What Can I Give Him, a sermon for Christmas Eve

The Nativity by Gari Melchers
The Nativity by Gari Melchers

Offered Saturday, 12/24/22 at Coronado Community United Methodist Church, New Smyrna Beach Florida.

We bring ourselves to the Christmas story.  

In 1872, Christina Rossetti brought herself to the Christmas story and wrote a beautiful poem called Heaven Cannot Hold Him. You might know it as In the Bleak Midwinter.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

We bring ourselves to the Christmas story. Where Christina Rossetti lived in England, the winter was cold and it snowed. In the time of year when Jesus was born, it wasn’t cold or snowing in the Holy Land. If so, the shepherds would not have been out in the fields with lambs and sheep.

If you ever have the chance to go to Bethlehem, I encourage you to do so. It’s a moving and complicated place. It’s not very far from Jerusalem, just a couple of miles. There’s a wall built around Bethlehem. In some places, it’s an electric fence and in others is a 26-foot-tall concrete barrier. You’re forced to pass through checkpoints with armed guards to enter and exit Bethlehem because it’s Palestinian territory. Some of Bethlehem’s residents refer to their home as the world’s largest open-air prison because their travel is severely restricted.

There’s a beautiful place, really my favorite place in Bethlehem, called The Shepherd’s Field. There’s a system of caves all over the area. When it became too cold, or when it became too dangerous, the shepherds would bring the sheep into these caves. It was a place where the shepherd could literally lie across the threshold of the cave so that sheep would be inside and trouble would be outside. The shepherds were the door, the gate. In Bethlehem, you can visit one of these caves.

When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem there’s no room in the guest room. There weren’t any hotels like there are today. There were guest rooms in homes, and they were already full because of the census.

Mary and Joseph weren’t finally offered lodging in a stable or barn. It was probably a cave. In that cave, there wasn’t a wooden manger. The place where they would put the hay or feed for the animals was usually a worn or carved spot in the rock of the cave.

After the long journey and no guest room and the bearing and the birthing, Mary and Joseph are exhausted. This is one of the reasons why I love Gari Melchers’painting of the nativity. Mary’s getting some much-needed rest and Joseph looks overwhelmed by this little, tiny, special child.

I imagine them asking the question, “What can I give him?”

What can I give him who’s God with us?

What can I give him who’s God in the flesh?

What can I give him?

How can I be the mother of God?

How can I be the foster father of God?

What can I give him?

We think a great deal about gift giving at Christmas time. What can I give my loved ones to show them how much I care? What can I give my coworkers? What can I give my neighbor? What can I give the postal worker?

What do I have to give? There are times in our lives when it feels very full, and we have something to give. Last year at this time, our first grandchild had just been born. I have a picture of her a couple of weeks old in front of this Christmas tree. She’s now a year old.

Last year saw us moving to New Smyrna Beach. Last year saw us buying a house. Last year saw our younger daughter married. Life was very, very full and it felt like I had something to give.

This year is different. My father died at the beginning of September after a decade of suffering from Alzheimer’s and then hurricane Ian hit. So many folks in our area lost everything. We had folks saying, “I wish the storm had taken me.” We had folks saying, “I never dreamed I would be starting over at this point in my life.” Months later and they’re still wrestling with contractors and permitting and insurance and trying to figure it out.

At the beginning of September dad died, and at the end of September hurricane Ian hit, and at the beginning of November, my mom died. She had cancer. Then hurricane Nicole hit and then last week my husband was in the hospital for five days. He’s here tonight and we’re grateful.

Sometimes it feels like I have something to give and there are times when it feels like I have absolutely nothing to give. I am spent. I’m tired. I’m overwhelmed.

I don’t know where tonight finds you. If you are feeling full like you have much to give or if you’re feeling empty. Wherever you are, it’s okay. You’re wanted and you’re welcome.

This year, I read a prayer from a friend and it said “let my wound be your manger.” That’s what I’ve been holding on to to give to you tonight. Sometimes we feel full, and we have much to give and sometimes we feel empty and we feel like we have nothing to give, but what we’re really celebrating at Christmas is our God who gives. Our God who gives and gives and gives and gives and comes. Who makes a home with us in the midst of Roman occupation, in the midst of not enough room, in the midst of pain and birth, in the midst of wondering.

Tonight, you may be saying, “Jesus, I can give you my heart because it feels full.” I invite you to also say, “I can give you my heart because it’s broken, because it’s wounded, because it’s wondering.” God smiles at this gift too because it’s honest.

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You and those you love are welcome to worship with us in person on Sundays at 9:30 AM and 11:00 AM. You’ll also find recordings of our 9:30 AM services on YouTube.

© 2022 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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