A Word from Our Pastor 2010 January Gifts


The end of one year and the beginning of the next is often a time of thanking people, especially for all the gifts and kindnesses we have been shown during the holidays. Each of us has been taught how to respond to gifts. Some of us were taught the Japanese custom never to open a gift in front of the giver — as I was. Even now, I have to be reminded that many people are disappointed if you do not open the gift in front of them. All of us know what it feels like to struggle over finding the right gift for someone we care about, and the disappointment we feel if we discover that the gift was not pleasing. As children, we are told over and over again, “it’s the thought that counts”, so we should appreciate in our hearts and with our words the effort and generosity of the persons who give us gifts. Also, for many of us, thank-you cards are absolutely required, and must be sent before too many days go by. How many of you as parents stood over young children, making sure that the thank-you card was written?
But how are we supposed to respond to the gifts we receive from God? The first problem is to become aware of how much in our lives are a gift from God — the blessings of food, safety, family, home. The times when we find meaning in our suffering, when we realize how much love we feel for someone who has passed away, or when we have the opportunity to take care of someone who is in physical, spiritual or emotional need: these, too, are gifts from God. Through prayer we can hope to be able to see all the ways in which God loves us through our everyday lives, and of course, in prayer we can thank God.
In the story of Jesus, we find another way of thanking God. In Luke 2:22-39, Mary and Joseph were careful to follow Jewish regulations, and took Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem (probably a four or five day journey) to dedicate him to God’s service. (To be dedicated to God’s service did not necessarily mean the priesthood or other formal role — to go to the Temple was an act of intention like we have in baptism, where the parents demonstrate before the community their willingness to raise the child to be faithful to God). The practice of dedicating the firstborn son was an expression of the belief that the first fruits of the womb (or the field) belonged to God. This dedication was done in remembrance and thanksgiving that during the deliverance from Egypt the firstborn of the Hebrews were spared (Exodus 13:11-16). It was a reminder that we do not “own” our children, but they are a gift from God, to fulfill God’s purposes. This was an act of thanks which acknowledged God’s generosity by dedicating the use of the gift (in this case, a child) to God.
So, in light of the many gifts we receive from God, what kind of action, in addition to prayer, can we take to express our thanks? What can we do that God might “appreciate”? What in our lives can we dedicate to God?
There is a famous answer to this question from the book of the prophet Micah. It was written to remind people what was really important. This is a critique of outward acts of thanksgiving — people were just doing what was required, but no more, like a thank-you card with a sentiment that does not come from the heart.
“What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship? Shall I bring the best calves to burn as offerings to him? Will the Lord be pleased if I bring him thousands of sheep or endless streams of olive oil? [These were typical sacrifices that people brought to the temple to show their faithfulness to God]. Shall I dedicate my firstborn child to pay for my sins?
No, the Lord has told us what is good. What God requires of us is this: to do what is just [or, “to love justice”]; to show mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
(Micah: 6:6-8)
How might you show your gratitude to God?

Rev. Naomi