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The 1st Sunday After Christmas; Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-15 (The Christmas Story Mash-up According to Hallmark with Maybe the Flight into Egypt Thrown In)

A warning: normally on Sunday, my sermons will be (at least loosely!)based on one of the Scriptures for the day. Not so today: I’m going to draw on (loosely!) both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, and so I’ll call my text (loosely!) The Christmas Story Mash-up According to Hallmark with Maybe the Flight into Egypt Thrown In.

For part of my justification for this I am going to appeal to authority; quoting the French author André Gide who not only speaks to the story that you will shortly hear, but to the entire preaching enterprise. Gide wrote. “Everything that needs to be said has already been said, but since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” And to further understand why I’m going to tell you what I am going to tell you, you will have to listen, despite Gide.

Sometime in 2024, I will have been preaching about 40 years, and am well north of 1400 sermons in total. I haven’t counted how many of those were Christmas sermons, but there’s one I’ve preached a lot, at least the general theme!

The first time was Christmas Eve 1990 at St. Luke’s in Cambridge; it was a children’s story, worked up somewhat quickly, from a dim idea I remembered from a narrative preaching course years earlier. The next time was my 1st Christmas in 1991 at St. Francis of Assisi in Mississauga, again as a children’s story at the Family Christmas Eve Eucharist, a bit more developed after sitting with it for a year. Surprisingly, some adults asked for copies, which I didn’t have – it was after all a children’s story, and I’d winged it from memory. Then, the following Christmas, I was asked to work it up for adults at the Midnight Mass. Years later that congregation asked for it on my last Christmas Eve there, knowing I was moving on. At Christ Church Scarborough Village I used it one Christmas Eve, and years later people asked for copies when I announced I was leaving to be Chaplain at Renison University College (because you really can’t preach a Christmas sermon in late August!) And, used one Christmas at Renison, it once again got requests for printed copies! Then I retired, and as your Honorary Assistant Priest at St. Andrew’s in Kitchener I snuck it in on a 2nd Sunday of Christmas early on – same result; reprints and a few people asking that I preach it again, if possible. And it was possible, 5 years ago on Christmas Eve; same result, request for copies, and some insistence on a repeat (you know who you are). But this time, despite André Gide, listen, because I don’t know how many more times I’m going to be able to do this!

All together, this one sermon has produced more response, requests for copies or repeats, than anything else I have ever preached. It is also the most edited sermon; I’ve adjusted it, added or subtracted little details. Over the years, the people populating this story have become real to me; I could describe them, they have grown as persons; they are friends. And today I will again bring them to life, again somewhat changed because I have changed, and share them with you!

I have pondered why this one story sermon captures people’s imaginations. As I reflect on what Christmas has become, besides its obvious commercialization almost beyond recognition, it strikes me that our world has made Christmas a charming story from the past and far away. “In those days … once upon a time … in royal David’s city … it came upon the midnight clear …” The story of the birth of the Son of the living God, with its stable setting, shepherds, and angels, has become the subject of thousands of Christmas cards, usually mixed up as I am doing today with the entirely different Epiphany story with its Magi, sentimentalised in popular Christmas songs heard over and over again, on the radio, as background to Hallmark movies, and in the noise track in shopping malls.

Sadly, the Christmas story has become a past event, something to be looked back to with nostalgia, and a wishful thought that it would be nice if that happened now, when we really need it, but with no real hope for that. We want Christ to be born for us, into our life and time and world; we seek and hope for a birth of God into our circumstances. Never mind that our faith tells us that the past event of Christ’s birth has meaning for us, that it was for us. We have lost the ability of our Jewish ancestors to experience stories of our faith in our own present. We yearn to go to Bethlehem ourselves, to see for ourselves, to touch for ourselves, to hold for ourselves. We want the love and peace the Christ child brought, not only as a promised hope, but as a reality. We don’t want brought, we want brings! … Perhaps we can …

Larry and Violet got into the car after the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, just a little dissatisfied and wanting more. Oh, it had been a spectacular service, dozens of candles, splendid music, magnificent processions, clouds of incense, bells, … surprisingly even a good sermon. Somehow, it wasn’t enough. Christmas hadn’t come yet, for them.

Perhaps it was having to go home to an empty house for the first time, a house that for the last thirty years had always been a home, had laughter of children and grandchildren at Christmas. But now all were far away, unable to return, and the big house, with the big Christmas tree, suddenly wasn’t a family home anymore.

“How about a cup of coffee,” asked Larry.

“Where? There’s nothing open,” said Violet.

“The truck stop, out on the Trans-Canada, it’s open 24 hours.” Larry drove, as a light snow started falling. When they got on the highway the snow was a lot heavier, but now they couldn’t turn back, so they drove on, slowly, just on the edge of sliding. The car radio was playing carols, fading in and out, from some far-away station.

“This was a stupid idea,” muttered Larry. “It was your stupid idea,” Violet muttered back. They began a low-voiced argument, with not a lot of energy in it, as they drove through the now blinding snow, rapidly becoming a blinding blizzard. Finally, the lights of the truck stop shone dimly off to the side, and Larry pulled into the empty parking lot. “Might as well have that coffee,” he said. “Sure, and lets get snowed in here while we’re at it,” snapped Violet, with more than an edge to her voice.

They went into the empty diner, still sparring verbally. A waitress was wiping down tables without much energy. In the corner a dog and a cat were trying to sleep on the same, too small cushion, and fighting, without much enthusiasm. Larry and Violet sat down, still grumbling. Outside, the snow was relentless, almost strangling the lights trying to light up the parking lot.

