December 19th, 2014 by Carl Buffington
Barb and I attended an ornament gift exchange party last week, and I had been thinking a lot about receiving. I thought of Martin Luther suggesting that we dishonor God when we try to earn His free gift of grace. It’s not a gift exchange. It’s a free gift. We are receivers. And here we were at a gift exchange. A fun affair!
I had to be near the last to go and get an ornament. I was number 54. You know how it works; everyone brings an ornament that goes into a pile. Then you can take one from the pile, or go take one from someone who already has one you like, and then they get to go again. Anyway, I went to the pile, now down to two gifts, and opened a lovely clear glass ball with some white design circumventing its middle.
As I walked to my seat, I remembered one of the guests saying she wanted white because her tree was all white lights and white ornaments. So before I sat down, I said, “Here, would you like this?”
A puzzled look spread across her face. She began to reach for her ornament to exchange, when I said, “No, no thanks, our tree is fully dressed. No more room in the inn for ornaments. It’s a gift.” She gave me a sort of, “I don’t get it” hug and dashed somewhere to stash it. I think she liked it. And then perhaps it hit her because she came back and gave me another hug, saying, “Thank you so much.”
And here’s the neat thing, the next person, the last to go had immediately gone to take her treasure from her. I suppose it was a nice ornament. But the person’s spouse intervened. Apparently she had seen how it had gone down and told her husband not to take it. So you could say the first woman got a free gift twice that night.
In a very real and important sense God’s grace is not an exchange in that it is in no way a quid pro quo, and we can never earn or deserve His gift of life eternal. However, when I think of that second “thank you” from this person, when she realized it was a free gift and said, “Thank you so much,” – there is something we can do in response for the gift.
We call our communion liturgy THE GREAT THANKSGIVING. It is a response to His free gift. When we receive the free gift of God’s grace and embrace it, thanksgiving is the response we make.
Embrace His gift with these scriptures, and “Lift up your hearts … to the Lord,” with us this Advent IV, Christmas Eve at 4 and 7 p.m., and Christmas Day at 9 a.m.
In His Name,