A Red Ryder BB gun – that’s what the movie A Christmas Story revolves around. This thirty-year-old movie has become a Christmas classic, watched by millions of Americans every year. It’s about a boy named Ralphie, who believes that the perfect gift would be a Red Ryder BB Gun. It’s the thing that will bring him joy. Now, throughout the movie, we follow Ralphie in his adventures trying to convince everyone that it’s exactly what he needs.
The desire for the perfect gift is probably something we can all identify with, right? When we know what the perfect gift is, and wanting that more than we want anything else. We just know what we want. And maybe you come from a family where you make a Christmas list, and other people know what you want, and you get that thing. Maybe you’re one of those people who hint and hint and hint and hint so people figure it out. Maybe you just hope other people read your mind and get you that perfect gift. Or maybe you’re the kind of person who just goes out and gets it for yourself. No matter what, though, we might have expectations for what would make the perfect gift. Well, when we have our perfect gift in mind, whether we get it or not, we’re likely to get other things, too. But the question is this: what do we do with the gifts we didn’t ask for?
But let’s think back to that first Christmas, and the lead-up to it. Now, let’s remember that since it was the first Christmas, there was no expectation of gifts. Still, if you had said to Mary, “You know what, Mary? I’d like to give you a gift. What would you like?” I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have said, “I’d like to have a baby, even though I’m just a teenager and I’m not married yet.” Pretty sure that wasn’t on her list that year.
But that’s what Mary got for that very first Christmas. She didn’t get that one perfect item; she got the scariest, most intimidating news in the world. She was going to be responsible for giving birth to and raising the Messiah, the Son of God.
So, this Christmas, we may ask ourselves what we do with the gift we didn’t ask for. What does Mary do? The first thing she does is to give thanks. She says, “Thank you, God; you’ve lifted up me, and all people like me by honoring me with this gift. You’ve brought down the rich, the haughty, and the mighty, and elevated little people like me.” She crafts a poem on the spot that honors God and shares her great joy, even though what she got was, if we’re honest, much, much more of an intimidating thing than a book we already own or a sweater we don’t like. Mary manages, in the poem we read for our responsive reading, to be thankful.
The second thing Mary does is she shares her joy. After the angels share the news with some shepherds, these guys come in, unannounced, to see Mary, Joseph, and her baby. I think we’re so used to the story that we’re never surprised; and, if anything, we think about this story from the perspective of the shepherds. But think about it from Mary’s perspective. She just gave birth; she’s exhausted, she’s coming to grips with the reality of being, not just a mom, but the mother to God-on-earth. And into that environment walk a bunch of dirty shepherds, raving about angels and begging to see her baby.
I remember when Zeke was born, seeing Carissa holding him. We had some family there, but I was ready for them to go. The absolute last thing I would’ve wanted was a bunch of dirty strangers coming in and wanting to handle my kid… and that’s with a comfortable hospital birth, not in some barn. Yet, how does Mary react? With joy! She shares the joy she receives with the shepherds. She marvels at their tale. She wants to have others know the love that she knows.
The final thing Mary does is something we haven’t read about in today’s passage, but is rather the crux of the whole Bible. Mary raises this boy, takes care of him, treats him well, disciplines him, and guides him. In short, she loves him. When we get the Christmas gift we weren’t expecting this year, the one we didn’t want, it’s probably going to be hard to like it, much less love it. But Mary takes her unexpected gift and loves him so much.
It’s Christmas Eve, so if there’s ever a time for a simple message with an easy takeaway, it’s this service. And in this case, the trite and easy thing, the simple takeaway here, is to say that, no matter what gifts we receive, it’s important to receive them gratefully, joyfully, and lovingly. That’s what this day is all about. It’s about God loving the whole world so much that God wanted to come down, live among us, and show us how to live. God loved us so much that we were blessed with Christ Jesus.
Well, sisters and brothers, that’s the truth. We’ve been blessed with a tremendous gift. No matter what gifts we receive – if they’re that Red Ryder BB Gun we’ve been coveting, or if it’s something unexpected and unwanted, we have the opportunity to receive them the way Mary received Jesus.
But even moreso, we have the responsibility to live that way, not just on Christmas, but every day. Let us take this lesson Mary gives us, which is in many ways the first lesson Jesus gets as a human: be grateful, be joyful, be loving. Share the good things in your life, and recognize what you have. God loved us enough to come spend time with us; we can show that same respect for one another, whether the people and gifts we receive are what we hoped for, or not. After all, while Mary wasn’t asking for what she got, she wound up with the greatest gift of all. If we’re able to act as she did, we, too, may just find that what we have is even better than we ever dreamed or hoped for. Amen.