“What d’yas want?” The waitress had come over to their table. “Coffee.” “The pot’s stale; been nobody in here for hours.” “Can you make some fresh?” “What, just for the twos of yous?”

Just then three big trucks pulled in off the highway. The drivers, big, burly, bearded, stomped in, sat, and demanded coffee. The waitress went off, muttering, to put on a fresh pot. The truckers meanwhile began to argue over something or other that had happened on the road; who had cut off who, who passed on the wrong side, whatever. The language got quite colourful, and Larry and Violet tried hard to look like they weren’t there. Outside, the blizzard raged on, maybe raged worse.

“Here’s your coffee; that’ll be two bucks each.” The waitress went around slamming mugs on the tables. The cat and dog woke up, and continued the fight over who was going to get that cushion. The truckers continued their argument. The blizzard continued to rage. It looked like being a long night!

A noisy pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot; beat up, rusty, windows almost frozen solid. Two people came out, and into the diner, a young woman, an older man. Three people; the woman was carrying a tiny baby. Everyone looked at the newcomers; hey, it was the only excitement there was.

“We’re trying to get to my new job so I can take care of my family, but the truck isn’t doing too well in the snow, and our son’s hungry and needs changing,” the man explained. The baby made gurgling noises as the warmth of the diner brought colour to its cold cheeks. The waitress went over. “Here, I’ll hold him while yous get them there coats off and sits yous down.” The man and woman took off their worn jackets and sat at a table. Their clothing was clean, but near worn out; poverty seemed to be stamped on them. “Kootchie, koo, look at you, sweetie boy,” went the waitress, suddenly much less grumpy, as she unwrapped the baby from his ragged blanket.

The mother took the baby back. “Where can I change him?” she asked. “Whys don’t yous use the spare table over there, I’ll clean it up later.” The waitress seemed to have forgotten her surly attitude of just moments ago, and been transformed into a welcoming hostess. “Can I warm yous up some milk for the baby?” she asked. “We don’t have any money,” the mother said. “No problem, he can’t possibly drink enough milk to be noticed by no one.” The waitress beamed as she busied herself with a saucepan and carton of milk. The mother began to change the baby.

“Where’s yous bottle?” asked the waitress. The father handed it to her and she filled it with milk. “Just as soon as the baby’s done, I’ll get yous some coffee and pie,” she said to the parents. “We can’t pay,” said the father. “Don’t matter, no problem! After all, it’s Christmas.”

The truckers had taken an interest in this family scene, and one of them came over to where the mother was now feeding the boy his bottle. “Ah, ain’t he sweet,” the big, burly, bearded man said. “Looks like my young kid, when he was about a week or two. When you’re done feeding him, can I hold him, so you can drink your coffee and eat your pie?” He was as good as his word, and soon was bouncing the infant up and down on his knees, making gurgling noises, wrapping him in arms heavily covered in slightly x-rated tattoos. His buddies came over, their disagreements forgotten, and soon they were all competing for who could hold the baby. The dog and the cat too forgot their fight and came over; the cat jumping up on the lap of the trucker holding the child and cuddling up next to it; the dog nuzzling up to a tiny hand.

“Hey, Mac; hey, lady!” Violet and Larry were roused from their contemplation of this happy scene by biggest of the truckers. “Can you hold the baby, we’s got to go to our trucks and get some stuff?” Larry took the baby, and half-forgotten instinct took over and he began to cuddle it and murmur to it. Violet reached over and began to stroke a tiny hand. “Can I hold him; it’s been so long?” she asked gently. “Sure,” said Larry, handing her the baby. They sat close together, awed with the tiny life they were holding.

The truckers came back with packages. “These here were some of the gifts for our families, but we have lots left over fer them.” They showered baby clothes and toys and chocolate on the parents. They protested, but the truckers insisted, and soon the gifts were given.

A loud rumbling noise came from the highway, and all looked out. The blizzard had stopped as quickly as it had begun, and snowploughs were already clearing the road. “Time to get going, miles to go yet” the truckers chorused. “We’d better start driving again too, so we’ll be at our new home by morning,” the young mother said. The waitress showed up with carrier bags for the gifts, a parcel of sandwiches, and thermoses of hot coffee for the parents and warm milk for the baby, which she insisted they take. “Yous can drop them off when you’re next through this way,” she insisted.

As quickly as the small group had gathered, it dispersed, as all got back into their trucks and car. To the sounds of “Merry Christmas” a small caravan pulled out onto the highway, as everyone went on their way. Larry and Violet waved to the waitress, standing in the door of the diner waving back; the dog and cat peering out into the night at her side.

They were quiet in the car for a long time, but it was a gentle, comfortable quiet. The only sound was the faint hiss from the radio, the station having long since faded into silence. “Larry?” Violet murmured quietly. “What?” was the slow and thoughtful reply. “Do you think, that might have been, ah, ah, them?” “Who?” Violet waited a while before she answered, “You know, it’s Christmas. Do you think that was them; you know, them; Mary, Joseph, and the baby?”

“What makes you think that?” asked Larry. “Well, the way we all forgot our grumpiness and fighting when they walked in. Peace, good will; you know. They way they all suddenly became generous, brought gifts.” Long silence. “Babies do that to people,” said Larry. He was quiet for a long time, and so was Violet. Then “Nah, it couldn’t have been,” they muttered, quietly, almost simultaneous.

And just then the radio came to life, and a voice filled the car;

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!

Copyright ©2023 by Gerry Mueller