Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mercedes Benz

Thursday, October 1, 1970. Sunset Sound recording studio in Los Angeles, California.

Janis Joplin, 27 years old, and already a towering figure in the rock and roll scene of the 1960s asks producer Paul Rothchild to roll tape. She will not need her band Full Tilt Boogie for this one.

Joplin steps up to the mic and says, “I’d like to do a song of great social and political import,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “It goes like this.”

She sings, in one take, a song destined for legend. It is the last recording Joplin will ever make. Just three days later, she will be found dead in her hotel room on October 4 from heroin overdose.

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. 
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV. 
Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me. 
I wait for delivery each day until 3. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a color TV. 

Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town. 
I’m counting on you Lord, please don’t let me down. 
Prove that you love me and buy the next round. 
Oh Lord won’t you buy me a night on the town. 

Everybody, Oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends. 
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. 
So oh Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.

Many people misunderstand this song and think that the singer is genuinely asking for these things. In truth, it is a satire and a rejection of the worldly goods that these lyrics request.

Joplin once said, “It’s the want of something that gives you the blues. It’s not what isn’t, it’s what you wish was that makes unhappiness.”

I thought about this today as I listened to the readings. From Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7, the cunning snake tempting Adam and Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit so that they could be “like gods.” Adam and Eve lacked for nothing in the Garden of Eden but they were tempted because they wished to be like gods. They wanted even more than they needed, even more than the love of God.

We heard this same theme of temptation later in the reading from Matthew 4: 1-11 of the temptation of Christ by the Devil. Christ was weakened by his fast of 40 days and 40 nights and that is when the tempter struck.

He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

These temptations are very familiar to us because they are the ones we struggle with routinely: Sins of the flesh (food, drink, physical pleasure of all types); the sin of pride (prove who you are, show me what you can do); and finally the sin of covetousness (wanting things for yourself - power, wealth).

And as we begin this season of Lent, once more we have an opportunity for greater spiritual growth. An opportunity over the next 40 days and nights to grow closer to God through prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.

And just as certain, we should expect the tempter to come for us. To challenge us in whatever goals we have set for ourselves for this Lent. To accuse us when we fall short. To try to shame us into thinking that we are not worthy of Christ’s sacrifice. And, in our guilt, perhaps we should just give in and no longer make the attempt – because we are just too weak.

The devil has been doing this for a long time and his cunning has taken countless people from the salvation of Christ. The Devil knows what works.

Yet we should be comforted knowing that Christ knows exactly the challenges and temptations we face because he faced them too. More importantly, we don’t have to make ourselves worthy because Christ suffered and died for us precisely because we are unworthy. Christ knew we were too weak to save ourselves so he came to save us by sacrificing Himself. God gave us His Grace because He knew we could not earn it.

So the Devil is right – we are weak, we will be tempted, we will come up short – and none of it matters. God loves us anyway! We cannot make it to Heaven by ourselves but we can with the love of God – and we have it!

Be encouraged this Lent! Take advantage of this opportunity to grow closer to God. It doesn’t matter if you don’t achieve all your goals – it is the genuine attempt that matters the most. If you stumble in your walk with God, it doesn’t matter. He is there to help you up and to continue your journey with Him. 

Don’t quit! Your reward is not in this world. It is not a Mercedes, or a color TV, or the next round of drinks – it is far better! Eternal life in Heaven where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

Lent is here! Let’s go!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Two Barabbas

Today’s reading kicks off Holy Week, the holiest week for Christians, since it is the final week leading to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his rising from the dead – Easter.

The reading is from Mark 15:

7 And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barab'bas.
8 And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them.
9 And he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"
10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.
11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barab'bas instead.
12 And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?"
13 And they cried out again, "Crucify him."
14 And Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him."
15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barab'bas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

I have often read this passage but our priest pointed out to us today that Barabbas' name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". According to early Greek texts, Barabbas' full name was Jesus Barabbas. Later texts shorten his name to just Barabbas.

So there were actually two Barabbas. One Barabbas was Jesus Christ – Son of God, Our Father in Heaven. The other Barabbas was Jesus Barabbas – a bandit, insurrectionist, murderer, and condemned man who was also “son of the father” but a human father.

And then there is Pilate.

Pilate the man who has to make the decision of life or death – to condemn a man that he thinks is innocent or to follow the crowd who wants him to release a man that he thinks is guilty of murder and insurrection.

