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Nativity of our Lord Cycle C (1)
Emailsanta.com receives more than a million emails every year, and each one gets a response. Here are some samples of the emails they receive:
Dear Santa, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a chimney . . . I’ll leave the cat flap unlocked for you, but please watch out for the litter box! Jon, (aged) 4
Dear Santa, Do you have elves that help or elves that sit on the sofa all day long? Jenny, 8
Dear Santa, Mommy & Daddy says I have not been very good these past few days. How bad can I be before I lose my presents? Christian, 7 (Many adult Christians ask that question, don’t they?)
Dear Santa, Did you really run over my grandma? MacKenzie, 11
Dear Santa, I’m sorry for putting all that Ex-lax in your milk last year, but I wasn’t sure if you were real. My dad was really mad. Bri, 7
Dear Santa, You really don’t need to send me the motor home. I know that you won’t be able to fit it in your sleigh. I know that the elves won’t be able to reach the pedals, and anyway, my mom said I can’t get my driver’s license yet. Kyle, 5
Dear Santa, Pleease! Don’t bring me any new clothes. Kayla, 9
Dear Santa, Thank you for the remote control car last year, even though it broke the day after. I know you tried, and that’s what counts. Alex, 8
Dear Santa, Do you know Jesus is the real reason for the Christmas? Not to be mean, but he is. Rosanne, 11 (1)
Rosanne is right, of course. Jesus is the reason for the season.
A few years ago, Roberta Messner was browsing through a local flea market when she came upon an antique Christmas crèche, or manger scene. The price was too good to be true. When Roberta questioned the owner, she verified that it was the correct price. “You can have it for a dollar,” she said. “It’s all there except Jesus.”
No wonder the price was so low! A Christmas crèche is worthless without the figurine of the Christ child. That’s the centerpiece, the most important part. Suddenly, Roberta realized that she was just like that Christmas crèche. She was going through that whole Christmas season without making Jesus the centerpiece of her activities. (2)
That says it all, doesn’t it? That’s what Christmas is all about. That is why we read with so much eagerness that wondrous story about shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Someone has called it the greatest story ever told, and it is.
When they laid the first transatlantic cable across the bed of the Atlantic Ocean to Europe they wondered: What should be the first message sent over this cable to see if it is working? Finally, they chose these words spoken first by the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Christmas began in the heart of God. That’s the first thing we need to see. “Love came down at Christmas,” wrote the poet, and it’s true God’s love came down to us in the manger of Bethlehem. Christmas began in the heart of God.
There is a time-honored story about a grandfather who was babysitting his four-year-old grandson. He read him a story and tucked him into bed. Then he went downstairs to watch television.
A storm came up, a big thunderstorm, lightning, thunder. The little boy was scared. “Grandpa, I’m scared. Come up here and help me.”
Grandpa didn’t want him to be afraid, and said to him, “Don’t worry, you’ll be all right. You know God loves you.”
The little boy answered down the steps, “I know God loves me, I just need something with skin on it.” We look into the manger and we see God comes to us with skin, the word made flesh. (3) That is why Christmas brings out the best in us. The New Testament teaches us that the very nature of God is love. In the glow of Christmas, we know ourselves to be loved and we are led to love others.
Several years ago a woman in California took into her home over Christmas a family evacuated from a severely flooded area. Since she had six children of her own and a comparatively small house, a friend asked her why she felt it was up to her to assume this responsibility.
This woman explained that at the end of World War II, a family in her home town in Germany was left destitute. On Christmas Eve the mother of this family said to her children, “We are not able to have much for Christmas this year, so I have just one present for all. Now I will go get it.” She returned with a little orphan girl and announced, “Here is your present.”
This generous California mother went on to tell how the children in this family welcomed the little child with affection. She grew up as a full member of that family as their sister. Then she added, “I was that Christmas gift.” (4)
She gave to this family of evacuees what she had once been given. The Bible says, “We love because God first loved us” (I John 3:19). Christmas began in the heart of God.
