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It's Not What You Have . . .

by HW in HI

based on Luke 2:1-20

Christmas seems to have this wonderful quality of bringing people together. Have you noticed that? Family members hop on airplanes and fly, or hop in cars and drive -- to get home for Christmas. People at work that never spend an extra second together suddenly have time to draw names for presents. Strangers wish each other Merry Christmas while standing in line at Walmart.

Probably my favorite bringing together of people happens at church. We prepare. Just like the rest of the world, we started getting ready right after Thanksgiving, when we began preparing our hearts with the Scripture readings of the prophecies from Isaiah. We spent a week working on the Christmas bulletin. Our organist put together a choir, and they have been practicing at a great rate. We took 34 gifts down the hill to share Christmas with people who don’t have much. The children offered a wonderful play of the birth of Jesus on Sunday evening. A tree was bought and decorated. Our beat-up table in the parish hall was transformed to something festive and beautiful. People worked all day Tuesday making boughs of greens for the windows. Poinsettias came later. And the altar was set.

So we have prepared. We’re ready. It’s Christmas Eve at St. James’. It’s Christmas Eve in Waimea. And its Christmas Eve all over the world.

This is a good time for us to stop and wonder why we are doing all this. This is a good time to ask that old question, “What child is this?” We have a nativity set in our house. It was a gift a few years back, and I really enjoy setting it up. But it’s so easy to set it up and forget to wonder.

In the ancient days, people knew to look for God in high places. God was more likely to be found on mountain tops or in the clouds. People also knew that those who did well in life were somehow better than everyone else. If somehow God were to leave the high lofty places, they knew that God would probably be found among the rich and famous. Why would God choose some other lifestyle?

What a surprise to find God came into this world as part of a working family in a regular little town. Nothing special. Nothing unusual. When we ask, “What child is this?” maybe we are really asking, “What kind of God is this?”

The wonder of Christmas has everything to do with amazing gifts, shared meals, family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is a God who would risk everything to come and live among us. A God who chose to be born to teenage parents in a small town in an occupied country. The wonder of Christmas has everything to do with a God who said, “Material worth is not that important. Let me show you a better way to live.”

About 4 years ago, two Americans were invited by the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics from the Bible in the public schools. They also taught at a large orphanage. In that orphanage there were about 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned or abused.

It was nearing Christmas, and they told the children the story of Joseph and Mary and Jesus and the Angels and Shepherds and the Magi – for the first time. The children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. After they finished the story, the children were given simple materials so that each child could make his or her own nativity scene. They used three small pieces of cardboard to make a manger. They tore yellow napkins to make straw. Small squares of flannel were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt . As the orphans were busy making their nativity scenes, one of the teachers walked among them to see if they needed any help.

All went well until he came to one table where little Misha sat. Misha was about 6 years old and had finished his project. As the teacher looked at the little boy's manger, he was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, he called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger. Misha crossed his arms in front of him and began to repeat the Christmas story. The teacher was amazed. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, Misha told the story with great care and detail until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story.

Misha said, "And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him---for always."

In a single telling of the birth of Jesus, Misha had found Jesus and claimed him as his own. Misha showed us that it's not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts.

Like Misha, this is a good night for us to ask ourselves, “What child is this?” Amen