31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
December 19, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Two weeks ago, 35 gifts arrived at FCC – all for children, whose families are connected to Bristol Public School’s Family Resource Center, where the families receive all kinds of help and resources – including help with Christmas and Easter gifts.
Thirty-five gifts all in large overflowing Christmas gift bags. The generosity of this Christian community always warms my heart and certainly speaks to our ministry of changing the world with Christ’s love.
I’m sure though that those are not the only gifts FCC members will be wrapping this year. There will be gifts wrapped for family, friends, work colleagues, schoolteachers, postal carriers. They will be in gift bags large and small, wrapped in paper or the Sunday morning comics, with fancy bows or simple tags. Some of those gifts I imagine will be “suggested” and others will be quite unexpected.
We have a unique little tradition in my family that has to do with unexpected gifts. Years ago, my mother, as a teacher’s gift, received a little ceramic house with space inside for a tea light candle. It’s not particularly memorable – with the exception that from the corner of the roof hangs a bird and from another corner hangs a butterfly. Still sounds fine, right? Except the bird and butterfly are gargantuan! way out of proportion in comparison to the house. And there is something about these mismatched proportions that is extremely amusing to our family.
I wish I could show it to you but that’s where the unexpected part comes in. Every year since the first year it was regifted, this ceramic tea light house gets passed on – sometimes at Christmas, sometimes as a housewarming or birthday present. Always packaged in a way that it will not be recognized and always when the receiver is least likely to expect it. So I do not currently have it; however I am on watch this year.
As we are all on watch for the gift of the Christ child. For generations, the people of Israel had been keeping watch. They had been preparing their hearts, community, and world to welcome the Messiah. Of course over the years, they came to have expectations about what the Messiah would be like. And their hopes and expectations must have run the spectrum.
Mostly though, they were expecting some version of the earthly rulers they knew: a mighty warrior to vanquish all their foes, a wealthy prince with riches and resources galore, a king like King David had been.
The people of Israel had heard the words of the prophets, the words of God’s promises, and they had expectations about what the gift of the Messiah, the Christ, their Savior would look like.
With the wisdom of hindsight, we know how wrong their expectations were. We know that God’s Messiah came in a way most people did not recognize or expect. The Messiah was born into our world to humble parents in a place far from the seat of power, and he did not come to rule like the people were used to being ruled. He was not surrounded by wealth and material goods. And he definitely did not come to vanquish with sword or fight with violence and insults.
In her song of delight, Mary shares exactly what to expect from the gift of the Messiah: mercy, overflowing mercy, mercies upon mercies. And justice. Much needed justice. As The Message translation says, the Messiah will scatter the bluffing braggarts who think they are the rulers of the entire world. He will knock tyrants off their high horses and pull victims out of the mud. He will fill the hungry with good things – the physically hungry, the emotionally hungry, the spiritually hungry. And most of all, the Messiah will do exactly as God has promised God’s people from the beginning. Through the Messiah, God will continue to bless us with mercies and grace, with peace and justice, creating God’s community of wholeness on earth as it is in heaven.
Like the people of Israel throughout the generations, many of us feel like we are wading through the mud. Perhaps it is the mud of grief. Perhaps you are feeling all of the stress of life in a pandemic overwhelm you. Perhaps is the daily injustice you experience because you are a person of color, because of your age, because of your gender identity.
We are wading through the mud, and we are hungry. We are starving for community, for connection, for the feeling that we belong, that we matter to God and to others. We hunger for fairness in our world, for kindness, respect, for common courtesy.
This is a hard time. A time when we feel like we are slogging through the mud, the quicksand even, constantly being pulled back every time we think we are making process. A time when we are hungering, hungering for normalcy, for harmony, for hope. Sadly though, even as we want our lives and our world to get better, we don’t really expect it. Too many people I speak with are resigned to our communities and our world becoming more and more fractured.
People of faith, hear the good news. Expect the good news– the Messiah is coming. The Messiah is coming to bring justice to our unjust world. The Messiah is coming to bring wholeness to our broken relationships and communities. The Messiah is coming to pull us out of the mud, to fill us with good things, to bless us with mercy and grace. The Messiah is coming.
Just as was the case two thousand years ago, the gift of the Messiah might come in a most unexpected way. The gift of the Messiah might come in a package you don’t recognize. The Messiah might come in a way you are least likely to expect him, her, them – so keep watch.
As you finish up your Christmas preparations, as you decorate, bake, cook, and wrap gifts, keep watch, be open, pause and reflect on the expected and unexpected gift Jesus is and will be to the world and have hope. Have hope that he is coming and that his presence, his peace and love will bring wholeness, healing, and joy to the world.