Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash – 4th Sunday in Advent: December 18. Luke 2:15-20; John 3:16
Today is the fourth Sunday of Advent, next week we will gather for worship to celebrate the birth of Jesus the newborn king.
These last four weeks we have spent in a season of expectation and hope. It is also a season of following — a time when we travel along with the Holy Family as they struggle with the hardships of peasant life in first-century Palestine. The Christmas story, as we have come to know it, includes much drama and tension, and we might even say absurdity.
The drama of Christmas begins in anxiety. An unplanned pregnancy is followed by an imperial summons to Bethlehem. Along the way there are mysterious angelic interventions, improvised accommodations for birth and royal orders of infanticide. Yet, in the midst of such challenging conditions,// newness and promise overflow. There is a father’s word of prophecy, a mother’s song of revolution, gift-toting wise men and praise-filled shepherds. Yes, the long hoped for Messiah will arrive — but not quite as we had expected, another point of absurdity.
When the Shepherds headed into town to see the Messiah I can imagine the whispering that might have taken place. “Did I hear correctly Eli, did the angel say, the sign is a baby that was born in Bethlehem?” Another shepherd says to the guy behind him, did that angel say, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord?” A baby born// is the Messiah we have been waiting for, it’s absurd!!
Each year as we get ready to close Advent night, the highlight of the evening comes when kids and adults alike are all sugared up and we sing together “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As we were singing this year I got to thinking,// I wonder how much it costs to purchase all those gifts? Have you ever wondered about that?// You may not be surprised, but I was, to find out that for more than 30 years PNC bank has calculated the prices of the 12 gifts from this song.
Take a guess at the total cost of purchasing all the gifts mentioned in the “12 Days of Christmas” song… This holiday extravaganza would cost $34,363 this year, an increase of just 0.7% from last year. The Consumer Price Index has risen about twice as fast, at 1.7% over the past 12 months.
The gift with the biggest price hike was the cost of two turtledoves ($375), which spiked 29 percent due to a shortage of the birds. Rising wages also drove up prices, with the cost of 11 pipers piping ($2,708) and 12 drummers drumming ($2,934) rising 2.8 percent this year. Granted, I don’t know where you would find them, but they are very expensive.
At $210, a partridge in a pear tree saw the biggest price decline this year. The cost of partridges fell to $20, thanks to an increase in supply. The cost of the pear tree ticked lower as well. While gold prices have gone up and down significantly over the past five years, the cost of five golden rings has held steady at $750.
All these extravagant gifts are for a true love. As a matter of fact the Hallmark Channel is showing a movie centered around these gifts to a beloved. Still, the real message of Christmas is not the gifts that we give to each other. Rather, it is a reminder of the gift that God has given to each of us. We are God’s true love, you are God’s true love.
This gift of love keeps on giving. This gift comes in the birth of a baby and the death of a man who gives his whole life to and for us. Jesus comes as forgiving love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” In that gift of forgiving love also comes eternal life.
As we think about God’s gift of forgiving love, there are a few things I’d call to your attention:
First, it is surprising. As Christmas approaches, we may try to figure out if a certain person has bought that gift we really wanted. Maybe you already know what they bought, because they didn’t hide it very well. Or maybe you uncovered it by accident-or maybe not.
But when the day comes and you open the present, you have to pretend you’re surprised. Even though all along, you knew what it was.
God’s gift to us, however, was a complete surprise. The shepherds had no idea it was coming when the heavenly host appeared with the news. When a gift is not expected, you examine it more carefully, you realize how great a gift it actually is. God’s forgiving love that comes to us in Jesus is a surprise. We don’t deserve it, we haven’t asked for it and yet God knows we need it.
Second, God’s gift comes to us in the humblest of wrappings. What would you think if you saw a gift under your Christmas tree that was wrapped in newspaper and tied up with string? At first, you might assume that a guy wrapped it. But think about God’s gift to us. Jesus was not born in a palace of gold; He was born in a stable. He was clothed with rags. He was laid in a feeding trough. When the shepherds arrived this is how they found the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Yet these things do not, in any way, diminish the story of Christ’s birth. If anything, they help us realize the great sacrifice God made for us. God’s gift to humanity, the ultimate gift of forgiving love and eternal life through Jesus Christ, came in the simplest and humblest of wrappings.
Third, we don’t deserve this gift, we haven’t earned this gift. At Christmas, we give gifts to those whom we care about, who have been kind to us over the past year, or who have given us a gift first. We don’t give gifts to the person who has been slandering our name or to the angry neighbor who never has a kind word to say. Yet God gave us the gift of Jesus when we were not in good relationship. God didn’t give this gift to us because we deserved it.
Fourth, the gift tells us something about the giver. When you want to give someone a gift, you start thinking about it ahead of time. Hopefully, you try to find what that person wants or needs. When God decided to give us the gift of forgiving love, it wasn’t something that God just thought of on the spur of the moment. Long before there was a town called Bethlehem, a garden called Eden, and a planet called Earth, a decision was made in eternity that God would send forth His Son, born of a woman, made under the law, to redeem those that are under the law.
Christmas isn’t about those gifts that we have our trees right now. (They are fun but) Christmas is about knowing the God who made us and who gave us the greatest gift we will ever receive. Forgiving love and eternal life, that sets us free. This forgiving love is a glorious vision; yet, somehow strangely absurd.
As we move through this final week of Advent it is my prayer for all of us that we will make room in our hearts for God. Advent waiting is a movement of the soul in which we make room in our hearts for God and one another. The words forgiveness and love set us on a steady path toward receiving the Christ Child this Christmas. This is the steady and true path; where we forgive ourselves and others, reconcile those spirits at odds with one another, and above all fill our lives with joy and wonder in God.
If there is room in our hearts for God there is room then for the Spirit of God to heal and guide us as we step across the threshold of a new year and maybe even a new life in Christ.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” John 3:16