Many Christmases there’s one toy everyone wants, creating craziness on top of craziness. In 1983, it was the Cabbage Patch Doll. The infamous 1983 Cabbage Patch smackdown in Pennsylvania culminated with a store manager warding off crazed parents with an aluminum baseball bat. To date over 100 million dolls have been sold. In 1996, the must-have Christmas toy was Tickle Me Elmo. In Canada, a Walmart clerk almost met his doom when three hundred customers stampeded at the sight of the Elmo he held. The clerk suffered a broken rib and a concussion. In 2005, Xbox 360. Zhu Zhu Pet, 2009. Frozen Dolls in 2014, Hatchimals, 2016, and L.O.L Surprise! 2017.
Two things: First, it’s nuts when you think about it; but, second, a toy craze shows how much parents love their children and are willing to do almost anything to show them that love, to show them their special, to show them they matter to them.
Now of course, more than likely we need to be encouraged to spend less than we do and not to be so obsessed about a toy or doll. I know it feels good to give what we want to give and what someone else wants to get, no doubt. But debt is one of the consequences of blowing out the budget for the Christmas morning love fest. I’ve heard that some 25% of folks will go into debt over Christmas.
OK, I’m sorry for sounding like Ebenezer Scrooge. I understand about the motivation. With five kids of our own, getting in financial debt feels very similar and comparable to all the other kinds of debt we get into over our children—emotional, social, time, etc. Who doesn’t want to see the stunned jaw drop, the Christmas morning squeal of delight, the astonishment, joy, and gleam in our little one’s eyes—or bigger one’s eyes, also?! It’s a rush for us, as well. So, let’s say this: Debt that’s easily reversible is different than spending so much that other needs and such are affected negatively. We want to keep our head a bit when it comes to presents.
The pressure would be off a bit too if we made more of Christmas before Christmas morning, that way not everything would depend on the magnitude and magnificence of what is or isn’t around the Christmas tree that morning. In other words, don’t put all your Christmas eggs in that one 10 to 20-minute basket. Do things together in the days before: Bake Christmas treats, put on Christmas music and sing along, snuggle as you
watch a favorite Christmas show or movie, pick another country and find out what their traditions are to celebrate Christmas, then try them for yourself. On Christmas morning, read Christ’s birth story before you open presents, so that your heart is in a more satisfied place to start, with gratitude for God’s love given in the Babe of Bethlehem.
Even if nothing given as a present Christmas morning creates that wide-eyed stun, still the gratitude, attention, and together-ness of Christmas morning is worth most, if not all the expenses every year. To love is to give. To love another is to want what’s best for them, and in our own best-as-we-can-way to share that with them. The simple truth is Christmas morning shines a light on how much we want to provide for another, to love them, and to feel in ourselves the power and magic of a loving heart, our own.
Christmas comes with its pressures because of this mirror it lifts in front of us. We know we can’t always be someone who gives perfectly, who loves purely, as if time, pressures, money, weariness, and our own failings don’t play a part in our less than perfect or pure loving the 364 other days of the year. But the Christmas mirror shows us something we want for our loved ones, something we aspire to in ourselves, something we believe in: we are loving people who care deeply.
The fleeting nature of such love doesn’t mean it’s false or a fake. It’s not hypocritical to love so much at one time and not enough another. Don’t give up when faced with the difference between the love you feel and what you can provide because you can’t live up to that Christmas morning standard. That would be the exact opposite of what Christmas day teaches, of what God’s love in Christ shows. The Lord doesn’t give up. Always Christ’s spirit dwells in the heart. We have room in our cramped inn of a heart to let in love, to keep it longer. Let us enlarge the room this year.
Perhaps it feels naïve, given how things always are, to look back and think of toys and gifts and things that happened to us when we were children or what we’re trying to give to our children today, or even to look back and talk about a child who was born in a stable and who went on to be proclaimed Messiah, the Christ. But being naïve or regaining innocence are good things. Returning to things more basic, to gratitude, love, joy, seeking peace, these remind us that God gives life because God gives love.
We can go a little further back, and we did in our scripture reading, to when Mary was on the brink of becoming a mom. Many here know what she’s about to go through: the excitement, the sickness, the growing and
uncomfortableness, and the birth, with its fears, pain. But that’s not the end of the story. Giving birth, giving the gift of life is giving love or rather it’s being given the gift of love in a way we never knew before.
