‘Tis already the season of gratitude and gift giving. No kidding, the day after Halloween, I was in a local thrift store and Christmas music was playing on the soundtrack. I flinched a bit, but surprisingly, since I liked the song, I found myself humming along, while trying to remind myself that it wasn’t even Advent yet. Stores play the music to get us all into the holiday spirit and sometimes it works. We start thinking about what to get our best friend or our neighbor, or the most difficult person to buy for on our list.
Almost everyone has that one person on his or her list who is difficult to buy for. He already has “it,” or she doesn’t need anything at all, or he would probably return whatever is being offered, or she never gives out any hints but is easily disappointed.
Is there someone on your list who is difficult to shop for? Or is there are person whom you know who doesn’t generally like gifts or the gift-giving that comes with holidays or birthdays?
Or perhaps it is really hard for you to receive a gift for some past reason or some innate personality quirk?
As we enter this season of gratitude and gift giving, what are the traditions around gift giving in your household? We’ve known last minute gifts, necessary gifts, gifts that are more about us than about the recipient (though we know that it should be the reverse) and gifts that we get because they are a good deal—on sale and lovely to boot. How do you decide what gift to give?
Our passage from Micah asks a very legitimate question. How do we love God? Though it may sound like an abstract question, actually it isn’t; today’s scripture asks it in another way, “What should we bring before God? What, if anything, does God require?”
What gift do we bring before the God of Heaven and Earth and all that IS? It’s a funny question because if God has everything God needs then our gifts would seem superfluous. I mean, what do we get the One who has everything in the Universe and who could just make it in 6 days or less, if she lacked anything at all?
We read of some initial gift suggestions, by Micah, as if the Creator of All were reading the latest Gift Giving Guide in Oprah (entitled “Some Things We Just Love,”) or listening to a professional merchandise consultant on the Today Show. With what shall I come before God? Micah lists the potential suggestions for the mid-to late 8th century BCE. They are in the form of rhetorical questions:
Shall I bring a truckload of frozen veal? Thankfully, no, God doesn’t require calves whether dead or alive.
Shall I bring thousands of rams? Again, thankfully, no. In Micah’s day, thousands of rams was hyperbole because no one had that much livestock and the means to feed them, and besides, where would you even put such an offering?
What about thousands of rivers of oil? Micah asks. Unfortunately, in our day, some of our less ecologically minded mortals are actually spilling oil into rivers thinking that it pleases God; however, Micah was again using hyperbole for a commodity of his day.
And then, there is that terrible suggestion: What about offering my firstborn, the fruit of my body for whatever sin I have done? In the 8th century BCE, this was a very real proposition. Human sacrifice was practiced in Judah under kings Ahaz and Manasseh.
Another way to say this would be to draw upon that particular human conversation with God that pierces us to the bone when we have a tragedy happen—“Oh, God, did you do this to me because I did ‘X’? Did you take person that I loved because I didn’t love you enough?” When we are struggling to accept a loss over which we had no control, we might instead choose to imagine or theologically force that control. We might imagine that God “took” our beloved because of something we did or something we inadvertently failed to do. But Micah actually refutes that here. God does not want our firstborn, our lastborn, our middle child, or our beloved in trade for some kind of sin that we committed or some omission on our part.
But if these gift-giving ideas aren’t appealing to God, then what exactly is? In Micah, God desires a gift of the experience-kind. Read any “simplifying lifestyle” or “minimalist living guide” and you may be persuaded to consider gifting an “experience” versus a thing that will simply sit, gather dust, or rot. So, to the person who has everything or who doesn’t need another trinket, we gift two passes to the movies, or an hour of cleaning, or dinner out, or a day pass to a spa somewhere special. One time I got the brilliant idea of giving my mother a gift certificate for a massage. Let’s just say it wasn’t really a hit…but how was I supposed to know? I could imagine God enjoying a back massage after dealing with earthquakes, fires, and the all-around hatred and violence of mortals. But my mother? Apparently NOT.
No, God actually wants our love. Or to be more specific: God wants to see our love in action.
But what does this “divine-human-love-in-action” look like?
Well, Micah says, it looks like this: doing justice, loving kindness (or mercy), and walking humbly alongside God.
That is THE #1 gift that our difficult-to-buy-for-God really wants. That is the gift toward which Christ’s church should strive.
Today, when we consecrate our pledges, we are saying with our commitments that we will love God not only in words, but in action. With these pledges, we are helping the church to embody the values of doing justice in our community and in the world, of our practicing loving kindness and extending mercy to others, including the stranger. And we are giving a gift of the experience-sort, by saying that we will walk hand-in-hand and humbly with each other and with God on this journey.
In so many words, we come before God with our love and we offer it as a gift.
Does God need our love? Does the church need your love and commitment?
You decide. But would it be too much to believe that our love is a kind of energy that helps to reflect and magnify God’s gifts? Would it be too much to believe that together we amplify those values that contribute to healthy human and Divine relationships? Would it be hyperbole to consider that this year, together, we could make God’s eyes shine with joy?
 See Book of Micah in The HarperCollins Study Bible: NRSV. Footnoted reference pg 1388 and 2 Kings 16:3 and 2 Kings 21:6.