Sermon by Pastor Chris Nelson

Let me share a story, told by Carol McAdoo Rehme. It’s really a story within a story about a woman, newly single, and miserable- lonely, angry and with good reason- and how in installments (the opposite of “bingeing,” just one chapter a day), an anonymous person leaves her pieces of a Christmas story from long ago…

The story she was receiving was about an orphanage in Copenhagen during the 1860’s. There was a new resident- a little boy, desperately poor… And while missing his parents terribly, he was so happy to have a warm bed- a roof over his head, and regular food- even though it was thin porridge, it was better than what he was used to on the streets…

From the other children, he heard tales of a beautiful tree that would appear in the hall on Christmas Eve- the many candles that would light its branches… And instead of the usual porridge, there would be a wonderful stew, and crusty, hot bread served that night…

And best of all, each child would receive a holiday treat- their very own orange… (Think about that- an orange as a marvelous, special gift???)  This little boy had seen oranges in the market, but had never been able to even hold one…

Christmas Eve came- the dinner was sumptuous; the tree magnificent- and the little boy joined the line to get his orange… But when it was his turn, the headmaster said to him, “Too bad, young man, too bad. But the count was in before you arrived and all the oranges are gone. Next year, you shall receive your orange…”

The little boy raced up the stairs empty handed and buried his face and his tears in his pillow…

We spend so much time each Christmas season searching- looking- seeking- for parking places (the malls were unbelievable this year, I thought)- and for that perfect gift­- for a child, or parent, or significant other, or spouse…

Did you find it this year? Do you think you’ll get it this year? (Or did you earlier tonight?)

But we search for much more than presents don’t we? Scholars tell us we have become a culture of searchers- of seekers, and especially when it comes to spirituality…

Article after article, book after book, you can read about a quest for spiritual fulfillment. And all are reporting on the need that people of all ages have to answer life’s big questions: Is there meaning? Does my life count? Why am I here? Is there a God? Can I know God? It spans all ages- from the “nones,” the millennials who commit to no “organized religion,” to baby boomers and on up!

These questions are not accidental! God places them in us! God begins that seeking, that search, and in the marvelous gift of Christmas, we begin to get them answered, but only if we’re looking!

Have you ever noticed that most of the world missed that first Christmas? Most people weren’t paying attention- they were looking elsewhere- doing other things. The only people who saw it were the ones who were looking: the shepherds- they heard the Angels, and went off to find the baby Jesus… Later, the magi- found Jesus because they were seeking him!

What they found so long ago, you can find today (tonight): the very heart and soul of God! What they found, you are offered: the opportunity to know that heart and soul of God- to know the God who has known and loved you from before you were born…

What they found, you can find, in the gift of the baby Jesus!

First, the gift of forgiveness: who of us is perfect? Who of us could stand in front of out families and friends, much less the God who created the universe, and claim perfection?

And the result? We hurt each other- we hurt God, again and again. We are separated from each other- alienated from each other, and from God. If we depended on our perfection to know God, we would be doomed to fail!

But in God’s great love for us, we were given a Savior, literally,” one who forgives!”  St. Luke tells us, “for to you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior…”

And with that forgiveness comes the gift of a clear conscience- a priceless gift!

Your past is forgiven; you receive a new start!

And how do you receive that gift? Know that you cannot do it yourself! Pastor Beth Warpmaeker told the story of serving as a lifeguard in high school, and how she nearly drowned when she forgot the cardinal rule of life-guarding: you cannot save a struggling swimmer- they’ll pull you down with them! So you swim out, wait until they give up, and when the struggle stops, wrap an arm around their chest and swim in…

Stop struggling to save yourself! Give your life up! And God will say to you, “I’m here, I always have been- you’re mine!”

With forgiveness comes the gift of Peace of Mind… We live in a culture that has no idea what peace of mind is- or where it can be found… in relationships? In busy-ness, or jobs? In success?

True peace of mind comes from a relationship with Jesus- from being a friend of God. Peace of mind comes from knowing that no matter what, God will never stop loving you- will never leave you…

I have a plaque in my office that I look at daily- and pray the prayer on it: Help me remember, Lord, that nothing will happen today that you and I can’t handle together…

There’s one more gift of the Christ Child tonight- the Gift of Eternal Life!

This baby whose birth we celebrate grew to adulthood. He showed us God’s love, God’s healing-  God’s plan for how we are to live, and then he went to the cross for each and every one of us. He died the death we all face!

God raised him from the dead on the third day, and because Jesus lives, we know that God’s love transcends even death itself! God’s love is there each and every day of our lives, and each and every day of eternity!

To receive the gift of Eternal Life is to know that your future is certain- secure- in the hands of the baby born so long ago on this Holy night: No matter what happens, whether we live, or whether we die, we belong to the Lord!

The last installment of the story of the little orphan boy arrived in a gift bag, and Jean, the angry, lonely woman wanted to know what happened:

The little boy lay on his bed, sobbing, when there was a gentle tap on his back. The tap became more insistent, and he finally looked up. He smelled before he saw it: a cloth napkin rested on the mattress, and tucked inside was a pealed orange, tangy sweet- made up of segments from other oranges- other children had each contributed one slice, and together, they added up to make one whole, complete orange… His very own orange…

Jean felt the tear run down her face- and from the bottom of the gift bag, she pulled out an orange- a foil covered chocolate orange, already separated into segments. And for the first time in weeks- perhaps months, she smiled, she really smiled.

She made copies of the story- and wrapped individual slices of her orange: there was Mrs. Potter across the street, spending her first Christmas alone in 58 years. And Melanie down the block, facing her second round of chemotherapy. Her running partner, Jan- a single parent with a difficult teen… and lonely Mr. Bradford, losing his eyesight- she would read the story to him…

A piece from her might make one whole…

We think we’re looking for happiness, for love, for success, for significance…

But what we’re really looking for is God, and God has ALWAYS known what we need!

At Christmas, God came to earth so that we could have the ultimate gift: the gift of knowing God- of what God is like…a miracle in our midst…

In the Holy Child of Bethlehem, God offers you salvation:

  • Forgiveness for your past;
    Peace of mind for you present;
    Security for your future!

All gifts, all offered in the birth of that Baby…

This is NOT about religion- or rules- or dogma- this is about a relationship! A relationship offered in Baby Jesus! That’s the gift! Unwrap it!

Come and receive him in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. Walk with us in this life changing adventure of faith with our Lord Jesus leading us each and every step of the way!

For to you is born this night in the City of David a Savior who is the Messiah, the Lord! Amen.