It is a trap that Pilate has set for himself. As governor, he did not need to consult with the crowd. Only he has the right to condemn someone to death. Yet, he sought to ask the crowd because he thought they would vote to release Jesus Christ and then he would be off the hook for the decision.

Now, the crowd has spoken and the decision falls back to Pilate. And rather than do the right thing, Pilate lets the crowd have their way. He orders Jesus crucified and washes his hands – but that kind of blood won’t wash off.

And like so many stories in the Bible, this story is about us.

We are the crowd that shouts “Crucify him!” every time that we sin and do not seek reconciliation. We are the Roman soldiers that mock and spit upon Jesus whenever we ignore the plight of the poor and the innocent when we use our power for our own pleasure instead of to help.

But most of all we are Pilate.

When we face our daily choices of right or wrong and choose wrong because it is easier not because it is right – we are Pilate. When we do not stand up for our principles because we are afraid that it will not be popular – we are Pilate. When we allow innocents to suffer and die because it is a controversial topic – we are Pilate.

In our world, there is often two Barabbas. One calls us to be gentle, meek, humble, to work for peace and to take care of those that are at the very bottom of our social ladder. Jesus Christ tells us that when we care for these “least of us” that we care for Him. The other Barabbas calls us to violence. That if we want something, we just need to take it; if someone oppresses us or hurts us then it is OK to hurt them back. Yet, in the end, an eye for an eye leaves us all blind.

In the end we are Pilate and we must choose and be accountable for our choice.

I choose to follow Jesus Christ, the Son of our Father in heaven. If in picking up this cross, I am not popular then that is OK because the crowd is not who I am trying to please. I hope that you will make the same decision.

It can be a lonely road – let’s walk it together!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mountain of Death, Mountain of Life

Today’s reading from Mass of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible.

I prefer the long version from Genesis 22.

1 Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.

2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.

14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.

It is so dramatic that it has often been painted. The image of a white-haired Abraham lifting the knife above a bound child as an angel calls for him to stop is searing.

Unfortunately, it is most likely wrong.

When we look at the timeline of this story, it is probable that not only was Abraham old but Isaac was almost certainly a grown man. Even if we just keep within this story, we see that a small child could not possibly carry enough wood to completely burn his body for sacrifice. That would take a lot of wood.

Only a fully grown man could carry that much wood - and that changes everything.

Now it is not an issue of coercion or force. Isaac is a grown man strong enough to carry enough wood to burn his own body. He could have easily overpowered his much older father even if Abraham was carrying a knife. Or simply run away.

The most likely conclusion is that Isaac allowed himself to be bound and sacrificed because Abraham must have told him that this was what God wanted.

And Isaac willingly became the sacrifice for his faith. The foreshadowing of Christ sacrifice, of Christ willingly sacrificing himself and carrying his own cross becomes even more pronounced when we realize that Isaac was also a man and not a boy.
Of course the difference is that God stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac. Later, God himself offered his own son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins so that we could have eternal life. God truly provided on that mountain.

But before we jump to the conclusion, let me take you on a side trip…to Mount Moriah.

Mount Moriah – the Mountain of Death and the Mountain of Life.

As you look on the map, North is at the top of the map. The Mount of Olives is on the far right, Mount Zion on the left. Mount Moriah rises as a long ridge at the south end of the City of David and continues on past the present Temple Mount, and reaches its highest point outside the Northern walls of the Old City, at the top of the map. The bedrock rises when going northward from the base of the City of David to highest ground north of the Temple Mount area. (This is obscured on site since the Temple Mount Platform itself is a large flat area surrounded by retaining wall.) The southern end of the Platform is actually built up on tall underground pillars and arches.

To the east of the Temple Mount lies the Kidron Valley, and the Mount of Olives. To the south, the City of David and the Hinnom Valley. To the west, the famed Western Wall (called in earlier times the "Wailing Wall"). To the north of the Temple site was the Roman military Antonia Fortress, and then, further, the high ground outside the city walls, which many believe was the site of Golgotha. The bedrock of Mt. Moriah continues to rise to the north - outcroppings in the Northern wall reveal road cuts that have been made in the bedrock at the North end of the Old City outside the Damascus Gate and along the main road to the east. The crest of Mt. Moriah is just above the present Garden Tomb.

The ridge system where the Temple Mount is now located is believed by many reputable sources to be the site where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22:1-2). While Solomon built the First Temple about 3000 years ago, Abraham's visit to Mt. Moriah was about a thousand years earlier.

