A Big Christmas
There it was...the last present under the Christmas tree, and it was mine, all mine. And I had been waiting a long time to get my hands on this particular present. The truth is that I had sat down at my family’s dining room table months earlier with a sheet of paper in one hand and a crayon in the other to make out my Christmas list. And I started out by quickly jotting down all of those obligatory Christmas list details: you know, things like my shirt size and pant size. But then I rushed on to the more important gifts.
So as I sat at that table, I wrote down board games and puzzles, action figures, and candy...but for this particular Christmas, there was one gift I wanted more than anything else. So once I put that particular item on my list, I did what every kid does when they write down the most important thing on their Christmas list: I circled it half a dozen times and drew enough stars around it to fill up the night sky. If I could have I would have put a giant neon sign beside it saying, “This is what Adam really wants for Christmas this year.”
And I didn’t just stop with writing this item on my list. No. I was so obsessed with getting this one gift that I carefully inspected everything that showed up under the Christmas tree for days. And every time a new present showed up on the tree skirt, I was quick to shake it and size it up to try to figure out if it was the gift of my dreams.
And then Christmas morning finally came. After tearing through tons of presents, I was surrounded by shreds of wrapping paper, empty boxes, and piles of board games and puzzles, action figures and candy, and even the worst gifts you could ever give a kid. You know what I’m talking about, socks and underwear. On a side note, I have an uncle who once told me, “You know you're getting old when all you get for Christmas is socks and underwear, and you think, 'Hey, I really needed these.'”
But now my hands were finally on my dream Christmas present. So all of the circles and stars on my list, all of the time I spent crawling around under the tree checking out presents, and all the effort I put in to be a good boy that year were about to pay off. And I could barely contain my excitement as my fingers slid into a seam in the wrapping paper. My eyes were as big as tennis balls as I began to tear the paper back. The smile on my face went from ear to ear as I caught the first glimpse of what I had been waiting so long to see. Then it was finally unwrapped, and I held in my hands an official, scale replica, WWF wrestling ring, complete with elastic ropes and a genuine announce table.
Now, let's not forget here, it was the late 80s and I was like 6 or 7 years old, and at that point in time professional wrestling was precisely the third coolest thing in the world for a young boy, right behind MacGyver and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So I had been dying to get this wrestling ring. And now that it was in my hands all I could think about were the epic matches my action figures would have when Hulk Hogan took on Andre the Giant, or when the Ultimate Warrior battled it out with the Macho Man Randy Savage.
But you know what? It’s kind of funny that I still remember that Christmas all these years later, because, yes, I got the one toy that I really wanted that year...but that was pretty well how every Christmas went in my family. Every year I’d sit down and make a big old list of everything I wanted for Christmas, and every year some of those things that I circled and starred on my Christmas list ended up under our tree.
So it wasn’t until I got older that I realized that wasn’t the case for every kid, and that’s one of the things I remember most from my first job after I graduated college. I spent three years managing a toy store, so that means I spent three Christmas selling the kinds of things that every kid dreamed of. So about this time of year, I got to see the same wide-eyed-optimism in the kids that came walking into our store that I had when I was opening up my official, scale replica, WWF wrestling ring, complete with elastic ropes and a genuine announce table.
Their eyes would light up as soon as they walked through the doors of the store. And, as often as not, they’d just stand at the entrance for an extra second or two taking it all in. But it never took long before they were tugging on their mom’s or dad’s hand, and racing down the aisles to check out all the toys they might want to put on their Christmas list that year.
But the truth is, it’s not the wide-eyed-optimism of the kids I remember the most…what I remember most is the heartbroken expression on some of the parents’ faces when they walked hand-in-hand with their kids through the aisles of the store, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to make their kid’s Christmas dreams come true.
I still remember the parents who came to the counter with their arms full of toys and an uneasy look on their faces. I still remember their teary-eyes staring at the register as their total continued to rise. I still remember their embarrassed expression when they had to ask me to put some of the items back. I still remember other parents waiting with bated breath while I swiped their credit cards, unsure if they had enough credit to cover the purchase. I still remember their anger when their checks wouldn’t clear, and their blank stares when the realization set in that they couldn’t afford Christmas that year.
