Advent 4: The Gift of Love
This, the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love, tells us that our time of waiting is almost done. We have walked the road towards Christmas and we have experienced that sweet anticipation we feel before the big day arrives. We all want Christmas to come. “Are we there yet?” is the cry. Visit any shopping mall this afternoon and you will see that the world is still hurtling on towards Christmas Day. But here, in this sanctuary, we can breathe a small sigh of relief. We have walked the Advent road towards the birth of Christ, and our souls are ready to receive the greatest gift of all.
Sometimes the gifts that mean the most to us are not the ones that cost the most money. The brand names and extravagant packages are lovely to receive but in themselves they are just things. If you’ve ever cleaned out a closet or your basement, you know it’s all just stuff!
We have received mailboxes full of flyers offering us “the perfect gift” to make everyone happy. But have you noticed that if we do buy that “perfect” gift and give it, the receiver may not immediately respond with instant joy? Or, if they do get excited for a moment or two, it wears off and they wait for the next perfect gift to work its magic. Gifts of stuff are not as powerful as the advertising industry would like us to believe.
Our manger scene features the bringing of gifts to the baby Jesus. The shepherds bring lambs, the wise men their precious gifts. But the most “perfect gift” was not something brought to the baby – it was the baby himself! ”A Saviour was born for you,” the angel announces. God’s perfect gift to each one of us. Individually – for all humankind – and the most perfect gift for me and you that we could ever receive in our whole lifetime of Christmases. This gift of Jesus is perfect because Immanuel, God, is with us in whatever life changes, life circumstances, or life events we may find ourselves in.
Mary and Joseph have both found their life events and circumstances dramatically altered when God’s messenger Gabriel visits Mary and Joseph in a dream. They know who this baby is and where he comes from. At the manger scene in Bethlehem, this is the moment when God’s hand in things becomes more obvious to the outside world. Choirs of angels sing above the Bethlehem shepherds’ fields. Shepherds leave their flocks to find and seek the promised Saviour. The time of quiet waiting has led to another time of action. But God’s plan is there – God’s hand is present in these events.
This is how life goes for all of us. There are times of relaxed quiet and times of chaotic frenzy. Times when we must act quickly and decisively, and other times when we are able to stop and think. Sometimes the world just whirls around us, and then, with unaccustomed clarity, we have times of vision and perspective that open our minds to the greater plan God has for us.
If you are swept up in life’s difficulties, hold on to the image of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, this small vulnerable family at the crossroads of their destiny. Reflect that their faith brought them through their trying times, and that your own faith can uplift and support you while God works for your benefit. Over the next few weeks greater changes than Joseph and Mary could anticipate will lead them down fearful unknown roads. We will look at the future events of their lives in our services after Christmas.
How beautifully the nativity story unfolds, bringing us to the realization of God’s astonishing gift to us. We travel through mystery and gaze with wonder like the wide-eyed shepherds. We feel the vulnerability of Mary and Joseph and the little baby. We see how precarious life itself is and how wonderful is the miracle of birth.
When we remember that our God, creator of all things, somehow became human in order to reach out to us and let us know that we are loved and that God is with us, no matter what, in all of life’s ups and downs, that God’s hand is present in all our life events, that is the real, perfect gift!