Christmas

by admin on December 21, 2015

(My favorite sermon out of 40+ years of preaching)
Presented December 20, 2015 at Nova

Lionel

I was eight years old on my birthday that year: 1957. Tonight was Christmas Eve, and as we marched out to the car wouldn’t luck have it—a flat tire!—and on the most important night of the year. How would we ever get to church on time?

I stood off to the side of the parking lot at our apartment complex, in the snow with my younger sister, Dianne. My dad lifted up the trunk lid and brought out the jack and tire iron with a few well-chosen words for the occasion.

It was a frigid Ohio evening and I pretended to be smoking as I puffed into the cold winter air. Another few hours and it would be Christmas. I had been thinking about this night ever since my October birthday. I really needed an electric train just like Bobby Cordier down on the corner. A nice big black engine with Lionel Lines inscribed on the coal tender. One that puffed smoke and whistled.

My dad had been working two jobs then, just to make ends meet, so I already knew in my guts the outcome under the tree. “Don’t get your hopes up” My mother counseled me. Dad was more direct: “You’re not getting a train and that’s that!” My breath was now puffing hot and heavy…just like that Hudson locomotive pulling a fast passenger train.

The snow began to fall lightly just was the sun was fading in streaks of red and pink in the sky. The trunk was open and an inviting place. One of the neatest places to nose around was in the car trunk. A treasure chest of all kinds of goodies, from old flashlights and tools to battery cables and pieces of candy that had fallen out of this week’s grocery bags. I whistled and chugged over on to check it out.

Dad was jacking up the left front bumper. He didn’t notice my fast paced locomotive racing toward my appointed destination: the “TRUNK.” For once my sister kept her big mouth shut. I saw the tire well where the spare had been, some old papers and a couple of rags stuffed into the corner. In the very back behind a peck basket dad kept there just in case a berry patch would show up on some back road, was a blanket. It was covering something. Hidden treasure? A box of old nails? Some safety flares? I couldn’t reach it without getting inside the trunk. And when I did, dad felt it up front.

“Hey, get out of there,” he yelled. But too late. With the blanket in my hands I saw the box. Brown with blue lettering: it had a very clear one word message: L-I-O-N-E-L. I didn’t need to see another thing, hear another word, or even think about another trip to Santa. My mom said that I ran back into the house with stars in my eyes.

Of all the Christmases I had as a kid, I remember this one best of all. Best because in the face of all signs to the contrary—in spite of inflation, unemployment, uneasy peace in the world—I got the one thing I wanted so badly.

I believe that on the first Christmas so long ago when the shepherds ran back home they had stars in their eyes, too. Stars in their eyes because they, too, had seen a box with a baby inside and a clear one-word message: G-O-D.

They had gotten inside the barn and unwrapped the blanket to behold the baby in a box.

This year of 2015 has been a phenomenal year. It began with war, civil unrest a half world away, political scandals, and the hint that everything was going out of business. But we didn’t.

Inflation, unemployment, murder and mayhem, personal tragedies: death, divorce, unhappiness: each of them cut into our fair share of holiday cheer. Yahoo headlines: Pope says Christians should be peace makers. Jesus has been saying that all along.

Of all the words said at Christmas; of all the warm stories and selfie memories; nothing surpasses a singular word in the Gospel story of that first Christmas. That word is the conjunction “but.”

The shepherds are pretty scared out there that night: the jig is up and all hell must be breaking loose. But the angel said, “don’t be afraid….”

Don’t get your hopes up.
You’re not getting that train.

BUT something different and wonderful happened and I ran back inside with stars in my eyes because miracle of miracles I got the one thing I wanted so badly..

All of us have come here this morning wanting just one thing so badly. And now in the face of all signs to the contrary it’s ours.

Love, Joy, peace——-Help, Home, Hope

As Christmas, the holiday, becomes part of our memory; because of that baby in a box marked “God.” Christmas, the Holy Day, makes everyday of our lives special.

May you return home this morning receiving the one thing you want so badly, and with stars in your eyes. Peace on earth.

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