But what I really remember the most is how often it happened. Now, it wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but it happened at least a handful of times each Christmas. And at first, I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. I mean, I didn’t exactly grow up in a wealthy family--my dad was in the military and my mom worked as a teacher’s assistant--but I never wondered if I would have something waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning. But after seeing it happen a handful of times each year, I couldn’t deny that this was a reality for far too many families.
In the county our church is in, Jefferson County, the Salvation Army helped over 9,000 kids from over 3,000 families through their Angel Tree program last year. That’s more than 3,000 families and 9,000 children in our own community who could have had nothing for Christmas last year.
And that was last year. That was before COVID-19 hit. That was before our unemployment rate went from 3.5% to over 14%. That was before millions of Americans were laid off. That was before thousands of companies closed their doors. So if 9,000 kids in our community would’ve missed out on Christmas last year...you can just imagine how many families will be in need this year.
And these are families that you see while you’re grocery shopping at Kroger. These are parents that are in Zoom meetings with you at work. These are children that go to school with your kids and grandkids.
And these are families that need a little help. And I am proud to say that over the last four years we, at Melbourne Heights Baptist Church, have helped well over 300 of these kids and their families celebrate Christmas. And this Christmas we’re going to do it again!
So at the end of today’s worship service, we’re going to ask you to visit the “giving” page on our church’s website. You can find it at mhbclouisville.com/give. And we’re going to ask you to make a one-time gift to help us provide gifts for some of the kids in need in our community this year. And just to be abundantly clear here, every last penny that you give will be used to help children and families in need in our community this Christmas.
And here’s how we’re going to do it: we’re going to work with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program again this Christmas. And for every $150 you give on our site, we’re going to pick one angel from the tree. So if we raise $150 we’ll help one child. If we raise $1,500 we’ll help ten kids. If we raise $15,000 we’ll help 100. If we raise $150,000--after I recover from my heart attack--we’ll help 1,000 kids.
And then a group from our church will go out and use your donations to shop for all of these kids. We’ll go out and spend around $100 to buy them what they need--whether that’s a new pair of shoes, or a warm sweater, or even the socks and underwear that no kid really wants for Christmas. And then we’ll take the other $50 and buy them the biggest wish on their list--whether it’s a bike, or a video game, or a Barbie doll or something else. And we’ll help each of these kids have a morning like the one I had when I opened up that wrestling ring.
But before we ask you to give at the end of today’s worship service, I want to spend some time explaining why we, as a church, are asking you to give. Now obviously, from the practical side, we’re asking you to give today to help children in need in our own community. But we, as a church, aren’t just asking you to give for practical reasons.
But before I can talk about the other reasons why we ask you to give, I have to stop here and address a common misconception that some people have about giving to the church. Some people believe that we give in church because God needs our money. Now, just let that sink in for a minute. Some people think we give because God needs our money.
As Dave Ramsey--the radio personality and financial guru--likes to say, “If God needed your money, he’d take it and there’d be a greasy spot where you were sitting.”
So here’s the truth, God doesn’t need your money. Why? Well, the book of Psalms explains it when it says this in Psalm 50:9-10, “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”
Why doesn’t God need your money? Because everything you have is already God’s. And that’s the first reason why we give as an act of worship, we give because giving reminds us that we are managers of God’s blessings.
We give because giving reminds us that we are managers of God’s blessings.
Let me show you what I mean. Now, imagine that I walked up to you and gave you a stack of ten, ten dollar bills…that’s a $100 for those of you who are mathematically challenged. But what if I told you there’s a catch. As soon as I give you the hundred dollars, you have to give ten dollars away. How many of you would still take me up on that offer?
Of course, you’d take me up on that offer, and then you’d ask me if we could do it again. Why? Because you came out $90 ahead…that hundred bucks was never really yours so it didn’t cost you anything to give a little bit away.
But what if I forgot to tell you about the catch…and I came to you next Sunday and said, “You remember that $100 I gave to you last week? I forgot to tell you that I wanted you to give $10 away.”
How would you feel then? After a week, you’d feel like it was yours. So what changed? Your perspective. In one case you knew that what you had was a gift that didn’t really belong to you…in the other, you’d forgotten.
