Series: Discover Christmas
Rev. Billy D Strayhorn
Did you know that the celebration of Christmas is one of the biggest seasons of the year in Japan? It’s odd because Japan’s population only has about ½ to 1% of the people who are Christians. Yet, they love Christmas. It’s not a national holiday like it is here but they still decorate their houses with lights, most homes will have a Christmas tree. But for them it is all focused on the consumer side. It’s a time simply for parties and celebrations.
The Japanese remind me of a young family I read about who was going home for Christmas. The car was all packed. The mail and the newspaper delivery had been stopped. A neighbor would keep an eye on the house and feed the dog. All the gifts for parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were somehow fitted into the trunk of the car. They had plenty of anti-freeze in the radiator. Their suitcases and hanging clothes were in place. They were finally ready to go. The husband started the car and got ready to pull out of the driveway, when all of a sudden the wife gasped, “Honey, we forgot the baby.”
Sometimes things get so hectic during this time of the year that we forget the real meaning of Christmas, we forget the baby. But this is the night when we CAN’T forget the baby. He’s the one who has led us tonight. He is the inspiration behind all the carols we sing. He IS the Reason and the Meaning.
A 6-year-old little girl emerged from her Sunday school class with a toothless grin on her face and a piece of candy and a new pencil in her hands. "Guess what?" she said to Mom, "I was the best listener today. I won the prize!"
"That''s wonderful," Mom replied. "How did you win?"
"Miss Lynda read a story about baby Jesus then asked what Mary wrapped the baby Jesus in when she laid him in the manger."
"Well, what did Mary wrap him in?"
"Swaddling clothes," came the quick reply.
"What are swaddling clothes?" Mom asked.
"I don't know," she admitted, shrugging her shoulders. "I guess they're what ducks wear." (1) Sometimes we treat Christmas like that, we know the answers, we know the story but we don’t know the meaning behind those answers. Watch this rendition of the Scripture for tonight, the back story, so to speak of the Meaning of the Season:
That’s why we’ve gathered tonight. That’s why we gather every year. This Child of God, this Babe in a manger, is the Son of God who changes everything.
I. THE NATIVITY:
A. In the city neighborhood, about a week before Christmas, a mother stopped and bought a brand new Nativity Set from the local five and dime. When she unpacked it, she found two figures of the Baby Jesus. "Someone must have packed this wrong," she said and then realized that if she had two of the baby Jesus, one of the sets down at the store was missing a Baby Jesus.
So, Mom bundled up the kids again to head down to the store. Dad tried to explain that there were probably thousands of that particular Nativity Set scattered all over the country. It was probably miss packed at whatever plant did the packing. Which meant the figurine could be missing from a set in Florida or Texas or California. Those kind of packing mistakes happen all the time.
But Mom insisted. She took the two kids with her and walked back to store where she told the store manager that that they had an extra Jesus. He tried to tell her the same thing Dad had said but again Mom insisted and the manager agreed to post a sign with the remaining boxes which read: "If you're missing Baby Jesus, call 7126."
All week long Mom kind of hovered around the phone. Every time it rang she’d get an excited look on her face. It was obvious, she wanted to give that Baby Jesus to right person. Someone who’s Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. Every time the phone rang, Mom would say, "I'll bet that's about Jesus." But it never was.
Dad suggested that they just put the extra Jesus back in the box and forget about it. Well, that was the wrong thing to say.
"Put Baby Jesus back in the box?! What a horrible thing to do," Mom said. "Surely someone will call. We'll just keep the two Babies together in the manger until someone does."
When no call had come by 5:00 on Christmas Eve, Mom insisted that Dad "just run down to the store" to see if there were any of the Nativity Sets left. "You can see them right through the window, over on the counter," she said. "If they are all gone, I'll know someone is bound to call tonight."
Dad was not pleased, "Run down to the store? Are you nuts? It's 15 below zero out there!" The kids both piped up and said, "Daddy, we'll go with you!"
So they all got bundled up and headed out the front door. The two kids, a brother and sister talked excitedly about what they were hoping to get for Christmas the next morning.
When they got close to the store, brother ran ahead and pressed his nose up to the store window. "They're all gone, Daddy," he shouted. "Every set must have been sold. Hooray! The mystery will be solved tonight!" Dad who was still about a half a block away, heard the news and immediately turned on his heel and headed back home.
