by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

January, 2022

Last month, for the first Sunday of Advent, Pastor Kim preached about the innkeeper in the story of Jesus’ birth. She pointed out that the innkeeper is often portrayed as mean or callous, forcing the Holy Family to stay in the stable (Luke 2:6-7). But what, she asked, if, instead of making them stay in the stable, he let them stay in the stable? There may not have been anywhere else to stay and the stable would have been the best accommodations available. The Upper Room devotional for Christmas Day said much the same thing.

During a subsequent email exchange with Pastor Kim, it occurred to me that the first gift given to the Christ child might not have been from the “wise men” (Matt. 2:11) but from the innkeeper. That would mean the first gift wasn’t frankincense, gold, or myrrh but shelter. And that is a very different perspective because while frankincense, gold, and myrrh are gifts for royalty, shelter is a gift for a common person. It’s a basic human need. You and I can relate.

Afterward, I wondered about other times when someone gave something, perhaps something ordinary, to Jesus. I had already written a “Person-2-Person” for December, but I resolved to hold onto that idea for January, and so I have. I reread the gospels and realized that, even before he and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph chose to give Jesus—and Mary—a gift I hadn’t considered, the gift of a stable, two parent family. Joseph could have abandoned Mary, however kindly, leaving her to the mercies of her family and the larger community, but he didn’t. We’re told that he “. . . was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace [Mary] publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” (Matt. 1:19b New Living Translation). But an angel came to him in a dream (vs. 20-23) and he relented (vs. 24). I have nothing but respect for single parents but being a single parent—and especially a single mother—was a much bigger “deal” in Jesus’ time than it is today. Joseph didn’t allow that to happen to Mary. He became a father for a child he knew wasn’t his own.

Later in Jesus’ life, John gave him his baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). The disciples gave him their faith and trust (Matt. 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:8-11; John 1:35-51). Peter’s mother-in-law fed Jesus and his disciples after he healed her (Matt. 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39). Martha also gave Jesus and the disciples a meal on at least two occasions (Luke 10:38-42; John 12:1-2). Crowds gave him their time and faith. A boy gave him five loaves and two fish, which Jesus multiplied to feed thousands (John 6:8-14). Nicodemus the Pharisee brought his questions to Jesus, which might be considered a gift (John 3:1-21) because he brought enough trust to believe Jesus would have the answers he sought. And later, he defended Jesus before the other Jewish rulers (John 8:50-51). A woman who may have been Mary, the sister of Lazarus, gave him a gift by anointing his feet or head with perfumed oil (Matt. 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8). Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and other women gave Jesus and the disciples financial support (Luke 8:1-3). And, of course, he foretold that other disciples would give food, drink, hospitality, clothing, care, and companionship, even though they didn’t know it at the time (Matt. 25:31-46). Before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the owner of a house gave him and the disciples the use of a room where they could observe the Passover (Matt. 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). And at the end of Jesus’ earthly life, Joseph of Arimathea gave him his tomb (Matt. 27:57-60; Mark 15:42-46; Luke 23:50-54).

What gift can you and I bring? The final verse of the Advent hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” tells us, “What can I give him, poor as I am? / If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; / if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; / yet what I can I give him: give my heart.” We can do that by welcoming someone into our “family,” as Joseph did. We can provide shelter, as the innkeeper might have done. We can bring our adoration, as the shepherds did, or our faith, as the disciples did, or our time, as the crowds did. We can bring our questions, and defend what we believe, as Nicodemus did. We can give what we have, as the boy with fish and loaves did, and as the women did. And we can follow Jesus’ admonition to do for “‘the least of these my brothers and sisters,’” which applies to us today. If we truly wish to give a gift to Christ, we can give it to one of them.

“‘And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”’” (Matt. 25:40 NLT.)

Copyright © 2022 by David Phelps