So, we ask you to give in church to help you remember that your money is a gift from God, after all, James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”
But that’s only one reason why we ask you to give. Deuteronomy 12:10-12 gives us another. Here’s what it says:
10 But you will soon cross the Jordan River and live in the land the Lord your God is giving you. When he gives you rest from all your enemies and you’re living safely in the land, 11 you must bring everything I command you—your burnt offerings, your sacrifices, your tithes, your sacred offerings, and your offerings to fulfill a vow—to the designated place of worship, the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored.
Now the first two verses of this passage are specifically talking about the gifts that the people of Israel are expected to bring when they come and worship God at the temple. But this passage of scripture was written during a more agrarian time. People were bringing livestock and produce as their offering to God instead of money. But they didn’t just drop this offering in a basket in the middle of a worship service. They sacrificed their offering as a part of worship.
And verse 12 tells us why.
12 You must celebrate there in the presence of the Lord your God with your sons and daughters and all your servants. And remember to include the Levites who live in your towns, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.
Deuteronomy 12:10-12 (New Living Translation)
These sacrifices are used to celebrate God’s love for us all, and to share God’s gifts together. So we give to bring us closer together.
We give to bring us closer together.
Why? Because in this world just about everything drives us apart. We watch different TV shows, listen to different music, read different books, and cheer for different teams. And the way we spend our money only drives a further wedge between us.
If I had time to interview everyone that is listening to this sermon right now, we’d pretty quickly realize that none of us spend money the same way. We all have different goals and different priorities when it comes to our finances. But, when we come together in worship and give, we’re united in one priority. And that priority is the work of the kingdom of God that is being done in and by our church. When we give in worship, we all agree that this church and God’s kingdom matter…not just to me, not just to you, but to all of us.
And why does it matter? Well, if you skip ahead a couple chapters in Deuteronomy, you’ll hear this:
28 Every third year you must bring the tenth part of your produce from that year and leave it at your city gates. 29 Then the Levites, who have no designated inheritance like you do, along with the immigrants, orphans, and widows who live in your cities, will come and feast until they are full. Do this so that the Lord your God might bless you in everything you do.
Deuteronomy 14:28-29 (Common English Bible)
This passage reminds us that people are hurting, people are broken, people are in need. And although we can be tempted to throw our hands in the air and say there is nothing we can do to help; we’re also reminded that we, as a church, can do something about it.
We can care for those without an inheritance. We can care for the immigrant. We can care for the orphans. We can care for the widows. We can care for anyone in need…but we can only care for others when we share what God has given us.
We can only care for others when we share what God has given us.
Now I use this analogy just about every year when we talk about the Angel Tree, but it helps to think about it this way: Imagine your gift, your tithe, your offering, your contribution, or whatever else you want to call it is a block. Maybe it’s a big block, maybe it’s a little block…but it’s only one block. And what can you do with a block?
Well, I can tell you this, in all the years that I worked in a toy store a kid never came into the store begging their mother, their father, their grandparents, or anyone else to buy them a block. No, they wanted blocks. Because with blocks they could do something. They could build. They could bring their imagination to life. They could actually accomplish something.
The same is true for each of us. Our one block can only do so much. But when I give my block, and you give your block, and we all give our block; we can build something great together, we can bring the kingdom of God to life, we can accomplish something big.
And this year, as Christmas draws near, we want to accomplish something big for children and families in need in our own backyard. So we’re asking you to give today to help these children. We’re asking you to give today because when you give, and I give, and we all give; it says to this world that God and God’s people care about these children and their families. We’re asking you to give today because when you give, and I give, and we all give; we can combine our resources to do so much more than any one of us could do on our own.
Now once again, if you would like to help us as we work with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program to provide gifts to children in need in our own community this Christmas, you can visit our church’s website: mhbclouisville.com. On the top right-hand corner of the page, you’ll see a link to our giving page. Click on that link and in the first drop-down menu, you can designate that you want your gift to go toward helping kids on the Angel Tree. And every penny that you give will go to purchasing gifts for these kids and making their Christmas dreams come true.
So let’s give. Let’s do something big this Christmas. And let’s show our kids and our community how much God loves us all.