In short, Mount Moriah is the gravity well for 3 of our world’s great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Judaism regards the Temple Mount as the place where God chose the Divine Presence to rest. It was from here the world expanded into its present form and where God gathered the dust to create the first Adam. That is why in some art forms depicting the crucifixion you can see a skull in the ground – representing Adam. You also have the binding of Isaac, and the two Jewish Temples (David and Solomon) and where tradition holds will have the 3d and Final Temple. It is the holiest site for Judaism.

For Muslims, the Temple Mount is also venerated. While the two holiest cities are in Mecca and Medina, the Temple Mount is third because according to Islamic tradition, the Foundation Rock at the base of the Dome of the Rock is the spot from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven.

Jewish tradition also calls this rock the site for the binding of Isaac.

Finally, Christians regard the site as holy because of Christ crucifixion at Golgotha as well as Christ’s ascension from the Mount of Olives and from which He will return on Judgment Day.

So, what does this all mean and why do we tell this story at Lent?

To me, it means that while we are not Isaac or Christ, we all are on our own journey that will certainly end on our own “mountain” of death. It may not be at Moriah but it will be somewhere. And so we should take this time to think about what our life means and what we should do about it.

Hopefully, by using this time of Lent for prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we can grow closer in our relationship to Christ and transform our lives by seeing a renewal of our baptismal promises. By becoming new creatures and transforming ourselves we can transform the Mountain of Death into the Mountain of Life. The way it was meant to be.

That is my hope this Lent – for you and for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord

This next Sundays reading is one of the most pivotal of our faith. If it was a reality show, the entire audience would have held their breath waiting for Mary's answer. There would have been a swing of dramatic music, the lights would have swept in and the room would have otherwise darkened.

What will Mary say?

It was from Luke 1:26-38, and the Archangel Gabriel (Gaḇrîʼēl, God is my strength) had been sent from God to this teenage girl, Mary, to deliver a message.

As if an angel was not enough, Gabriel was no normal angel. He was an archangel. Gabriel first appears in the Book of Daniel, delivering explanations of Daniel's visions. In the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel foretells both the births of John the Baptist and of Jesus. Christians of the Catholic traditions refer to him as Gabriel the Archangel because he is specially picked by God for these important missions.

In Islam, Gabriel was the medium through God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad, and that he sent a message to most prophets revealing their obligations. He is called the chief of the four favored angels and the spirit of truth. He is called the created Holy Spirit (Islam) that spoke to Muhammad, which is not to be confused with the Holy Spirit of God in Christianity who is revered as God Himself. Gabriel is also mentioned in Bahá'í Faith texts, specifically in Bahá'u'lláh's mystical work Seven Valleys.

And as impressive as Gabriel was, he was sent to this teenage, peasant girl Mary with a message and an implied question. The message was that God had found favor with her and had chosen her to bear the Son of God. The implied question was - would she do it?

How do we know there was a question? The Gospels don't say anything about a question. But Gabriel didn't leave. Even after he delivered God's message - he waited. Even after he answered Mary's question - he waited.

He waited for Mary's answer.

And all of heaven waited with him. Even though God had specially set Mary aside to prepare her for this divine mission - it was still up to her. Even though Mary was full of grace and the answer was almost a guarantee - it was still up to her.

She could have said no.

And so Archangel Gabriel - waited.

Bring down the music, zoom in the camera, focus on Mary. The audience holds its breath.

Luke 1:38 And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.

And while it was not written, I am sure that there were cheers and sighs of relief and pleased smiles throughout Heaven.

But for Mary, really there was no applause, no swelling of music or dramatic lights to let her know she made the right decision. The angel just departed from her.

So it is with us.

Every day we are faced with a decision - do we accept and do God's will or something else? We have the gift of free will - what will we choose to do with it?

And we may never know the consequence of our decision. It may seem like a small thing to us but God will take this small decision and magnify it far beyond our ability to foresee. It is all over the Bible and all over history. Seemingly small things by people having far reaching consequences that could not have been predicted.

All God asks is that we trust Him and do His will. Just say, "Yes."

Give it a try - the next time you are faced with a decision, pray on it and don't be afraid.

"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

For God So Loved the World

Happy Father’s Day!

You know I don’t think anyone can truly be ready to be a father. You can read books, attend classes, perhaps be lucky enough to have a great role model in your own father but nothing can truly prepare you for that moment when you hold your baby and “POOF!”

Congratulations – you are a father. Try not to look so scared – the baby is watching.

