Valuing Relationships 
Sunday, December 14, 2008, 08:00 AM - Sermon, Christmas, Podcast
Matthew 1:18-25 (not lectionary)

The message below is available as a podcast recorded live at our worship service. Click the podcast image to listen now or right click the image and choose "Save As" to save this message in mp3 file format on your computer for playing later.

Now in its 32nd year, the Robb Report is the international authority on the luxury lifestyle. Each December they publish the ultimate gift guide. Among this year's 21 ultimate gifts are:

The ultimate model train set. The quintessential holiday gift, this $2 million model railroad features four iconic American trains from the golden age of railroading as well as re-creations of landmarks, major cities, and stations on the trains' routes from New York to Los Angeles. Pieces include at least 32 train cars and 30 automated features that span a 2,500-square-foot layout (about half a football field). The set also includes a control center equipped with four flat-screen televisions displaying each train's journey.

The world's first individually owned zeppelin. Valued at more than $17 million, this zeppelin--to be built by Airship Ventures in collaboration with Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik --will be only one of four in existence. The craft will measure 246 feet long and will have a range of 500 miles, a minimum cruising altitude of 1,000 feet, and seating capacity for 12. It will include personalized exterior design, a customized cabin interior, and zeppelin-pilot training and certification.

A $300 million, 328-foot yacht to be developed by internationally acclaimed designer Ken Freivokh. With an estimated 5,000-mile range and a top speed of 23.4 knots, the four-deck vessel will feature a disco, a sundeck, and a fitness center that wraps around an open-air swimming pool and waterfall. The craft will also house a 12-seat cinema, a wine cellar, a master bedroom, two VIP suites, and stowage for two tenders. —Robb Report News Release

This year especially such gifts may seem absurd. Yet the emphasis on spending and getting are real, now even a matter of national interest. But the idea that the ultimate gift is a material thing of great monetary value is the opposite of the coming of Jesus, the first and greatest Christmas gift.

Before the visit of the spirits, Scrooge gets a visit from his nephew, Fred, who invites his Uncle Scrooge to their family Christmas dinner year after year. Scrooge cannot see the value in the invitation nor any profit in the holiday that prompts it. His nephew responds:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, “returned the nephew, “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time ; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it! ” — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Scrooge is taken by ghost of Christmas Present to his employee's home, Bob Cratchit. There is genuine warmth around the family Christmas table. Scrooge even finds himself included as Bob Cratchit gives thanks to his miserly employer over the objections of his wife. Gold is mentioned in this poor house when Mrs. Crachit asks how Tiny Tim, their crippled son, behaved at church.

As good as gold, and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see. — Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Tiny Tim was thinking in terms of relationships. Not just his relationship with others, but how his relationship witness to the most important relationship celebrated at Christmas: the one with Jesus Christ, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.

Our scripture story to day is about Joseph and Mary. They are at once poor in funds and relationship. Did you catch the poverty of the relationship in the reading? The phrase is “put her away ”or “call off the wedding ”or “dismiss ”in various translations, but “divorce ”appears in the New International Version. Joseph could have accused the pregnant Mary of adultery and had her stoned to death. Some would say that divorce is even worse than stoning, at least stoning is over in a day, while divorce is like a little death every day.

Yet God intervenes. By an angel messenger, God tells Joseph not to fear, and reverses Joseph plans to sever the relationship. From the threat of private divorce to the promise of humankind's reconciliation: “God with us ”the greatest gift is the relationship of God with us, Emmanuel.

Nephew Fred had no money, Scrooge calls him poor enough, but knows the value of Christmas is not profit but men and women opening their hearts to one another as fellow travelers on this earth. Tiny Tim didn't look for a Christmas miracle healing for himself, but to encourage the walk of others following in the footsteps of the Lord. Joseph thought the best reaction to scandal was to sever relationships in private, but the angel put him into relationship with Mary which brought the whole world in the relationship with God.

Fred valued his relationship with Scrooge, not sliver or gold, and gave himself to him year after year offering relationship and hospitality. Tiny Tim gave himself as an encouragement to others. Joseph gave his good name and forgiveness to Mary his pregnant fiancée. Relationships with others valued over personal profit.

Understanding the concepts that are invested in words can aid us in our own lives. As an interesting example, the word “love”which is thrown about so freely in English, has a special meaning in Hebrew. Love in Hebrew is “Ahava”, which is made up of three basic Hebrew letters, (aleph, hey, bet). These three letters actually are broken down into two parts: a two letter base or root, , (hey, bet) and the first letter, , (aleph) which is a modifier. The meaning of the two letter base, , (hey, bet) is “to give”. The letter “aleph ” , which precedes these two letters comes to modify the meaning of the base word, “give”. The meaning of , is “I give” and also “love”. — “Love, Jewish Style ”By Ahuva Bloomfield, Jewish Magazine Web Site

Value relationships this Christmas. Give yourself, which is love, as God gave himself in love in the Christ child. Every family has a Scrooge, let's make that every family has two Scrooges, so even if you are one…you still can reach out to the other. Invite them into relationship by giving yourself in them, that is the way to love, not by giving things, but by giving yourself in relationship.

God's ultimate personal name is “I AM”. Now we learn that Love is “I Give”. The “I Am” giving himself to us in the form of a baby in Bethlehem is the foundation of Love, the establishment of a loving relationship with humanity we celebrate as Christmas. Beating out The Robb Report, The God Report has the ultimate gift this Christmas with the highest value: Loving relationship which gives our very selves to the other as God gave us Jesus on the first Christmas.

(Click on the Related Link below for an mp3 recording of this message.)

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