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Sunday, December 25, 2016

12242016 Christmas Eve Early Service - "Are you ready for Christmas?"

December 24, 2016
Are you ready for Christmas?  Have you prepared your heart for the Greatest Gift?
Tonight we gather on the holiest of nights for the church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  Our families have travelled for many miles to ‘come home’.  The house smells with all the preparations for the celebration of Christmas, with freshly baked cookies and pies, hot punch, hams and turkeys ready to be prepared and devoured with all the traditional trimmings.
The church has been decorated, the wreaths placed around the altar and here in the sanctuary.  The lights have been lit, in the window sills, on the altar and very soon in our very hands as we sing our traditional hymn of “Silent Night”.
For some tonight Wal-Mart is the last stop before heading home for the night, because there is one item needed for the feast or one last gift that needs to be bought and wrapped.  Yet, the question remains, “Are you ready for Christmas?” 
Once there was a child that grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  He came from a family of hard coal mining workers, but the family barely scraped by.  One particular Christmas Eve the young boy had attended the early service at his church, since he only lived a few doors down from the church.  After the service, knowing he hadn’t placed anything in the plate when it was passed by, this young man so moved by the Christmas experience, returned to the open church with his beat up red wagon with his favorite nite-nite blanket.
Hours later, the Pastor returned and began to prepare for the late service.  To his great horror, he found that Baby Jesus had been stolen from the manger scene by the altar.  Thinking that one of the elders had placed Him in the choir loft in preparation for the procession, the pastor dashed and searched for the priceless piece of art.  As he on bended knee looked under every pew, he heard the thud of the heavy wooden doors and the squeak of a small figure with a little red wagon.
Frozen in time and space, unable to move, the Pastor on bended knee watched the small boy move quickly to the front of the church.  Unmistakably the small boy lifted out of the blanket the Baby Jesus and the Pastor heard this quick exchange.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t give any money this evening, but I hope you were warm enough when I took you out to see the stars.  I love you Baby Jesus.”  Quietly he kissed the figure and placed the wrapped Baby Jesus back in the manger and quickly left.
Still on his knees in awe, the Pastor understood that what he had just witnessed was the purest preparation for this Holy Night.  You see, tonight is not about gifts that will go under the tree, food that will be cooked in the oven, nor about the lights that our houses are decked with.  The question we need to ask ourselves, “Have you prepared your heart for the Greatest Gift?”  You see the greatest gift that we celebrate is the gift of Jesus Christ.  The preparation of our hearts isn’t about what is under the tree or in our ovens, but have we prepared our hearts for Jesus?
Jesus Christ Whom we find tonight in the manger is laid in the manger, because there was no room in the inn.  Jesus Christ, Who is laid in the manger freely walked on this earth to the Cross of Calvary in order to die.  Jesus Christ Who is laid in the manger took on Human form and willingly comes to offer us eternal life.  Jesus Christ, Who is laid in the manger tonight is clearly and unmistakably the Greatest Gift ever given.
Since Jesus Christ is the Greatest Gift, I return to the question, “Have you prepared your heart for the Greatest Gift?”  For the Greatest Gift has been prepared for you from the beginning of time, and no matter our home or personal preparation, it is not enough.  Simply, Jesus Christ came to offer us freely the Greatest Gift of eternal life.  Tonight, it is my prayer that we may receive the Greatest Gift Given in Jesus Christ and feel His Love, that we might receive the Forgiveness He clearly offers us with His presence in our lives, but especially in each and every one of our hearts.  For tonight we celebrate Jesus Christ entrance in a manger, but really tonight we receive the Greatest Gift with His entrance into each and every one of our hearts.  AMEN.

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