A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Christmas Day 25th December 2008 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:7-10 and John 1:1-18.
Christmas presents are now so much a part of Christmas, in this consumer world, it sometimes seems that the purpose of Christmas is to help stimulate the economy. But today, let us reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
As we celebrate the birth of baby Jesus, my memory flashed back to the day I gave birth to my daughter, our first born child. After the delivery, I was extremely exhausted and because of the caesarian operation, I felt great pain in my belly. The first time when I saw my mother visiting me in the hospital, I could not help crying. I did not articulate why my tears roll across my face nonstop. At the time, I just felt that my mother was the one person so close to me. My life was so closely connected with her. Just as I gave birth to my daughter, it was my mother who gave birth to me. May be it was this bond of motherhood that touched my heart and trigger my emotions.
Our parents, our mothers and fathers, gave us an earthly life, a biological body. Our God, gives us the spiritual life, the Christ Body. Through Jesus Christ, we are given the spiritual life of eternity.
I don’t know if you have received any Christmas present so far this year. But by remembering the life your parents have given you. You will know you have already been given the gift. This is the gift of LIFE. Life is a precious present from God. For the God is the source of life.
When we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, I never forget the death of Jesus.
The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world, of the "Word made flesh" and dwelling among us, is to reveal God and His grace to the world through Jesus’ life and teaching, but also through his suffering, death, and resurrection.
Therefore, when we face life’s difficulties and suffer in some ways, we may take comfort from Jesus’ perspective of life and death, despair and hope, oppression and liberation. The more we are in a situation of vulnerability, the more we experience the peace, grace, and love of God because of God’s full presence. You may think that I am crazy and too optimistic. I would like to share with you one of my life experience.
On the 31st of August in 2003, I was excited to prepare myself for a new page of life to study full time in the Chung Chi Divinity School; then in the middle of the night, my preparation was totally shattered when my eldest sister called and told me that my younger brother was seriously injured in a motor bike accident. Within two days, my younger brother was dead. I was very confused at the time and very upset. Why did God take away the life of my brother? He was so young. He was just 33 when he passed away. Up till now, I still cannot comprehend the mystery of God. But what I confirmed is the presence of God and his grace that fell upon me and my family. I had a deep reflection of life. One of the reflections was that we must ‘seize the day, and live in the present 活於此時此刻 ’. When we are young and strong we think that we have a lot time and energy. It is too easy for us to procrastinate on the things that we should be doing. My brother’s unpredictable death has reminded me to do the urgent and important thing everyday in order not to have regrets if it comes the time for me to go to my heavenly home.
After the death of my brother, my whole family experienced a very painful moment and yet we all experienced the grace of God in different ways. One of the amazing grace that we commonly experienced is the peace of God. The death of my brother has also helped to bond our relationship closer. Moreover, five of my sisters have since declared their faith in Jesus Christ through baptism and committed their lives to God’s service. I witness many of their positive changes in life. Somehow, this painful experience in life was a kind of present from God to help us to learn and grow in his full loving presence.
Last Sunday, my mother was baptized at the age of 82. She is given a renewed life by God in Christ. My mother was very upset at the death of my brother who was the youngest one in our family. There were times when our mother would ask us where our brother was as if he was still alive. I guessed that she was not able to accept the fact that her son had gone. Last month when I visited her in Yuen Long I brought her to see her old friend. In that visit, my mother told her good friend that my brother had gone. I found this disclosure was significant to my mother. It is because after 5 years since my brother passed away she is finally able to accept the death of her son by saying it openly. I think that she has been struggling with this horrible reality for years. But now she can let it go. Very often we have some traumatic experience in life that we cannot let go. The spirit of Christmas for Jesus’ birth helps us to accept the reality that there are things in life that is out of our control and we have to learn to accept and let go. Think about Mary, Jesus’ mother who bore the son Jesus in a most unusual and unpredictable way. She even had to bear the great sorrow to see her son die in such a painful and inhumane way. Only by the faith of God, that we are able to find an answer and realize the truth and grace in Jesus Christ.
God has given us such a wonderful Christmas present, how do we as God’s children who believe him respond?
Last Sunday, Rev. Kwok has preached about the gospel of John. The essence of the gospel is love, the love that deeply engages in Jesus Christ, follows his words and deed, to lead a life of giving and sacrifice. It looks difficult and yet we are all able to do it. Remember Jesus told his disciples that when we give cold water to the little brother, we are already serving God. In Matthew 25, Jesus also said that if we serve according to the need of people, give clothes to the naked, give food to the hungry, visit the sick, welcome strangers and so on, we are already serving our Lord.
The most important thing when serving others is to be sensitive to their needs and act accordingly. Therefore, when all people in our church, young and old lend a helping hand to clean up the rubbish after they have eaten and tidy up the room after Sunday School, you have already given a great present to Auntie Hing for she is the one to clean and tidy up the church. Your cooperation will lessen her burden. In addition, the church is God’s church, to keep the church decent and tidy, it is a present to God too.
I always remember our brother Abraham’s sharing to the students in the local churches and schools when we conducted our outreach program to the young people to share the gospel of love, peace and justice to the local community. Abraham has shared that when people smiles to him, a black person, it is a great acceptance to him in a foreign land where he has no family, after being forced to leave his home country. The friendly smile will bring him warmth in the days of coldness and darkness when he is seeking asylum in Hong Kong.
Last night the Bethune House organized a party for the domestic helpers to celebrate the Christmas in our playground in the late evening after the Christmas Eve Service. I was touched by their joy and happiness. While the migrant workers stay away from their loved one at home, but to work overseas to support their families, during the Christmas season, the migrant workers could join the celebration and share moments of love and joy, it is beautiful. I am happy that our church can support and serve them by providing the space that they need.
Christmas reminds us once again the love of God through Jesus Christ. Christmas is time to share with others especially those in needs of what we have. When we have love and compassion on others in our heart, we will then know what to do or at least we are motivated to learn and act.
God has revealed his grace to each one of us in our life in different ways. The love of God falls upon us through different people and different experiences. If we take them as presents we will then realize how much God loves us and embraces us.
Yesterday is a history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that’s why we call it present. The best Christmas present today is the full presence of God in Christ, full of love and grace. God has given precious presents to us, how we lead our life to glorify God is our presents to God in return.
May God keep our faith in Christ and guide us in his truth and light. Amen.