A Sermon Delivered
by the Rev. Joseph C. Alsay
Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – 2021
Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Every family, it seems, has different traditions surrounding Christmas. I’ve enjoyed listening to some of the varied Christmas traditions mused upon by the television anchors on channel 5--KOCO, the past few weeks. Some families open gifts on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas morning. One family eats oyster stew on Christmas Eve. One of our parishioners will have steak and twice baked potatoes. Still others always have fondue.
Tonight, I’d like to tell you a story about a family who had a very different experience one Christmas morning…. One that changed both their family traditions and, in fact their whole life.
This particular family’s Christmas started out like most Christmas’s. They attended the candle light service. When they got home from church, the adults ate cheese and crackers and drank wine, while the kids emptied their stockings of the candies and small gifts that St. Nicholas has left their while they were at worship.
Then they all tucked into bed and waited hopefully for the dawn and the arrival of the real gifts.
When they arose on Christmas morning, sure enough, the tree was surrounded by a mountain of gifts. Christmas had come! And it was a good year!
A really good year!
The kids immediately tore into their packages. This was when it was hard to get Nintendo (this was back when Nintendos were the hottest thing on the market). Game cartridges. Dolls for the girls. A very cool race track for the boy.
The parents watched for a while and then turned to their own gifts.
For dad, a new set of battery powered tools. For mom, diamond ear rings.
Of course, everybody got new clothes.
Even the dog got a huge rawhide bone (which he immediately used to take out the floor lamp.)
When all of the gifts had been unwrapped, and the family room was littered with colorful papers and ribbon, the family suddenly noticed that there was still one package eft beneath the tree.
It was funny. No one had seen it. No one had bothered to open it or even check on whose it was. They wondered at how they could have missed it. But there it was.
It was unlike the other gifts that had been under the tree. It was small box, wrapped poorly in plain brown paper and sealed with way more tape than was necessary.
“Who’s that one for?” One of the kids asked.
Mom shrugged her shoulders. Dad shook his head. None of them remembered buying or wrapping this particular gift.
“Where did it come from?” One of the other kids asked.
Again, nobody knew.
“Should we open it?” Said a third child, warily.
“Well, I suppose…” Dad said. And Mom nodded.
Dad picked up the package and, instinctively, shook it. It didn’t make a sound. He turned the package over and over in his hands. But there was no tag, or marks or any indication of who it was from or who it was for.
Cautiously, he peeled back the tape at one end. Then he undid the other end and pulled the paper off the box.
The box turned out to be just as plain as the wrapping, sealed with even more tape.
He pulled out his pocket knife and pried open the lid and then just stared inside. “It’s a baby.” He said, a little confused.
Oh it wasn’t a live baby. But a small China figurine, nestled in faded gold cloth. The baby itself was lying in what looked to be a rough- hewn wood cradle.
The littlest boy recognized the figurine immediately” “It’s the baby Jesus!” he declared. “From the manger scene in the living room.”
And so it was.
“But who put it here?” The mom asked, pulling it out of the box.
But nobody knew. “What does it mean?” the dad asked. And they puzzled over why someone would give them such a strange Christmas gift.
Ironic, isn’t it? As December turned into January, and winter gave way to springtime……
The candy was quickly consumed.
The Nintendo was neglected. The excitement of the new games had pretty much worn off.
Dad’s tools wound up in the garage. Mom’s diamonds in the jewelry box. They were just too busy to have time for projects and fancy nights on the town.
But the baby…….
That gift was somehow different. That gift seemed to grow more precious as the year unfolded around them.
And it wasn’t a very good year.
In March, mom’s company was sold and people were being laid off right and left. As she worried about her job and the future of her career, the aby was there. In the midst of the stress and uncertainty, the baby remined het that her value lay outside of her job and her career. And that God had a plan for her and her life, even though she couldn’t see it. The baby reminded her that she just needed to trust him.
For her, the baby was the Prince of Peace.
In May, the daughter was having trouble at school, Her grades were slipping. Dhe had grown distant and distracted. She wouldn’t talk about what was troubling her. And once again the baby was there….
As the family tried to help her sort things out, they found power and guidance in prayer and encourage from their church and heard the baby’s Good News that she was loved and cared for……no matter what.
The baby, it turned out was a Wonderful Counselor…..
Then in June, when the Dad’s mother died suddenly, they found out what an amazing gift that baby really was.
For in that child, they received hope in the midst of their sorrow, and comfort in the midst of their grief. In that child they found the gateway to eternal life.
In that child they beheld the grace and goodness of our Mighty God and Everlasting Father.
By the next Christmas, the traditions at this family’s house had changed dramatically.
The manger scene which before had been relegated to the relatively unused living room, now commanded a central place under the Christmas tree.
One Christmas Eve, the cheese and crackers and stockings had to wait, util the family read together the story of Christmas and the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is, after all what gives Christmas it’s real meaning.
And the great pile of gifts was gone, and a much smaller pile of gifts that were there had clearly taken a second place to the only real gift under the Christmas tree: A baby lying in a rough-hewn cradle.
Richard Rohr said, “God comes to us disguised as our life.” Our willingness to find God is our own struggle with life, and to let it change us, is our deepest and truest obedience to God’s eternal will.
A baby born to be our Savior- your savior and mine. Born for us, so that we might have life, real life, both now and forever.
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.