Luke 1:  26 – 38 Receiving the Gift Sunday December 20, 2020

Receiving the Gift

Luke 1:  26 – 38

 (preached December 20, 2020)

 In just a few days, with twinkling trees, tasty treats, and glittering packages, we’ll celebrate Christmas.  For sure our Christmas celebrations will be different this year.  Because the corona virus continues to rage, many of us will be staying close to home.  We may not be traveling to gather with family.  For many of us, it will be a difficult year.  But here’s the wonder of Christmas: even in this difficult year, Jesus will still be born.  If we are willing to receive him, he will be born in our hearts.

Our passage for today from Luke’s gospel begins the Christmas story.  It’s a familiar passage to many of us, so familiar that we tend to forget what an earth-shaking story it is.  The angel Gabriel comes to the young woman Mary with astounding news: you will bear a son who will be called Son of the Most High!  The story goes on as Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born in a stable.  Most of us grew up with that story.  We know it by heart, including the angels and shepherds, the sheep and cows who gathered by the manger.  And don’t forget the wise men.

But not every child grows up hearing the story and knowing it well.  One young boy in Russia didn’t hear the Christmas story until he was about six years old.  Two Americans got to know him and a hundred other children when they accepted an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach biblically-based morals and ethics at a large orphanage. The children there had been abused, abandoned, and left in the care of a government-run program. The Americans’ visit changed their lives.  One of the Americans tells what happened.  He writes:

“It was nearing the holiday season of 1994.  This year our orphans would hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born.  They placed him in a manger.

“As we told the story, the children and orphanage staff listened in amazement.  Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to understand every word. After we completed the story, we gave each of the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. We gave each child a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me because no colored paper could be found anywhere in the city.”

The American continues, “the children followed our instructions carefully.  They tore the paper and placed strips in the manger for straw. The baby’s blanket was made of small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia.  A doll-sized baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

“As the orphans were busy assembling their mangers, I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat — he looked to be about 6 years old.  He had finished his project. As I looked at his manger scene, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator.  I asked Misha why there were two babies in the manger. Misha crossed his arms in front of him and looked at his completed manger scene.  He then repeated the story very seriously.

“For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he told the story accurately, until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story.  He said, ‘And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him.

“’But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.  So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’  So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

That young boy only heard the story once, but he understood it completely.  He understood that Jesus doesn’t come only to those who welcome him with lavish gifts. And God doesn’t require perfect families or prosperous lives before he’ll come to us in Jesus.

To return to our gospel passage for today:  when Gabriel tells Mary that she’s going to bear a Son, he also says that God will give to Mary’s child “the throne of his ancestor David.”  To you and me that may not carry much weight, but to Mary it could have seemed like too much of an honor.  David was the King anointed by God, the King through whom God promised to establish his Kingdom forever (2 Samuel 7: 13).  Jesus, Mary’s son, was the fulfillment of that promise.

To be Jesus’ mother was a tremendous honor, but Mary doesn’t seem to have a problem feeling worthy.  She has just one question, wondering how this is all going to happen.  But after Gabriel answers her question, she doesn’t hesitate.  “Here I am,” she says, “the servant of the Lord.”  Mary doesn’t rack her brains trying to think of an appropriate gift in response.  There’s no question in her mind of whether or not she’s good enough to bear this miracle: the fulfillment of God’s promise.

My friends, Christmas says that Jesus longs to be born in us.  He doesn’t require us to greet him with lavish gifts.  He doesn’t require us to have perfect families or prosperous lives.   Because what God wants from us is not perfection, but faithfulness; not wealth, but willingness to welcome him.

So, rejoice! Christmas says that Jesus is born, long ago and far away in Bethlehem.  Christmas says that Jesus is born here and now, in you and me.  Let every heart prepare him room.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Advent 4




“Sweet Little Jesus Boy”          Robert MacGimsey 

Maria Ferrante, Soprano