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Sermon for Advent Christmas 2007 Year A

By The Reverend Dr Joan Crossley

Today is Gift Sunday, when we traditionally give gifts to charity in Smartie tubes and at Putnoe Provender and in other ways. We will also be thinking pretty hard over the next few weeks about our Christmas presents to family and friends and so it seemed natural to talk about gifts this morning.

Produces box which when unwrapped reveals empty present.
I will start then today with the stark image of the empty present, a useless box with nothing much in it. One reason that we celebrate the birth of Jesus with exchanging gifts is because of the gifts the Magi brought him. We can take our model as to the right way to give gifts from that example. The giving of the gifts of Gold Frankincense and Myrrh, although not immediately obvious gifts for a baby were well suited to symbolise the life, kingship and death of Jesus. So the gifts were carefully chosen and they certainly went to a lot of trouble to deliver them on time!
At its very best, a present, when chosen with love and care establishes a bond between the person who gives the present and the person who receives it. To give a perfect present to show that careful thought has gone into choosing just what the other person would like. Obsessed as we are as a society by money and status, generous giving is frequently confused with financial expenditure. For example if a multi millionaire with good taste and insane generosity decided on the basis of hearing my sermons to send me a fabulous gift, and sent me a racehorse. Then it would be useless, because there isn’t room in the shed and I am allergic to horses. Richard Branson, if you are listening, anything from Hobbes shoe department would be fine.
The costly value of a gift which is designed to be impressive, to advertise the wealth and good taste of the giver is much more about the giver than the receiver. True generosity is not related to how much is given. You will remember the story Jesus told in Mark 12 and in Luke 21 about the widow who gave a tiny amount of money to the poor but which represented all that she had to give compared to the throw-away donations of the richer members of the congregation.

So this morning I am challenging us to think about the spirit in which we give both to our loved ones and to charity: are we being truly generous or are we spending a lot? Are we giving just because we feel we ought to? Or just finding something in order to tick a name off a list? Do we care about the person to whom we are giving? Really care? Enough to find out whether they can still eat nuts or have outgrown skipping ropes? Do we give sensible wooden toys which we think they ought to want rather than the Barbie outfit which they really, really wanted? These are not trivial issues because they speak about the quality of love which we bring to the problem. When we turn to the matter of giving to church and to charity, we have to start by asking the Widow’s mite question. Are we giving as much as we can? Are we giving money to charities which badger us in the street rather than troubling to understand a little about what the charity is trying to do? If we want to give, and we are required by God to share whatever we have, then we have to give with true generosity, emotional generosity and loving understanding.