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“All I Want for Christmas: Joy”
Luke 1: 46-56
December 19, 2021
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Last week I mentioned some of the Christmas car commercials that are my pet peeves at this time of year because of their commercialization of Christmas. So this week, I want to tell about one of my favorite Christmas commercials. It features a little boy with tousled hair and big brown eyes who is having difficulty waiting for Christmas. There’s no speaking in the commercial, just music playing in the background as we see the little boy looking eagerly at the December calendar, watching the hands on the clock barely move, and tossing and turning in bed at night. His parents are observing his behavior, and it appears to them, and to us, that he can hardly wait for Christmas Day, so that he can open his gifts.
When at last Christmas morning finally dawns, the little boy throws back his covers and springs out of bed and runs—not to his presents under the tree, but to his closet! There he carefully removes a package, clearly wrapped with a child’s hand, its paper bunched and wrinkled and the bow a little crooked, and with a triumphant smile, he takes it and goes to wake up his parents, and we realize-----we were wrong! He was not anticipating Santa’s presents, but was overjoyed for Christmas to arrive so that he could give his gift to his mom and dad.
What a wonderful message of the spirit of Christmas—a spirit that knows it is better to give than to receive, a spirit of love and generosity and selflessness. Every week during the season of Advent, we have been considering the gifts of God born into the world in Christ, gifts represented in the Advent themes of HOPE, PEACE, LOVE and JOY. Each Sunday we have unwrapped the meaning of one of these themes. Today is the last Sunday of Advent, and today we open up the gift of joy. There is nothing that brings more joy to our hearts than sharing God’s love with others, as we see in our scripture text from Luke’s gospel.
This is one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament. It picks up where last week’s text ended. Last week, we read about Mary being visited by the angel Gabriel, who announced that she would bear the Son of God. Gabriel told Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who had been barren, was now expecting a child, concluding, “Nothing is impossible with God.” We can imagine that after that message, Mary would want to hurry to visit Elizabeth, and indeed that is exactly where we find her today. “In haste,” the passage says, Mary went to visit Elizabeth, and at Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in Elizabeth’s womb! It is an image of joy, as Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, said, “The mother of my Lord has come to me, and as soon as I heard your greeting, the child in my womb jumped for joy!”
Mary’s response is a song that has become known as the Magnificat; it is a song of joy! Mary praised God for what God has done for her, favoring her to bear the Lord, but her song of praise expands to encompass all that the child will do. It is a song of joy that God has remembered God’s promises, and that God acts for God’s people. In Christ, all the world’s wrongs will be righted, all the sorrows cease, the hungry will be fed, the downtrodden lifted up and injustices made right.
When we think of all we want for Christmas, aren’t these things that are close to our hearts? A time of well-being and peace and plenty for all. What an image of joy!
But what does it mean for us, that long-ago song of Mary; what does it mean for us, preparing our hearts for Christ’s arrival, on this last Sunday in Advent, seeking to be ready for Christmas? It means that if we want to welcome Christ aright, our lives will reflect what we see in this passage. We will have the same kind of concern for the poor, the lowly, the meek, the powerless, that Jesus himself did. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors even as we love ourselves. When one human being suffers, we all suffer. God has created us in such a way that when we do not understand this, we have no joy. Pleasure, perhaps. Fleeting satisfaction that comes from material possessions. But not the true, deep, abiding sense of joy that comes from the heart of God. That joy is a gift we receive when we share God’s love with others.
In the first week of December, the Session and Deacons held their annual joint meeting. As our Clerk of Session and I were preparing for the meeting, she suggested something that I thought was a wonderful idea: using our Advent themes as an opportunity to reflect and give thanks for what God is doing in and through the church to bring Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. What they said about JOY bears witness to the truth of this passage. What brought them joy was being part of Christ’s work of filling the hungry and lifting up the lowly, showing mercy and compassion.
One thing that many officers mentioned was our collection for SERVE during the pandemic. For those who may not know, SERVE is a non-profit ministry that provides food assistance, shelter for the homeless, and a multitude of other services. For many years, MPC members brought food donations on Sunday mornings, which Mission Team members then delivered to SERVE. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Mission Team realized the needs would be greater than ever, but how to collect donations with no in-person worship? The Team came up with the idea of donation drop offs: every other Sunday from 1:00 – 2:00, Mission Team members would be in the church parking lot to receive drop-off donations for SERVE.