Christmas is about hope. It is no accident that Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year. We don’t know the date when Jesus was actually born, so when the date was set for Christmas it was to symbolize the words of Isaiah that the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Christmas represents hope. There is no finer symbol of hope than the birth of a child. As Carl Sandburg wrote: “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on . . .”
In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela tells about the impact a baby had on his life.
Mandela had been a political prisoner for fourteen years doing hard labor in a rock quarry on infamous Robben Island, South Africa. However, in 1978, Zeni, his second-youngest daughter married a prince a son of the king of Swaziland. There was a tremendous advantage in Zeni’s becoming a member of the Swazi royal family: she was immediately granted diplomatic privileges and could visit Mandela virtually at will. This was amazingly good news for Mandela. For just about his entire imprisonment he had been cut off almost entirely from his children.
That winter, after they were married, the young couple came to see Mandela, along with their newborn baby daughter. Because of his son-in-law’s status as a prince, Mandela and his family were allowed to meet in the consulting room, not the normal visiting area where one is separated from one’s family by thick walls and glass.
Mandela reports that he waited for his daughter and her family with some nervousness. It was a truly a wondrous moment when they came into the room. He stood up, and when Zeni saw him, she practically tossed her tiny daughter to her husband and ran across the room to embrace him. He had not held his now-grown daughter since she was a baby. It was a dizzying experience, says Mandela, as though time had sped forward in a science fiction novel, to suddenly hug one’s fully grown child. He then embraced his new son, Zeni’s husband, the prince.
Finally, his son-in-law handed Mandela his tiny granddaughter. Mandela says he did not let go of this precious child for the rest of the visit. To hold a newborn baby, so vulnerable and soft in his rough hands, hands that for too long had held only picks and shovels, was a profound joy. He says that in his mind, no man was ever happier to hold a baby than he was that day.
The visit, however, had a more official purpose and that was for Mandela to choose a name for the child. It is a custom in their culture for the grandfather to select the new child’s name, and the one he chose was Zaziwe which means “Hope.” The name had special meaning for Nelson Mandela, for during all his years in prison, he says, hope never left him and now it never would. He was convinced that this child would be a part of a new generation of South Africans for whom apartheid would be a distant memory that was his dream. (5)
A baby named Hope. Jesus could have been named Hope, for he represented humanity’s most profound hope. Instead he was named Jesus Deliverer, Savior. Isaiah gave him other names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Christmas comes from the heart of God. Christmas is about hope.
This is to say that Christmas is the best news this world could ever receive. An angel had the privilege of first announcing the news to the shepherds. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” What a powerful message.
Years ago Chuck Swindoll pointed out the difference that a baby can make. He wrote of Napoleon sweeping through Austria in 1809. That was the big news that transfixed the world of that time. Looking back, however, the really important news of that year was not the battles that were fought, but the babies that were born: William Gladstone, for example, one of the finest statesmen that England ever produced. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, the extraordinary poet. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Darwin, and perhaps most notably, Abraham Lincoln.
Swindoll writes, “If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I’m certain these words would have been heard: ‘The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today.’ Or was it?
“Funny, only a handful of history buffs today could name even two or three of the Austrian campaigns. Looking back, you and I realize that history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America as young mothers held in their arms the shakers and the movers of the future . . .” (6)
History was certainly being shaped as Mary held her newborn son in her arms. Not only the history of the world, but your history and mine. Let us give God thanks this night. Christmas comes from the heart of God. Christmas is about hope. Christmas is the best news this world could ever receive.
1. From the Internet. Source unknown.
2. Roberta Messner, Daily Guideposts 2000 (Carmel, N.Y.: Guideposts, 1999), p. 369.
3. Rev. Charles Schuster, http://www.fcfumc.net/sermons/docs/12-16-07-ChristmasCouldDisappointUs.pdf.
4. Reader’s Digest. Date unknown.
5. Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1986).
6. Nelson Mandela. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Kindle edition).