Christmas II, 2016, Ephesians 1:3-14
A holiday TV advertisement some years ago began with Santa Claus in the living room of little Johnny’s home. Johnny has landed firmly in the naughty column of the jolly old elf’s list. As he draws out a sack of coal he notices a sliced honey baked ham sitting nearby. On Christmas morning the camera sweeps along a head-high drift of gifts extending across the living room floor, flowing up the lower stair steps. Johnny stands at the top of the stairs with open-mouthed amazement. “Wow,” he gasps, “Wow.”
It’s still Christmas and today St. Paul shows us, not a head high, but a heaven high drift of gifts from God that should leave us in open mouthed amazement “Wow.” Listen to Paul again, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Yes, we have received a heaven high drift of perfect blessings, gifts from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact each member of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit has lavished upon us a wealth of gifts given out of their love and grace. Having received such an outpouring, what ought we do but bless God with thanksgiving redounding to His glorious praise. So let’s dig in and see what we have received.
Our first gift from the Father is that you are chosen. God was no last minute shopper. You were chosen before the foundation of the world. Before God said, “Let there be light.” Chosen, before God put lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. Chosen, before Adam and Eve were formed. Think of a newlywed couple, upon leaving the wedding reception, going to the mall and buying a life time of gifts for their children before they are even conceived. You were chosen in connection with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus from eternity unto eternity to live with God among the angels, archangels and all the heavenly host.
As one who is chosen, your baptism into Christ brought the atmosphere of heaven into your life here on earth. This morning you will receive a foretaste of heaven as Jesus becomes intertwined with the bread and wine in a holy communion. A bit of heaven on earth.
That brings us to our second gift, we are holy and blameless before Him. But didn’t we begin our service with a confession of our sins? Didn’t we admit to God that “We justly deserve your present and eternal punishment?” We certainly did. St. Paul agrees, “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” But in short order he adds, God, because of his love, made us alive together with Jesus Christ. The key is in the phrase, “before him.” Before one another we may not seem so saintly. However, because the Father has connected us to Christ, you and all other believers are holy and blameless; so that if Christ returned right now he would say to you without hesitation, “Come, blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
St. Paul hands you another gift, adoption. God predestined you for adoption. Sometimes, TV stations run efforts encouraging adoption of children into a forever family so the kids do not have to be moved from foster family to foster family. And they try to show the best sides of the children and their likes, their gifts and abilities. The Father adopted you into his forever family, not because of anything that you could bring to enrich the family, but according to the purpose of his will in Jesus Christ. By grace you are a member of His worldwide forever family, chosen from eternity. You also live in that family now, and learn how to live a blameless life before God and one another even here on earth, bringing a bit more of heaven to earth.
Now let’s take a look at the gifts Jesus has added to the drift. You see, whatever God the Father is engaged in doing, Jesus is involved too. We heard the twelve years old Jesus say to his mother, “Did you not know I must be about the things of my Father.” Reaching into the gift drift we pull out, “Redemption,” the gift that keeps on giving. He has ransomed us, delivered us. We stood in God’s court lost and condemned creatures, guilty as charged, under God’s judgment. But according to God’s plan, His beloved Son stepped forward and paid the price of our freedom with his own blood and freed us for life.
With redemption comes another gift. The “forgiveness of trespasses.” Forgiveness means to remove and send away. The psalmist writes, “As far as the East is from the West.” An image out of my youthful years of readings comics comes to mind. It’s the scene of Superman grabbing some death dealing explosive just in the nick of time and hurling it into space.
Christ does the same with our trespasses. In Greek trespasses mean to fall off the right path. The psalmist declares, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.” However, there are times when we fall off the path. A member of a Friday morning Bible class I teach, was in Nepal last April to climb to the base camp on Mt Everest 18,000 feet up. They were in Nepal when the earthquake struck. But to get to the base camp they had to climb a path cut into the mountainsides. They shared the same path that villagers used to get supplies up the mountains, either on their own backs or by Yaks. Crevasses are crossed on hanging bridges. To stumble and fall off that path was certain death. Paul writes of being dead in trespasses and sins. You and I stumble and fall off the Lord’s upright paths and can’t find our way back up. Christ shed his blood to save us from stumbling off the Lord’s path onto a path which only leads to our destruction. Christ puts us back on the paths of His Father’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
Another gift enclosed with the gift of redemption is to see what God has been up to all this time. God has a purpose for the drift of gifts. They lead to the wisdom and the insight into God’s plan to put back together the whole universe which was shattered when Adam and Eve ate the fatal fruit. Everyone was set against everyone else. The earth and all creation was thrown out of kilter. Paul writes to the Romans, “For we know that the whole creation (including you and me) has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” As we eagerly wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies, “as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in things in heaven and things on earth.”
But how can we be sure? Well as we pick through the last of the drift of gifts we see one with the tag, “To you, from the Holy Spirit.” These gifts are guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. You have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit, as a down payment on the gift of being chosen by God, chosen to be holy and blameless, chosen for adoption into God’s eternal family, our trespasses removed and sent away, banished. The whole drift of gifts are on a lay away plan, stored in the heavenly places to be revealed in the fullness of God’s plan.
All of it to the praise of the glorious grace of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Tiny Tim said in the conclusion of Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, “God bless us, Everyone One!” And so He has.