December 23, 2007

Advent 4, with baptism and admission to communion. Isaiah 7, 10-16; Matthew 1, 18-end

Like many of you, I am sure, I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks preparing to give presents – choosing suitable gifts for different people, going out shopping or on the internet to buy them, wrapping them up and putting some in the post and others ready to go under the Christmas tree.

But I have also ( if I’m honest) been getting ready to receive. I hope there will be some presents for me on Christmas Day – indeed one has already arrived in the post and is waiting to be unwrapped.

In our service today, we are celebrating the giving and receiving of a very special gift – our Saviour Jesus Christ. We are celebrating this gift which comes to us in two different ways – first of all through the child born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, and second through the sacrament of Holy Communion, week by week.

Our readings from Isaiah and Matthew told us of how people were prepared by God to receive the gift of their Saviour, by the teaching of the prophets through the years of Old Testament times, and through the co-operation of Mary and Joseph in the birth of Jesus.

Mary and Joseph received a gift from God – their first born child – but they also had to be ready to give too – they had to be prepared to give up their respectable reputation, the understanding of their family and neighbours, and, in Matthew’s version of the story, the security of their home, as they became the parents of this special child.

The hymns and prayers and readings we have during the service are helping us to be ready to receive the gift of Our Lord through the sacrament of Holy Communion. And for five of our young members, today will be the end of several weeks of preparation to receive this special gift for the first time.

Through Christ’s sacramental gifts of Baptism and Communion we receive a wealth of presents – the presence and the love of Christ, the strength and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unity with God and with our fellow Christians, new life and the promise of salvation, in addition to the gifts God has already given us – our talents and skills, our families and our secure and comfortable homes.

But as we receive these special gifts, we are also being asked to be ready to give – to give our loyalty to Christ and to be ready to defend our faith against those who disapprove or make fun of it. To be ready to give our time and our talents to support Christ’s Church and to serve the people of the world in Christ’s name. To undertake to prepare ourselves properly week by week and year by year to receive the wondrous gift of our Saviour, given to us in the infant King and the bread and wine, and never to take God’s gifts for granted.

So we need to pray for each other, and especially for those baptised and admitted to Communion today, that we may receive worthily, and give generously, as God does. And may we all – newly baptised Christians and those who were baptised many years ago, new communicants and those who have received Communion many times before – find joy in giving and receiving God’s many gifts this Christmas time.


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