Listening to stories and telling stories – these are some of my favorite parts of going to church. They are also one of the very best parts of the season of Advent and getting ready for Christmas. Telling stories is such an important part of our tradition as Christians that we do it every time we gather for worship. Tonight I’m going to share a story that many of you might recognize – and you might think it’s surprising to hear it in church, but I think it has a lot to say to us.
Once there was a little boy who did not have a lot of friends. He knew lots of kids at school, but he was kind of awkward and shy, and sometimes the kids teased him, calling him a “blockhead.” One Christmas one of the kids at school said that he should be the one to pick out the Christmas tree for the class. This little boy thought, “Me? You want me to do this? If I’m going to do this, then I better do it right!” So the little boy went to pick out a tree. And he looked at trees big and tall, shiny and sparkly, trees with all different sorts of branches, and when he found the very perfect one he brought it show all the kids.
But the tree that this little boy had picked out – well, it was a pretty sad looking tree. Just putting one ornament on it and it wilted almost to the ground. When the kids at school saw this they teased the little boy, and made the tree droop even more. The little boy decided to give up and took his little tree home with him.
Then, after he left, something unexpected happened. Someone told a story, about a little baby being born, and how this strange and unexpected birth story brought much rejoicing and singing, because that baby was born for the mere purpose of loving all people in the whole world – no matter who they were, that little tiny baby had enough love for everyone. When the other kids from the class heard that story, they began to think about the joy that such a tiny baby was able to bring into the world… and they started to think that maybe that tiny little unimpressive tree wasn’t so bad after all. So they decided to welcome it, to love it, to celebrate its arrival. And when they did this, something beautiful happened – the people were transformed and the tree revealed its true beauty.
The little boy had drawn their attention to this new thing, full of possibility in the world, and even though they rejected it at first, the community gathered around, joined in the celebration, and participated in the transformation, re-creation, resurrection of what was once a small, simple, humble tree that had come into their lives. And a whole new story came about to be told.
One story takes place inside of another. In the middle of the story of this little boy – the story of a birth announcement was re-told – of a tiny baby came into the world over 2,000 years ago. A child wrapped only in rags, born in the humblest of places – a manger, a barn, a baby, born to an unmarried couple, Joseph and Mary.
And yet, others came to see this child – shepherds were called upon to witness this humble birth, angels and heavenly hosts sang songs to the glory of God, something truly amazing happened.
And today we adorn our churches, sing songs, make special foods, gather for stories and gift giving – so that we too can be a part of that story, so that we can pass it on to our children, and our friends, and those who need to be reminded, that the simplest, most unexpected story, can ignite a passion and a love in people that can change the world.
A little boy loves a tree and shares it with his friends, and those friends are changed – they feel that love and decide to give it back, and new life grows: there in their hearts and in the world around them.
This Christmas, as you gather and tell your stories – listen for the places where something new has come from something old; where something or someone has been transformed – rarely does it happen alone, or without something deep inside igniting a passion to respond to the world with a heart of love.
Think of your own stories as they relate to those of our ancestors, the people of the Bible who have all been there before, and been through the same kinds of difficulties and the same kinds of joys that we face live with in our world today.
Love one another, love God, and know that your story matters. Know that God is there, and that Christ’s love for each of his children – the children that gather at our feet, and the children that we are in our hearts, can be broken open, and live our lives as the gifts of love that we are to the world. And don’t forget to tell the story. Amen.
Delivered by The Rev. Mary Catherine Enockson
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The Episcopal Church of Our Saviour,