25 DECEMBER 2001
Scriptual Reference: Isaiah 9:1-6, Psalm 96:1-3,11-13, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14

Born in Our Hearts

       I heard a love story once about a couple that had been married many years. Betty and Fred were in their late 70ís, and knew one another very well. They had a morning routine that never varied. Betty would make a small pot of coffee, and pour each of them a cup: cream with hers and sugar with his. Meanwhile, Fred would make the toast. Time after time, when Fred reached the end of a loaf, he would put the heals of the loaf on Bettyís plate. This always irked Betty a little, but she had learned to let go of the little things many years before. One day though, Betty finally asked: "Fred, why do you always give me the heels?" Fred looked surprised that his wife would ask. "My dear," he replied, "the heels are my favorite part. I give them to you each time because I love you." From that time on, Betty treasured the loaf heels that Fred would set on her plate.

       Today we gather together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. And, once again, we hear the familiar passage from Lukeís gospel that recounts the famous story of Christís birth. Because we read it every year, it can sound like a series of facts that we might read in the news. But behind every fact is a second level of meaning. Luke, like other Middle Eastern storytellers, is not concerned as much with history as he is the interpretation of that history. For instance, Luke mentions the census of Caesar Augustus, but there is no other historical proof that such a census was taken. However, Augustus was known as an emperor of peace, and Luke means to say that Jesus is truly the prince of peace. There is no room for Mary, Joseph and Jesus in the inn, a fitting circumstance for one who will be despised and rejected in the course of his adult ministry. Mary lays the child in the manger, a feedbox. This is not just a simple of act of necessity: Luke is telling us that Jesus will be food for all of the world in the bread and wine offered in the Eucharist. After all, it is not a coincidence that Jesus is born in Bethlehem, a name which means "house of bread." Finally, the shepherds come to pay him homage. Shepherds were considered the lowest of the low lifes in first century Palestine. Luke is clearly sending us a signal that Jesus comes for everyone, not just the rich, not just the powerful. And if there could be any doubt in our minds, Luke makes it clear that this child is Godís son: the angels make that clear when they announce Godís glory.

       We see that there is a deeper meaning to the Christmas story, just as there was a deeper meaning to Fredís offering of loaf heels to his wife Betty. And there is another message that is woven throughout the story. In fact, it is the same message that Fred sent to his wife Betty when he offered her his simple gift. That message: God loves us very much. And, God has sent us his very own son, born in human history, to be a his gift of love for us. But tonight, we are not here simply to celebrate an act of love made to us 2000 years ago, for believe that on this day, Jesus is born again. He is born in our hearts, and cries out for us to nurture his presence and to care for him. Let me explain what Iím saying.

       Today, I read a story in the Indianapolis Star about a man named Jack. Jack is a retired man from southern Indiana, and he had a beautiful sheltie named Roy. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Jack and Roy, they took walks together everyday and Jack made it a point to chat with all of his neighbors. Jack and Roy didnít know a stranger. Kids loved Jack and Roy, and always told Jack that Roy looked just like Lassie. But, one day, word spread around the neighborhood that Roy was sick. In fact, Jack had to have Roy put to sleep so that he wouldnít suffer anymore. Jackís neighbors were just about as upset as he was. So, one man named Dennis began to circulate a flyer, asking people to donate money on the QT to buy Jack a new sheltie puppy, not to replace Roy, but to fill the void in Jackís heart. The neighbors responded generously, and collected over $1,000. Dennis went to a private breeder to purchase the puppy, and all of the neighbors gathered together to present Jack with his new friend. They found him on his familiar path, giving a treat to a neighborís poodle. Seeing the crowd, Jack looked up and said, "What is all this?" His neighbors burst into a round of "We wish you a merry Christmas" and handed the new puppy to Jack. Jack fell down on his knees to receive the wiggly puppy, and began to weep, barely even able to mouth the words Thank you so much. "I didnít deserve this," Jack said, "Iíll try to be a good neighbor." "Youíre a great neighbor," his friends replied, "the best in the world."

       How does God want us to care for his son, who is born in our hearts? The answer is easy: by being a good neighbor. We care for the child Jesus when we reach out to others in need. We nurture the presence of God in our hearts when we hold the hand of an elderly friend or play a game of checkers with him or her. We quiet a crying baby when we feed the hungry and serve the poor. We rejoice with that gurgling infant when we come together for worship. You know, the Christian faith that we celebrate today (tonight) is truly awesome: we believe in a God whose presence is born within us, and whose presence we can touch and see as we interact with one another in ways that heartfelt. Today is born a Saviour, his name is Christ the Lord. Amen, Alleluia, and Merry Christmas! +

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