sleep. They provided a place of warmth and welcome. In a cold and uncaring world. And what about the innkeeper, though he had not room in his inn, he helped Mary and Joseph find a quiet place for Jesus to be born?
Friends, as we get ready to begin a new year, I thought it might be the perfect time to think not only of the gifts that were given to Jesus but to also the gift that we can continue to give to him, not only on Christmas day but all year long.
During the season of Advent, many of you participated in our church’s Reverse Advent Calendar Mission project. Decorating a box, the Sunday after Thanksgiving and then each day, following the Reverse Advent Calendar or using your own creativity, adding a nonperishable food item each day. I heard from many of you that found joy each day, knowing that you were helping someone else.
We collected the boxes at the church on December 20 th so that we would have time to get them out to families in time for Christmas. And we were overjoyed to find that 33 boxes were lovingly decorated, filled, and dropped off at the church, many containing far more than the 25 items on the list. And 5 more were delivered straight to families. What that means, is that more than 1000 items were purchased and collected to help others.
My heart is warmed by the joy that families took in putting their boxes together, knowing that they were helping someone else. And that joy doubled by the overwhelmed reaction of the families that received them.
I’d like to take a moment to thank the givers and the receivers of this year’s Advent Box collection, because you all matter and you all play an important part in the program. Know that each and every one of you are truly loved.
Folks, in just a few minutes we are going to re-light our advent candles remembering the weeks that we waited (some of us collecting canned goods or writing notes or sharing God’s love in other ways) as we prepared for the coming for the Christ child. We waited patiently (or as patiently as we could) as we looked for glimpses of hope, and peace, and joy, and love all around us. And on Christmas Eve, we lit the Christ candle signifying the birth of our savior in Bethlehem and celebrating the unbelievable gift that we were given. A gift of grace, a gift of forgiveness, a gift of unconditional love.
It is my hope and my prayer that we don’t simply pack away our advent candles and our nativity scenes until next year moving on to whatever season and celebration comes next; but instead that we continue to celebrate and to share and the good news of Christ’s birth. May we all continue to share what we have as we also continue to share the hope and the peace and the joy and the love of Christmas Not only in with our family and friends, but with the world!
Jesus once said, what we do for others we do for him, so this year let us present baby Jesus not gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh but with acts of kindness, and compassion as we love and serve others.
(Relighting of the Advent candles as we reflect on ways that we can share the light of hope, peace, joy, and love with the world)