Rev. Dr. David D. M. King
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1:26-38, 1:47-55
Featuring The Quiltmaker’s Gift
We’ve heard the stories of two women this morning: the story of Mary and the story of the Quiltmaker. And interestingly, they are both stories about wealth and poverty and the way we use and relate to our possessions.
It may seem like a strange time to talk about it. We’re about to celebrate Christmas. Over the next week, we’re likely going to be opening a lot of presents. I think in the very strange COVID Christmas, we might be opening even more gifts than usual, because we’re trying to think of some way that we can make up for not being able to see each other in person. Christmas can be a time of great anxiety. It can be a time of over-spending, a time of tantrums, a time of unmet expectations, a time of disappointment. We want to make the holiday special. We want to make sure that the people we love know that we love them. And those are good things. But in the midst of all of the gifts and wrapping paper, it’s worth taking a moment to think about what is most important.
Mary sings a song about the redemption that God is bringing in Jesus. And she puts it in economic terms. God looks with favor on the low status of servants. God scatters the proud and arrogant. God pulls the mighty down off their thrones and lifts up the lowly. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty-handed. Mary’s prophecy is all about God’s care for the poor and God’s leveling hand against the rich.
Then we hear a story about the Quiltmaker. Like God, she has amazing gifts to give. And like God, her gifts are not for the rich but for the poor. We could easily use Mary’s words about God to describe the Quiltmaker: she fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty-handed. Her gifts cannot be received by the rich, because they have no space for her.
Although the king has a massive over-abundance of possessions—more than anyone else—he does not feel satisfied by anything. After each new gift, he finds himself disappointed. And yet he keeps looking for one more thing, one more thing that will make him happy. After he has tried everything else, he decides that it must be the quilt. He needs the quilt. If he can only have the quilt, he will be happy. But he doesn’t want to pay the price for it. He can’t get the quilt until he gives up everything else.
Eventually he decides that he has no other choice. If he’s going to get the quilt, he’s going to have to give his other things away. And he won’t be happy if he doesn’t get the quilt. So slowly, reluctantly, he begins to give away his things. It’s difficult at first, but once he begins the practice of giving, it gets easier. And before long, he begins to enjoy giving. And then giving becomes his whole life. He travels the world giving away his possessions to those in need.
And at the end he gets his reward. He gets the one thing that he knew would make him happy. He finally gets the quilt that he wanted.
But you know what I find most interesting about the story? The quilt doesn’t make him happy. He started giving things away because he wanted the prize, he wanted the quilt, he thought the quilt would make him happy. It didn’t. What made him happy was the giving. By the time he got his quilt, he already knew that he didn’t need it. He refused to even accept it unless he could give something in return. None of his possessions, none of his power, none of his privilege brings him pleasure. What makes him happy is giving away his possessions to the poor.
And I think many Christians have found the same to be true. We’ve heard in the Bible that God has a preferential option for the poor, that Jesus commands us to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get to heaven. And some Christians have decided that they need the reward. They need the reward of heaven. And so they have begun, reluctantly, to divest themselves and to give, in order to earn the reward. But along the way they have found out something they did not expect. They have found that the giving is the reward. The joy comes in the giving. The greatest gift is the grace to give.
So as we open our presents this Christmas, let us be grateful for those things that we receive. But let us also remember that true happiness does not come from an abundance of possessions. The gift is in the giving, in the sharing, in the offering of love for the other. Let us remember the king from the story, whom we are told, was “never happier than when he was giving something away.”