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4th Sunday of Advent Year B 2020

1. The first time I heard the word was around the year 2000.

2. I was standing there with a priest friend, shortly after the holidays,

a. Holding up a gift a well-intentioned parishioner had given me for Christmas.

1. It was a bulky cable knit ski sweater.

2. IT was black.

1. With great big white snowflakes embroidered all over it.

b. The face I made as I held it up in front of the mirror said everything.

1. Without missing a beat, he said, “well you can always regift it.”

3. Regift. I burst out laughing.

a. I had never heard the word before.

b. But its meaning was clear enough.

4. I could give it again as a gift to some other priest

a. (for who else would want to wear a black ski sweater?)

1. He would love it.

2. And I would be rid of it.

5. I checked, and the word “regift” only came into the English language in 1995.

a. But it was a word whose time had come.

6. With our annual orgy of gift buying and giving,

a. there are bound to be scores of gifts

b. that we don’t want,

c. can’t use,

d. already have

e. or just plain don’t like.

7. To avoid this some people just give gift cards or certificates,

a. So, we can CHOOSE what we want or need,

1. And while that is sensible, it is also so impersonal.

8. We want gifts to be an expression of thoughtfulness and even love.

9. Regifting them then becomes all the more painful.

1. And yet who wants an unwanted gift?

10. This is a question that could easily have been asked of a young girl named Miriam,

a. living in Israel in the first century.

11. Of course, she did not hope to receive Christmas gifts, as Christmas was a festival that only began to be celebrated in the 4th century, and she was Jewish anyway.

a. But that does not mean that she had no hopes.

1. She was engaged.

2. She would soon be married.

3. She hoped her marriage would be a happy one

4. She hoped her fiancé Joseph would be kind to her

5. She hoped her family would grow and be healthy and happy

b. In short, she hoped for all of the things any of us,

1. male or female young or old would hope for.

2. Things that if we could choose, we would.

c. She probably hoped that Joseph would give these things to her,

d. but as a person of faith, she also hoped God would.

12. But then one day she discovered what she would receive from God:

a. In a world where a woman had to be a virgin before marriage,

b. In a world where a pregnant fiancée would be a terrible scandal.

c. In a world where sex outside of marriage was punishable by death,

1. Miriam was told by a mysterious visitor named Gabriel

2. that the gift she would receive from God was a child named Jesus

1. whose father was not Joseph, but God.

13. Moreover, we know the rest of her story.

a. We know what lay in store for this child and thus for its mother.

1. How Miriam would have to watch as her child would be rejected, arrested,

2. condemned, and crucified.

14. Any one of us would shake our heads in disbelief at such an unwanted gift

a. And would earnestly wish for a divine gift certificate, to choose something, anything else.

b. And yet Miriam did not.

1. With a single sentence, “let it be done to me according to your will”

2. She accepted what God gave her.

15. Because of her acceptance of this most unwanted of gifts

a. This unwed mother Miriam

1. became a blessed virgin

2. was hailed as herself immaculate from her conception

1. And thus, full of grace.

3. And would soon become the woman we know as Mary,

1. the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God.

16. Whenever we hear this story, we hear it as one about Mary and Jesus.

a. And I suppose that is the case;

1. But if it is

2. It is only because the Gospel writer Luke wishes to say something,

1. not only about Mary’s relationship with Jesus;

3. But about God’s relationship with us all.

17. For this year so many families will sit at Christmas tables with empty chairs,

a. Because the pandemic has robbed them of their loved ones.

18. This year so many children will become orphans and grandparents will become parents,

a. Because of drug use and violence.

19. This year so many people have lost or will lose their jobs,

a. They will discover they are sick or lose those they love.

20. This year while we might wish for a gift certificate when it comes to God,

a. All too often we get things that we would not want,

1. and would honestly have not chosen.

2. Just like Mary.

21. Yet what makes her different here

a. is not just because she was chosen by God,

1. But because we believe God chooses all of us for some purpose in life

b. Not because she was full of God’s grace and immaculately conceived,

22. But simply because she knows the heart of the angel’s message.

a. She knows it because Gabriel said it to her, and thus to us;

b. The only difference is that she heard it, and often we do not.

1. That part where the angel says, “For nothing is impossible with God”

23. That is what makes the bad news of this story good news for Mary

a. Because Mary knew that if nothing is impossible for God

1. then God can bring good out of what at the moment might seem so bad.

24. For Mary that good, might have been long in coming

a. To look around our world, to look around our church, to look at our families and our lives, it might seem that way as well.

1. For this Christmas

1. in a world torn apart by terrorism,

2. divided by war

3. and wounded through illness and disease,

2. Now more than any other year Gabriel’s message spoken to Mary is spoken to us.

1. That nothing is impossible for God;

2. and thus God is the one who will yet

a. bring security to us in our fear,

b. Peace to a world divided by ideology and war

c. and a vaccine to those who suffer the effects of this terrible pandemic.

25. I love the idea that somewhere that black sweater is still traveling from priest to priest, regifted year after year – you know, like the famous fruitcakes of old – in search of a priest who will finally get it and love it.

26. Probably not. But that is ultimately not so bad. Gifts can be regifted.

a. But not the one Mary received.

b. She could not “regift” Jesus;

c. she could only give him to Joseph, to his disciples, to us all.

27. We can’t stop that gift; all we can do is respond to it and him.

a. In short all we can do is respond the way Mary did.

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