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“All I Want for Christmas: Love”
Luke 1: 26-38
December 12, 2021
Third Sunday of Advent
Every December, a pet peeve of mine are the Christmas car commercials. Of all the ways marketers corrupt the meaning of Christmas, the auto ads have been the most egregious. Instead of focusing on giving to others, these commercials typically have featured people gifting themselves with luxury vehicles, like the one showing an elegant woman gazing out the window at her new vehicle and commenting, “I really shouldn’t have. But I have been awfully good this year.” Last year, at the height of the deadly pandemic, arguably the most offensive ad was the “one for you, one for me,” commercial. Do you remember that one? It depicts a husband drinking coffee in the kitchen, when his wife walks in and places two expensive watches on the counter: “I did some early shopping,” she says. “One for you and one for me!” “I love it,” the man replies. “I did some early shopping, too!” He leads his wife outside their multimillion-dollar home, and there at the front door are two new vehicles, a blue truck and a red SUV. “One for you and one for me,” he says.
Last year’s ads elicited a roar of protest at the insensitivity those marketers demonstrated. So this year, they’re using a different approach.
Ford depicts a rugged looking Santa driving an 18 wheel-car carrier loaded with top-of-the line trucks and SUVS, which he drops off in driveways to the delight of families.
In a Mercedes commercial, Mrs. Clause saves the day by driving her sparkling red Mercedes G-class through the snow to deliver a puppy that Santa forgot to put in his pack, while a hopeful little girl watches through her window.
Lexus, which typically has the most crassly commercial ads of all with their “December to Remember” spots, also has opted for cute kids instead of wealthy couples this year.
One ad shows a carload of kids decorating their town square, and another features an adorable little girl who creates a lighted runway in front of the house for Santa’s sleigh. The next morning, when a new sedan is parked in the space, she squeals, “It worked! It worked!”
While these ads picturing the bright smiles of children might at first seem to be more in line with the spirit of the season, in fact it shows that—after the fierce pushback last year--- the automakers have simply become more savvy, trying to pull at our heartstrings by commercializing cute. But really, how many children you know are longing for a new Mercedes or Lexus for Christmas?
With this kind of commercialism, is it any wonder so many people are confused about the true meaning of Christmas? As our Prayer of Confession said this morning, too often, even those of us who are Christians buy into the culture of consumerism. We allow marketing to define meaning, confuse what is expensive with what is valuable. During the season of Advent, we should remember that love is not a commodity that can be purchased. Love is born in the heart of God, given to us as a gift, a gift we do not deserve and can never earn, but that God gives us anyway, because the very nature of God is love.
This is the third Sunday we have been looking at the theme, “All I Want for Christmas: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy.” Each Sunday we are opening up these gifts from God to us, and today we unwrap the gift of love.
Psychologists have surveyed people about the phrase they most long to hear. It probably won’t surprise you that at the top of the list are the words, “I love you.”2 We all long to know that we are loved, that someone cares about us, that we are valued and valuable. In a world where sociologists say loneliness has become an epidemic, we need the love of God more than ever.
God sent Jesus into the world to show us how much God loves us. In our passage today, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary to tell her that she will bear God’s son. The opening sentence of the passage ties back to the story of John the Baptist: “In the sixth month,” it says----that is, the sixth month after Elizabeth conceived John----Gabriel is sent on another mission, with news of another birth! This time, Gabriel journeys to the small town of Nazareth, to a virgin named Mary.
Gabriel meets Mary with the words, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!” To say that Mary is perplexed is no doubt a great understatement. Verse 29 says, “She pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
These are words for us to consider this Advent season. What does it mean to be favored by God? What does it mean, “The Lord is with you?” For Mary, it meant that among all women she was honored to bear the Son of God. The long-awaited Messiah, who would be seated on the throne of David, whose kingdom would have no end, would be born to this ordinary young woman.