Someone told this story. “He couldn’t do anything for himself. Born with cerebral palsy, he sat in the wheelchair loving every second of the Christmas musical. He faces challenges that I can’t even imagine. His body wrecked by a disease with no cure. He sat in the back of the auditorium, perhaps wanting not to distract, and sitting next to him was a proud mother. I couldn’t help stealing a glance at times that evening, to see her stroking his hair, wiping his mouth, and smiling all the while. She adored him.
I had to meet this amazing mother. She was a single mom who had just moved to Tennessee from Kansas. ‘How do you do this all by yourself?’ I asked. ‘He’s my life. He’s the greatest blessing that ever happened to me,’ she said.” Beyond our capabilities, and past our inabilities, love shows us things we can’t see without it.
Our scripture reading shows a young woman who would become a mother. Of course, not just any mom. The angel Gabriel tells Mary that her son is to become an amazing person, the most amazing and wonderful child and man ever. I’m sure she was glad to hear all this. “Sounds amazing! Sign me up to have God’s very own. How can that go wrong?”
I can understand some churches desire to elevate Mary to a special place. It’s clear from scriptural record that she was present at Jesus’ crucifixion and death. Her suffering, a mother’s suffering at such a loss, stands as a powerful witness to the depth that love transforms, improves, directs, and blesses our lives. When we love and lose a person, a part of us is gone, too.
Loving someone grows us. We include them in us. We make lots of room for them in our inn of a heart. We think we have a house of a heart, but we have a hotel of a heart. Just like Jesus says about heaven, that there are many rooms, and the Lord goes to prepare a place for you, meaning Christ enlarges heaven to fit us in, that’s what love does. Be more accommodating. Make room. Renovate your heart so you can fit more people in, more of the time, even those who don’t seem to belong at first or aren’t being the best guests, and you feel like you want to kick them out.
You know, it’s not possible to think of Christ’s life without thinking of God’s love. 1 John 4:10 says, “God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that
God loved us and sent his Son.” Without love, how could the gift of Christ have ever come about? The final verse of “O Holy Night” says, “Truly, he taught us to love one another; his law is love and his gospel is peace.” Who would do any of this if love didn’t compel? How would any of this come about without love directing the whole of it? God is love. God loves, massively loves.
Love enlarges the world, shapes our world, empowers us to be more than we were. There is only so much of us until we add more. We have only so big of a heart until we bust it open to fit someone else. Remember this when you’re not sure how much someone important means to you. We slam the door so easily on another, but the problem is they’re already knocking and calling you from the inside. Just like the saying, only its opposite, there’s no point in closing the barn door after the horse has escaped! —you can’t close the door after you’ve let someone in. Being hard hearted denies us access to loved ones waiting behind closed doors. Reconcile yourself first to the wonderful fact that you are bursting with people you care about. Then you can open doors again and be free.
This Sunday is the third Sunday in Advent. The word Advent means to come, as in the arrival or appearance of Christ. It’s a big term for Christians because it’s the title we give to the season four weeks preceding Christmas Eve and the season of Christmas. Yes, Christmas in the Christian calendar is a season and not just a night and a morning.
But advent, as in small “a” advent, can mean an arrival or appearance of someone something notable, sort of like an ah-ha moment. Think of the first time you saw a loved one, your present partner or spouse. That was an advent, especially if he or she knocked your socks off. Or how about the first time you heard a musical instrument, and you knew you had to play that. That’s an advent also. Such a person or thing is disruptive, in a good way. It changes your life. You’re grateful your life isn’t the same anymore because the advent of this or that brought you a new direction, purpose, meaning, whatever it might be.
God loves us in a disruptive way. It’s supposed to change us and claim us. It’s an advent into our lives because we’re hardly ever ready for it, like Christmas morning. We’re almost never prepared enough to take in all we want to take in, to give all we want to give, to have it last for as little as it too often does. There’s so much love that when we finally open the doors to let it out and let it in, we aren’t prepared for it, for what it would do with us, for
how much we want it to stay. But never give up trying. Let the Lord disrupt your life. Let love kick down some doors. Build more room. Let love be the gift that keeps giving all year.
Can the church say Amen?