There are lots of outward changes that people can see. The car seats in the minivan instead of the cool sports car; the nights with the boys replaced with the nights with “the boy.” Changing diapers instead of changing channels. The lines under your eyes are still there but now it’s because the baby had a tough night of crying. You still have a great sound system in the car but now you are playing “Bear in the Big Blue House”…and singing along.

But the bigger change is inside. And people aren’t always able to see that. How can you begin to describe the love that you feel for your child that you barely know? That you don’t miss that previous life because you don’t really remember it? That was another life – lived by someone else. Before fatherhood.

And it takes a while, but then you start to get it. You start to understand a little more about not only what it means to be a father but also about your parents, your own father, and also your heavenly father.

Why would the creator of heaven and earth care about me? With so much going on, why is he interested in my life and hearing about my troubles? How can he keep forgiving me and giving me another chance when I just keep messing up?

For me, it took fatherhood for me to start to see. Our heavenly father cares about us because we are his children.

It took being a father before I understood that I wanted to hear about the things that happened in my children’s day. The things that they learned and thought were cool. The things that made them happy and that made them sad. That as much as they messed up, I wanted to give them another chance so they could get it right. Sure they made mistakes and made me mad sometimes but I knew they were just children and were learning. And I wanted not just to be a part of their lives but for them to be part of my life.

Because I loved them not because of anything they did but just because they were my children.

And as imperfect as I am, for me to understand that, how much greater is God’s love for us because his love is perfect.

And so it is especially appropriate that on this Father’s Day that this week’s reading is from John 3:16-18.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

This reading is fundamental to our Christian faith; no matter if you are Catholic or Protestant because it sums up what Christians believe.

And it is uniquely Christian. When you look at the other major religions in the world, no one else believes this. Not the Jewish faith, Islam, Buddhists, - no one but the Christians. It is what makes us Christian.

And it tells us everything we need to know about our relationship with our heavenly father. That He loves us so much, despite our terrible sins and shortcomings that he sent his only son into the world to suffer and die in order to save it.

To save us.

It’s still up to us. We still have free will and can choose to believe or not believe. To change our lives or not.

But for me, it is comforting to know that our heavenly father does love us so much. He is not a distant god that established the world and then left us to run it. He is not an autocrat that only insists that we follow his commands and laws.

He is our father who wants to be a part of our lives and wants the best for us.
No matter our background, or shortcomings, or any of the things that matter to the material world around us. Because it doesn't matter to Him. He just loves us for being us! Because we are His children and we are perfect in His eyes.

He loves us just because we are his children. And we can do better in our lives because He loves us. God’s love can change lives for the better. It does for millions of people every day and it can for us too! And that is a comforting thought!

Happy Father’s Day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wear Red on Pentecost Sunday

“And there appeared to them tongues as of fire” Acts 2:3

Pentecost Sunday.

For Catholics, we have many liturgical traditions that help underscore the seasons of the church and our spiritual life. Wearing red is one those traditions. It is tradition with a little “t” – not required but encouraged and it can be fun.

I sometimes forget but I make sure I wear red every time I remember. The reddest shirt I can find! I have this one Hawaiian shirt that I like to wear because it is very red with some orange in it too that almost looks like waves of flame! (OK, sometimes you have to squint to see the flames and I have to move up and down but then you see it fine.)

When I do forget and I look out over the church and see all the red shirts and dresses and ties and scarves…I admit it…I get a little mad at myself for forgetting. It is almost like a missed opportunity.

For non-Catholics, this may all seem rather silly. Another thing to criticize but I think they miss the greater meaning that lies beneath the red shirts.

The reading of Pentecost talks about the story of how the disciples were all together at one place waiting. Waiting for the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised would come to them. They were afraid because the authorities that had ordered Jesus crucified would have also ordered their death. They were confused because how could anything be good enough to follow Jesus? But they were also faithful. It did not make sense to them but Jesus told them to wait and so they waited.

“And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4)

This would have been amazing enough but that was not all. In Jerusalem at that time happened to be devout men from every nation. Coincidence? I have learned to give up on the idea of coincidence a long time ago. This was all part of God’s greater plan.

So these devout mean heard this tremendous sound and came to see what had happened. To their amazement, the Galileans - the bubbas of their time – suddenly came out speaking in each of these men’s languages!

How could this be? Uneducated, uncouth, Galilean bubbas suddenly speaking in the native tongues of Par'thians and Medes and E'lamites and residents of Mesopota'mia, Judea and Cappado'cia, Pontus and Asia, Phryg'ia and Pamphyl'ia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyre'ne, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians – all understanding them!