When they got back to the house, they noticed Mom was gone and so was the extra Baby Jesus. "Someone must have called, and she went out to deliver the Baby," Dad reasoned.
"You kids get ready for bed while I wrap Mom's present." Then the phone rang. Dad yelled "answer the phone and tell 'em we found a home for Jesus."
But it was Mom calling with instructions for the family to come to 205 Chestnut Street immediately, and bring three blankets, a box of cookies and some milk. Dad complied but moaned, "Now what’s she gotten us into?" "205 Chestnut. Why that's half way across town.
Dad said, “Wrap that milk up good in the blankets, or it’ll freeze before we get there.” He rolled his eyes and muttered, “Why can't we all just get on with Christmas?”
When they got to the house at 205 Chestnut Street, they noticed it was the darkest one on the block. Only one tiny light burned in the living room. The minute Dad and the kids set foot on the porch, the door opened and Mom said, "They're here! Oh thank God you got here! You kids take those blankets into the living room and wrap up the little ones on the couch. I'll take the milk and cookies."
"Would you mind telling me what is going on?" Dad asked.
Mom said. "There is no heat in this house, and this young mother doesn't know what to do. Her husband walked out on her, and these poor kids are facing a very bleak Christmas, so don't you complain. I told her you could fix that oil furnace in a jiffy.”
And then Mom strode off to the kitchen to warm up the milk. The kids wrapped each of the three little children in their own blanket. The children's mother explained that her husband had run off, taking bedding, clothing, and almost every piece of furniture, and she’d been doing all right until the furnace broke down.
"I’ve been doin' washin' an ironin' for people and cleanin' the five and dime," she said. "I saw your number every day there, on those boxes on the counter. When the furnace went out, that number kept goin' through my mind. 7162, 7162. It said on the box that if a person was missin' Jesus, they should call you. That's how I knew you were good Christian people, willin' to help folks. I figured that maybe you would help me, too. So I stopped at the grocery store tonight, and I called your missus. I'm not missin' Jesus, mister, because I sure love the Lord. But I am missin' heat. I have no money to fix that furnace."
"Okay," said Dad. "You've come to the right place. Now let's see. You've got a little oil burner over there in the dining room. Shouldn't be too hard to fix. I'll look it over, see what it needs."
Mom came into the living room carrying a plate of cookies and warm milk. As she set the cups down on the coffee table, she noticed the figure of the Baby Jesus lying in the center of the table. It was the only sign of Christmas in the house. The children stared with wide-eyed wonder at the plate of cookies Mom set before them.
Dad got the oil burner working but said, "You need more oil. Let me make a few calls tonight and get you some oil. Yes sir, you came to the right place."
On the way home, Dad just grinned. He didn’t complain about the cold weather and he’d barely set foot in house door when he was on the phone. "Ed, hey, how are ya, Ed? Yes, Merry Christmas to you, too. Say Ed, we have kind of an unusual situation here. I know you've got that pick-up truck. Do you still have some oil in that barrel on your truck? You do?"
By this time the rest of the family was pulling clothes out of their closets and toys off of their shelves. It was long after the kid’s bedtime when they were wrapping gifts. The pickup came. On it were chairs, three lamps, more blankets, boxes of food and gifts. There was even a Christmas tree. Ed had made a call to some of the members of their church and in no time flat they had gathered enough stuff to fill the truck with Christmas cheer. (2)
Nobody ever did call about the missing figure in the nativity set. But then, we know it wasn't a packing mistake at all. That night, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us once again in the form of that family in need and the family who could help. It happened because this Babe changes everything but especially our hearts.
As we look into the manger tonight. As we gaze upon the face of the Son of God. We are reminded that He is Salvation in the flesh. Salvation wrapped in swaddling clothes. And that’s the true Meaning of Christmas which God wants us to discover and rediscover year after year.
This is the Promise the Prophets foretold. This babe in a manger is the Expectation, Joy and Perfect Gift we’ve been waiting for. He is the Meaning of Christmas. He came to bring us Salvation. He came to give us Himself.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Susan Childress, Modesto, California in CHRISTIAN HERALD
2. Author Unknown: Adapted from the original
Other References Consulted