Presence or Presents
Luke 1:39-55

I’ve read in about three different places this week a comparison between presents and presence. That got me thinking about which of those things is more important to us and maybe shifting our focus if necessary.

Once of the most important and exciting things for most people at Christmas time is gifts.  Whether it is in the giving or receiving of them gifts are a priority, we also call them presents.  Hours and hours are spent searching for just the right gift for each person, at the right price.  Sometimes we struggle to come up with the perfect gift because the person in question already has everything they could possibly need.

I even read an article this week titled, “Tis the season to be giving…to yourself’.  Apparently in this self centred society we live in we’ve become accustomed to shouting ourselves a Christmas gift, with many people wrapping them up and placing them under the tree or in stockings so that they have something to unwrap at Christmas.

The story goes that when we spend so much time buying gifts for others we often justify giving ourselves a special gift because we mean more to us than the other people do.  Another line of thinking is that we can be sure of getting a gift that we want and will be happy with if we simply go out and buy it for ourselves.

Maybe the emphasis should be shifted from the presents that we give to the presence we can offer.  Sometimes, but I will admit, not always, the gift of spending some quality time with someone would be far better than giving them some material token that will wind up hanging in the back of a wardrobe, or sitting in a sock drawer unused.

Mary had a gift she wanted to give to her relative Elizabeth, now admittedly in those days you couldn’t send a quick text message or phone her, so she had to make a bit of a journey, out into the hills of Judea.  This was perhaps not a safe place for a young girl to be heading off to by herself, but she was excited, she wanted to share her news, so off she went.  When she arrived, as we have heard many times, the baby in Elizabeth leaped with joy.

We heard in the account of John the Baptist’s conception that his mother Elizabeth had lived in seclusion for the five months since she discovered she was pregnant, and her husband Zechariah had been unable to speak. 

So a visit from a relative who was also expecting would have been a wonderful experience for them both.  There was shared excitement and expectation, and a common experience of serving the Lord through childbirth and the important roles their sons would have in the kingdom of God.

The yet-to-be-born John was filled with the Holy Spirit before his birth, he knew that the Son of God was present, there with him, and he leaped with joy.  This was the true gift that Mary had brought, the presence of the son of God within her.

That Son was a gift to Mary, a gift to Elizabeth, Zechariah and John, and also a gift for each and every one of us!  He was our present that first Christmas and continues to be our present through his presence.  He is present in his real presence with us through his body and blood in, with and under the bread and the wine in Holy Communion.  Here he promised to be present with us for forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

Seeing as we already have the ultimate gift, that we receive not only at Christmas but every day of the year, the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord and saviour, and we are reminded of it at least weekly as we come to worship him in his Father’s house, why do we need to receive material gifts at Christmas at all?

I know I’m probably too late for most of you this year, because you will have already finished your Christmas shopping and sent gifts all over Australia to friends and relatives, but what about considering giving one less present this year.  Not giving up on Christmas gift giving altogether, but reducing the material giving that is done, maybe one this year and another next year?  Then with what we have saved, giving the equivalent value toward the well being of someone less fortunate than you.

Remember last week we heard John the Baptist’s reply when the people asked him what they should do, “If you have two coats, give one to someone who has none.”  Here is our chance to do just that, to give a little of what God first gave us.  There are hundreds of ways of doing that, we have the ‘Gifts of Grace’ through Australian Lutheran World Service and the Christmas Action appeal, there are also people living in our own community who need help.

I know it is hard making the change, of sacrificing something that we’ve been longing for in order to give to someone else.  Maybe by reducing by just one gift that would make a big difference to someone else, but just a small difference to you or your loved ones.  Everyone gives gifts of differing values, looking in the Gifts of Grace catalogue there are items from twenty dollars to five and a half thousand, all of those would make a huge difference in the lives of others.

So whether you choose to give a gift of your presence or a physical present, do so with a glad heart, remembering the gift that God gave us, a gift that goes on giving, every day of our lives, from now into eternity.  He is present with us and has promised to be until the end of the age.  So leap with joy like John the Baptist did (if you are able to) if not let your heart leap with joy as you give a heartfelt gift to someone else to help them know of the gift that God gave to us.

Amen.