Advent IV: Love

Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

When Love is Gone…[1]

Facing a different Christmas this year, someone wisely said that even though they were experiencing new-found grief this year, we’re all in the same boat.  Everyone’s Christmas is different.  Everyone is facing loss in one shape or another. 

In a post from a few years ago, author John Pavlovitz[2] spoke about the interconnectedness of love and grief (as he talks about the grief of losing his father):

The gift Grief gives me is this terrible, painful bittersweetness that reminds me just how well loved I was (by my father) to be feeling such sadness now. This heartbreak is a monument, these tears a tribute.

That’s why Grief is here. [Grief] is the tax on loving people, and the fact that I am feeling such a deficit in [its presence] is a celebration of how blessed I’ve been…

Grief is here right now … so that I never forget how beautiful [past] holidays were, how easy gratitude was, how effortless singing a song of joy could be.

And yeah, maybe this is all much more difficult now, and maybe I’ll never have a holiday quite like that again because of the subtraction that’s taken place—but this uninvited, unannounced Grief reminds me that … I’m given these days to [offer gratitude and love] with those I hold dear.

I have this season and these holidays and this moment to be present with those I treasure; to make memories and create traditions and notice beauty—because that is what those we so miss right now did with us while they could, and it’s why we miss them.

They shared their now with us, while grieving the then they missed too. They celebrated life while being visited by Grief too. This is what love does. It dances through tears. 

So while I tried my best to avoid him this holiday season, and while I don’t like some of what [Grief] brings when it shows up…I think I’ll welcome Grief this year.

I’d argue that you can’t have love without grief – that the minute you engage your heart in caring for someone or something, then it opens you up to both joy and disappointment.  As we’ve spoken over the last few weeks of Advent, we’re living in this cognitively dissonant moment – Christ is both here and not yet here, Advent is a time of waiting but we still sneak in a Christmas carol or two, we’re both separate in our homes for Christmas but held together by the love of the one who moves heaven and earth to remind us that all are loved.    Holding these contrasting yet important images together is (I guess) why I chose to end the service with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

As many have pointed out, the lyrics are strangely powerful in this the year of covid Christmas, as Judy Garland sang in the film Meet me in St. Louis,

From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

I love the idea of muddling through contrasted to the merry little Christmas.  In fact the songwriter wanted to drive that point home even more in the first writing of the song, the original words being:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
It may be your last.[3]
Next year we may all be living in the past.[4]

Talk about a downer – so much so that Garland, and her costar and director begged for the lines to be changed.  But I love the sentiment,[5] as in both the song and in Pavlovitz’s words that reminds us to dance through the tears, to celebrate our merry little Christmases full of muddling.  It’s never going to be perfect.  Love never is.  Love might be patience and kindness and bearing with one another – love is strength, and justice, and feeding the hungry – love is stirring within us to celebrate even in the midst of mourning.  Love lives between the tension of past and future – helping us to recognize the often hidden beauty of the present. 

As we together face a different merry little Christmas – may love be yours – both in the pain of broken hearts, and in the possibility of all that God is bringing about.  

[1] From…


[3] Sung version with the original lyrics –


[5] Yet one more version:


  1. What a beautiful service of remembrance and meaningful way of remembering those who are no longer with us.

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