They could not have anticipated how successful this would be! During the pandemic, MPC has collected over 37,000 pounds of food. That amount is more than the total amount the church collected in the seven years from 2013-2019! At the officers meeting, again and again people talked about the joy they received from knowing they were helping feed the hungry. But not only that, the collections provided the opportunity to see fellow church members at a time when almost everything was shut down. In fact, two people referred to it as a tailgate party! People brought folding chairs and sat outside, socially distanced, but able to talk and laugh and have fellowship. One person said that even when she did not get out of her car, it kept her from feeling isolated, provided a sense of purpose, and brought great joy.
Another thing that the officers said brought joy was volunteering with Serving Our Neighbors, another ministry taking place in our parking lot, as the SON mobile unit provides services to homeless people. How rewarding to be able to lift up these people and provide help and hope.
At last Sunday’s Advent Festival, we collected 458 items for SON---waterproof gloves, warm hats, scarves, hand-warmers, and so on. An officer talked about what a joy it was take these items to SON last week, along with homemade cookies and cider, and said the people were ecstatic to receive them.
One officer described the joy in taking the hats and scarves knitted by our prayer shawl group to the local schools, and the delight in seeing how grateful the people were. The same was true with the clothing the Deacons have been collecting for the Manassas Baptist clothing closet---the joy in delivering those items and seeing how they were really needed and appreciated.
One of our Deacons who volunteers with BEACON, teaching adult literacy and English language, shared the joy in seeing how BEACON not only survived Covid, but has more students this winter than any time in the past! What a joy to provide space and volunteers for this wonderful ministry!
Finally, the officers concluded that it brought great joy to see how during all of the challenges of the past two years, people stepped up to help, taking leadership roles, giving a tremendous amount of time, finding different and creative ways of continuing old ministries and beginning new ministries. Truly the blessings of giving are so much greater than receiving.
God created us in such a way that when we take part in God’s good work, there is nothing that brings more joy. When we join Christ in lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry, we are doing what we were created to do. We find meaning, purpose and fulfillment in being part of God’s work, and God smiles upon us.
One of my favorite Christmas stories has always been Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The story centers on the character of Scrooge, a miserly person who had no thought for anyone but himself. When the ghost of his departed business partner, Marley, visited him with a dire warning to change his ways, Scrooge protested that Marley had been a good business man! Marley, ringing his hands responded, “Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.
“...Why did I walk through crowds of fellow beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
“I am here tonight” he said, “to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.”
You know the story: Scrooge was visited by three ghosts, and each of those visits cracked open his hard heart, just a little, and a little more, until at last, he saw the needs of those around him. The thing that touched him most was seeing the suffering of the family of his employee, Bob Cratchitt, especially the child Tiny Tim.
When Scrooge awoke the next morning to find it was Christmas day, he was a changed man. He flung open his window with joy! His first act was to send a turkey for the Cratchitt family’s Christmas dinner. Soon after, Scrooge himself followed.
“A merry Christmas!” he greeted the Cratchitts. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of [cheer]!”
And in the actions of Ebeneezer Scrooge, as the song of Mary said, the proud became humble, the lowly were lifted up, and the hungry were filled with good things.
When the story began, Scrooge was one of the rich, the proud, the powerful. And he was brought low, but not in a way meant for his destruction or humiliation! No, God is always working for good, for redemption. And so Scrooge was brought low as Jesus himself was low: Scrooge set aside position and humbled himself, and gave what he had to raise up those who were lowly. And Christmas came.
Christmas came to the Cratchitts, whose needs were met, and Christmas came to Scrooge, whose heart was changed, and who found joy at last.
The book says, Scrooge “became as good a friend and as good a [boss] and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them....His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him.”
The story ends, “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’”1
My friends, humanity is, indeed, our business, because humanity is the business of Jesus Christ. As Mary’s song proclaims, he came into the world to enact God’s love, to bring down the powerful and lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. And so when we share his love with others, we are joining Christ in his work, and our hearts laugh; there is no greater joy.
On this last Sunday of Advent, we give thanks for these gifts that came into the world with Christ: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. With grateful hearts, let us receive these gifts, and then let us be blessed by sharing them with others, that the whole world might know the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen and amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church