More amazing though was what they were saying. These devout men from every nation could hear these Galileans telling in their own tongues the mighty works of God. These Galileans who minutes ago were cowering in fear were suddenly boldly going out proclaiming the mighty works of God to the most devout men of their age!

They were no longer afraid. And many of them would be willing to go to their martyrdom proclaiming their faith to the end. That is the power of the Holy Spirit. That it can move us beyond ourselves if only we are willing to be faithful.

That is why we wear red on Pentecost. To remind ourselves that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and that this outward sign is also a call to action - if only we are willing to listen and obey. We are not to cower in fear but to be bold in our faith and to act out our faith everyday. Modeling our actions after Jesus is the native tongue that crosses all languages and culture because kindness and compassion are universally understood.

Our actions are the clearest way to declare the mighty works of God because we are the mighty works of God.

So wear Red on Pentecost Sunday! I’ll be the one in the Hawaiian shirt moving up and down.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The children were awful! And we gave them gifts anyway.

The last few years have been rough leading up to Christmas.

I don't know if it is true for every house but it seems that the weeks leading up to Christmas have been particularly hard. Just when you think the children would be on their best behavior - they seem to be on their worst!

They fight with each other over the smallest things, they deliberately provoke each other, they throw tantrums, pout, sulk, and seem to go out of the way to make us want to push them away. We sit down and patiently go over our expectations, provide them with coping skills, and encourage them to do the right thing and just when we think we are getting through to them - WHAMO! Someone is doing something to someone else. Not only won't they stop doing stuff to each other, they won't even do the basic things to take care of themselves! "Do I have to use shampoo?" Are you kidding me? Is that a real question?


Finally, we reach the point, where we consider the final option.

Yes - the big one.

Take away their Christmas presents.

They certainly don't deserve it! They got plenty of stuff already. This is extra stuff. We all know there are plenty of deserving children that need it far more than them. Getting no presents would serve them right! That's what they get!

And it's true. They don't deserve a gift.

True today - and true over 2,000 years ago when a child was born in a manger in an obscure, third-rate town, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire.

We certainly didn't deserve this kind of gift from God. A gift of his only Son to save us from our own sin.

We were so tied up in our own sin that we could not save ourselves as hard as we tried. Even when we were sorry and promised never to do it again - we would.

We had become trapped in the second most powerful thing in the world - sin. It was like being caught in the gravity well of a Black Hole where even light cannot escape. We didn't have a chance.

We still don't.

And so we needed a savior. Some of us might not want to admit it but it's true. And we had tried the pretenders. Other people who promised that they knew the way through meditation, or pagan rites, or drugs or alcohol, or just through "self-help." A re-wrapping of the oldest lie of them all, "You would be like Gods." You can save yourself.

And none of it is true.

Sin is just too strong. The devil is too skilled - he's been at this too long and knows us too well. So, we find ourselves at the same spot over and over again - frustrated and ashamed and wondering how to get out of the hole we had dug ourselves into. As strong and as smart as we are, we are flawed and imperfect. We are sinners and needed someone to save us.

So, God sent His son.

Because the only thing more powerful than sin is God's love. Not our love because our love is imperfect and flawed because we are imperfect and flawed. But God's love is perfect and that is why He could be our life line - our savior. To save us from our sin and the death that is the price for sin.

But we don't deserve it. We still don't. I am a sinner. I am weak. I am undeserving.

All true. But think about this for a little bit.

Bethlehem. Beth Lehem literally means "House of Bread." Jesus is known as the Bread of Life and he was born in Beth Lehem. And after he was born, his mother Mary, wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger. A manger is where you place the food for the animals to feed.

God sent his son as an offering - the perfect sacrifice.

God sent his only son to us to live, suffer, die at the cross, and rise again - not because we had earned it but because we could not save ourselves. When we are weak, God is strong. God seeks us out not because we are perfect but precisely because we are imperfect and lost.

The first gift of Christmas was by God himself. He gave of himself and his gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was wrinkled and pink.

We were awful. We still are. And He gave us gifts anyway. The grace of God is freely given to us and it is only up to us whether to receive it.

The greatest gift we can give our children and to each other is not found in a store or on the internet or wrapped in a bow. It is the gift of understanding, forgiveness, and grace that we can show each other. Not just the people we like, but all people - especially those that we don't like - that are least "deserving."

We may not be able to give perfect love - but we can let God's perfect love shine through us.

And for the children? Yes, we gave them their presents. But they better watch out next year!

Merry Christmas!