Mary immediately grasped the problem with the angel’s announcement: she was not yet married, which had a multitude of implications. She surely knew that this event would turn her life inside out and upside down, yet to receive this gift of love would be to surmount all obstacles, for as the angel said, “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
One theologian said, the interaction between Mary and Gabriel is not so much “divine imposition” as one in which “Gabriel and God and all the heavens stand in breathless suspense. All history, the salvation of the world, now seems to hang on this one young woman’s answer. . . To me it seems as if her yes has transfigured the story,” he said, “for now it hinges on her word, her participation and presence in the drama. That’s the kind of story the Bible repeatedly tells.”1
Mary was given a choice. Would she receive or reject God’s gift of love? What if she had been too busy or too preoccupied or too afraid to hear the angel’s message? What if she had refused to allow Christ to be born within her? What if she, like so many of us, had been confused about what is most important?
Receiving the Christ-child surely was not the way to wealth or status or popularity. It was a gift unwanted and at first unwelcome. An unmarried woman becoming “with child” was unacceptable and could have cost her her engagement, her fiancé, her future. Even if Joseph proceeded with the marriage, surely there would be whispers and sideways glances. If Mary valued the things of the world, if she longed for approval from her peers or status among the religious, if she wanted her family and friends to look on her with favor, she would not have chosen this path, a path that would set her apart, make her different, would complicate her life.
Yet despite the problems her status presented, Mary accepted the news with faith. “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” And with that acceptance, the angel departed from her. To our knowledge, she was given no more information, no detailed playbook, no blueprint to follow. She simply opened her heart and her life to receive God’s gift.
With Mary’s response, the gift of love born in her became a gift for all of us. Jesus came to show us God’s love. God loves us so much that God did not leave us on our own, but came to be with us in the most intimate way possible: by putting on flesh and coming to be Emmanuel, God who lives with us. And so the angel’s message for Mary becomes God’s message to us: “Greetings favored ones! The Lord is with you!” We are favored, because God is with us, each and every one of us; Emmanuel never leaves us alone but continues to love us and to help us love others, every day.
What the world needs most is the gift of love. Nothing else can take love’s place. No expensive gift, no luxury vehicle, no precious piece of jewelry, not the latest electronic gadget or must-have toy, will take the place of love.
Timothy Merrill, the editor of the preaching journal Homiletics, shared that a few years ago, he and his wife ordered a hand-carved nativity scene created by a Chinese woodcarver. They looked forward with great anticipation to receiving the nativity, and when it arrived, they unpacked all the carefully wrapped pieces---Mary and Joseph, shepherds and sheep, wise men and angels---but they could not find the baby Jesus. They went through all the wrappings again and sifted through the Styrofoam peanuts until, he said, their living room looked like a UPS shipping office. But Jesus was missing.
They contacted the woodcarver, who told them that he had discontinued the baby Jesus, because “customers invariably lost the little baby.”
Merrill pondered that thought. How easy it is to lose the baby Jesus. Even those of us who are Christians can lose sight of him, even in this time of year. The article I read said, “It’s not that we’re secularists who want nothing to do with Jesus. That’s not us. The problem is that we’ve momentarily lost [him].”
“He’s so easy to lose, after all,” Merrill said. “There’s nothing malicious about it. People don’t intend to lose Jesus...In fact, they probably made a commitment to keep Jesus, and put Jesus front and center where he belongs.
“But he got lost. Somehow, we weren’t paying attention. Perhaps he was set aside to make room for other elements of the scene, and the intention was to return him to his rightful place in our lives.
“But it didn’t happen.
“However, it can happen. We can return Jesus to his rightful place,” by remembering the true meaning of the season.3
My friends, let’s not lose the baby Jesus this year. Let’s not let the commercialization of Christmas crowd out the Christ-child. Without Jesus, there is no meaning to this season, and it becomes just another Hallmark holiday, an opportunity to line the pockets of big business.
But with Jesus---with Jesus we have all we could want for Christmas. With Jesus, we have the gift of God’s love that came to dwell with us and is with us still. With Jesus, the angel’s message is true for us: “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you!” Like Mary, let us hear God’s message, and turn away from all the things that might distract us, and instead open our hearts to God. When we do, he is born in us again, Emmanuel, God with us. All we want for Christmas. Let it be so for us. Amen.
Rev. Dawn M. Mayes
Manassas Presbyterian Church