Dec 24th, Christmas Eve, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Rev. Dr. Steven Koski
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Dec 24th: Christmas Eve, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
Here is the story of the birth of Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Cornius was governor of Syria and everyone went to their own town to register. Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth and Galilee to Judea to Bethlehem, the town of David because Joseph belonged to the house and the line of David. And Joseph went there to be registered with Mary with whom he was engaged to be married.
And Mary was expecting a child. While they were there in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born and Mary gave birth to her first born son. She wrapped him in cloths and she placed him in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough because there was no guest room available for them. Now, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them.
They were terrified. But the angels said to them do not be afraid. I bring you good news. Good news that will cause great joy for all people today. In the town of David, a savior a savior has been born to you.
This will be a sign. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger. And suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God, saying, glory to God in the highest heaven and unearth peace and goodwill to all. When the angels left the shepherds returning to heaven the shepherds said to one another let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which has been mandoed to us. So they hurried off and they found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger.
When they saw the child, they shared what had been told them about this child. And all who heard were amazed amazed at what the shepherd said.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.
This is the word of God. Thanks be to God.
I offer this prayer. O God, your great gift of love can be a gift truly only if we open our hearts to receive it. So our prayer on this holy night is that each heart might find room to receive your great gift of love that your love might be born anew within us so that we, in turn, might offer one another in the world the gift that really matters. Amen. I want to share a story this night written by Harvey Patterson.
I’m going to tell the story and in the first person hoping that you can imagine being there. It was christmas eve, 1942. I was 15 years old and feeling like the world had caved in on me because there hadn’t been enough money to buy me the rifle that I’d wanted for christmas. The only thing I wanted for christmas. We did the chores early that night.
For some reason, I just figured daddy wanted a little extra time so we could read in the bible after supper. When supper was over, I took my boots off and stretched out in front of the fireplace and waited for daddy to get down the old bible. I was still feeling pretty sorry for myself, and to be honest, I wasn’t in much of a mood to read scriptures. But daddy didn’t get the bible. Instead, he bundled up again, and he went outside.
I couldn’t figure it out because we had already done all the chores. Soon he came back in. It was a cold, clear night out, and there was ice on his beard. Come on, Maddie said, butle up good. It’s cold out tonight.
I was really mad. Not only wasn’t I getting the rifle for christmas, now he was dragging me out in the cold. I got up, put my boots back on, got my coat. Mommy gave me a mysterious smile as I opened the door to leave the house. Something was up.
I I just didn’t know what. Outside, I became even more dismayed. There in front of the house was the work team already hitched to the big sled. We never hitched up the sled unless we were going to haul a big load. Daddy was already up on the seat, reins in hand.
I reluctantly climbed up beside him. The cold. It was so cold. The cold was already biting at me. I wasn’t happy.
Daddy pulled the sled around the house and stopped in front of the woodshed. Daddy went into the woodshed and came out with an armload of of wood. The wood I’d spent all summer hauling down from the mountain and then all fall sawing and splitting the wood. What are you doing? I asked.
You been by the widow Jensen’s lately? Daddy asked. Mrs. Jensen lived about 2 miles down the road. Her husband died a year ago.
Left her with three children, the oldest being the oldest being just eight years old. I rode by today, daddy said. Little jakey was out digging around in the wood pile, trying to find a few chips. They’re out of wood, matt. That was all he said.
Then he turned, went back into the woodshed for another armload of wood. I followed him. We loaded the sled so high that I began to wonder if the horses would actually be able to pull it. Finally, daddy called a hout to our loading. Then we went to the smokehouse.
Daddy took down a big ham cider, bacon. He handed them to me and told me to put them in the sled. And he went back into the smokehouse, returned with a sack of flour over his right shoulder and a smaller sack of something in his left hand. What’s in the little sack? I asked.
Shoes. They’re out of shoes. Little Jakey just had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet when he was out in the wood pile this morning. And I got the children a little candy too. It just wouldn’t be Christmas, daddy said, without a little candy.
We rode the 2 miles to Mrs. Jensen’s pretty much in silence. I tried to think through what daddy was doing. I mean, we didn’t have much ourselves by worldly standards, of course. We had a big wood pile, though most of what was left now is still in the form of logs that I would have to saw into blocks and split before we could use them.
We also had meat and flour, so we could spare that. But I knew we didn’t have any money. So why was daddy buying them shoes and candy? Really? Why was he doing any of this?
Widow Jensen had closer neighbors than us. It shouldn’t have been our concern.
We came to the Jensen house and unloaded the wood as quietly as possible. Then we took the meat and the flour and the shoes to the door. Daddy knocked. The door opened just a crack, and a timid voice said, who is it? Lucas, Miles, ma’am.
And my son Matt. Could we come in for a bit? Mrs. Jensen opened the door and let us in. She had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
The children were wrapped in another blanket sitting in front of the fireplace. The fireplace that had a really, really small fire that hardly gave off any heat at all. Mrs. Jensen fumbled with a match and and finally managed to light the lamp. We brought you a few things, ma’am, daddy said, and he sat down the sack of flour.
I put the meat on the table. Then daddy handed her the sack that had the shoes in it. She opened it hesitantly, took the shoes out one pair at a time. There was a pair for her and one for each of the children sturdy shoes. Shoes that would last.
I watched her carefully. She bit her lower lip to keep it from trembling. And then tears filled her eyes and started running down her cheeks. She looked up at my daddy like she wanted to say something, but it wouldn’t come out. We brought a load of wood too, ma’am, he said.
Then daddy turned to me and said, matt, go bring enough to last a while. Let’s get that fire up to size and heat this place up.
I have to admit, I wasn’t the same person when I went back out to bring in the wood. I kind of had a big lump in my throat. And as much as I hate to admit it, there were tears in my eyes too. In my mind, I kept seeing those those three kids huddled around the fireplace and and their mother standing there with tears running down her cheeks with so much gratitude in her heart that she couldn’t speak. My heart swelled within me and a joy that I’d never known before filled my soul.
Now. I’d given gifts at Christmas many times before, but never when it had when it made so much difference. I could see that we were literally saving the lives of these people. What I soon had to fire blazing and didn’t take long for everyone’s spirit to soar. The kids started giggling when when Daddy handed the meat a piece of candy and Mrs.
Jensen looked on with a smile that probably hadn’t crossed her face for a very long time, she finally turned to us. God bless you, she said. I know the Lord has sent you the children. And I had been praying that he would send one of his angels to spare us.
In spite of myself that the lump returned to my throat and the tears again welled up in my eyes. I admit I’d never really thought of my daddy in those exact terms before. But after Widow Jensen mentioned it, I could probably see that it was true now. Daddy insisted that everyone try the shoes before we left. I was amazed when they all fit.
I wondered how he had possibly known the sizes to get then. I guess that if he was on an errand for the Lord, that the Lord would make sure he got the right sizes.
Tears were running down Widow Jensen’s face again when we stood up to leave. And my daddy my daddy took each of the kids in his big arms and he gave them a hug and they clung to him and didn’t want us to go.
I could see that they missed their daddy. I was glad I still had mine.
At the door, my daddy turned to Widow Jensen and said the Mrs. Wanted me to invite you invite you and the children over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The turkey will be more than the three of us can eat, and a man can get pretty contemptuous if he has to eat turkey for too long. We’ll be by to get you about eleven. It’ll be nice to have some little ones around again.
Matt here hasn’t been little for quite a spell.
Mrs. Jensen nodded and simply said thank you.
Out on the sled I felt a warmth that came from deep within. I didn’t even notice the cold. When we’d gone away’s, daddy turned to me and said matt. Matt, I want you to note something. Your mother and me, we’d been tucking a little money away here and there for a whole year so we could buy you that rifle that you wanted.
But we didn’t have quite enough. Then yesterday, a man who owed me a little money from years back unexpectedly came by to make things square. Your mom and me. We were real excited thinking that now we could get you that rifle. And I started in the town this morning to do just that, to get you that rifle.
But on the way, I saw little Jakey. I saw a little Jakey out there scratching in the wood pile with his feet wrapped in those gunny sacks. And I knew what I had to do. Son, I spent the money for shoes and a little candy for those children.
I hope you understand.
I understood, and my eyes became wet with tears again. I understood very well, and I was so glad Daddy had done it. Now, the rifle seemed very low on my list of priorities because Daddy had given me a whole lot more.
He’d given me the look on Mrs. Jensen’s face and the radiant smiles of her three children.
And I have that for the rest of my life. Whenever I remember their smiles, it brings back that same joy I felt riding home beside my daddy.
My daddy had given me much more than a rifle that night.
He’d given me the best Christmas of my life.
I love that story. Friends, Christ is born again and again and again. Wherever love is, the child of Bethlehem is born. Whenever unexpected grace and kindness and joy break into our lives.
Frederick Beechner put it beautifully come, come and behold him born the King of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him in whatever way seems right to you, in whatever time.
Come to him with your empty hands and your open hearts. The great promise is that to come to him who was born in Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.
May it be so.