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One of my favorite pastors relates the following story about buying a Nativity set.
My mother-in-law, Ruby, lives in the southern Indiana town of Paoli. We spend family Christmas with her. But Christmas isn’t official in Paoli until Wilson Roberts decorates his variety store, which he does on the day after Thanksgiving. Each year it is the same adornments: a cardboard cutout of Rudolph taped to the front window, a strand of tinsel hung over the check-out counter, a bucket of candy canes sittin’ next to the cash register. On that day, at precisely 8:50am, people from all over town head to the variety store to start their gift-buying. It is a migration every bit as predictable as the swallows of Capistrano. I stopped in a few years ago looking for a nativity set. It’s a small store, in sore need of a liquidation sale. Wilson’s motto is, We have it, if we can find it. Forty years of merchandise is stacked to the ceiling. I went inside and sought out Mr. Roberts; he was sittin’ in the back of the store, puffin’ on one of those rum-soaked Wolf Brothers Crooks cigars, his ashes dribblin’ on the floor.
“I’d like to buy a nativity set.”
“Well I know we have one if we can just find it,” he said.
He began to look by the hair nets and bobby pins, not there; by the garden hoses, not there; by the yard goods and notions, not there either. He looked over near the lawn chairs, then underneath the candy display, which is where he found it. He blew the dust off the box, opened it up and began to take a roll call. One manger, one kneeling mother, one proud father, three wise men, one sheep, one cow, one donkey, and oh yea, one baby Jesus.
“Everyone present and accounted for; that’ll be 12 bucks,” he said.
“How ‘bout 10?” I countered, “The box is torn and the cow is missing an ear.”
Wilson Roberts squinted, shifted his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other, and finally said, “Deal.”
The day I bought the nativity set was the last day I saw Wilson Roberts alive. He died the next year; we drive past his old store on the way to Thanksgiving dinner at Ruby’s. The variety store is closed now. When he died; it died. Every now and then I think back on Wilson Roberts searching here and there amidst hair nets and bobby pins and garden hoses and yard goods for the baby Jesus. Sometimes our search for the Divine, our longing for the true meaning of Christmas has us poking around into all kinds of corners. 1
John writes, “He (Jesus) came unto His own, and His own received Him not”
because even though they were wishing and hoping and begging for an encounter with the Divine, they were looking in all the wrong places. John tells us that when John the Baptist tried to point them in the right direction they weren’t buying what he was selling: a carpenter’s son? from Galilee? who preaches peace and love?
John writes, “He (Jesus) came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” because even though they were wishing and hoping and begging for an encounter with the Divine, they were looking in all the wrong places. They were desperately looking for a Jewish Messiah who would come among them as a Warrior Priest who would lead Jewish revolutionaries in an overthrow of the Roman government. When instead, He died on a Roman cross His own people rejected the entire idea of a suffering Messiah, despite the fact that’s how the scriptures pictured Him. And consequently, they missed out on their one real chance to hook up with God.
They, like Wilson Roberts, were looking in all the wrong places.
In some circles, the same dynamic exists 2000 years later.
Some search for a meaningful Christmas in Santa Claus. I recall a childhood Christmas when more than anything else I was wishin’ and hopin’ for a Chemistry Set. I promised Santa Claus that if he would bring me that chemistry set I would become a model child. My entire Christmas hinged on receiving that one present. If I got it, then fortune was smiling on me and things were going to be looking up in the coming year; if not; then forget it, I would double my efforts to be a holy terror. Would you believe that Santa heard my request? Would you also believe that by the end of January the novelty had worn off?
Funny how that happens; every time… Yet right now all across this terrestrial ball millions of people are putting all their stock for a meaningful Christmas in that perfect present.
Others search for a meaningful Christmas in the traditions: the eggnog, fruitcake, gingerbread, shopping, tinsel, tree, wrapping; the lights!
Tuesday morning we were visiting with Gail’s son Brett and Paige was watching The Great Christmas Light Fight. Families compete against each other for a $50,000 prize. What you don’t see is that these folks can spend over $50,000 in lights, computers and sound systems and paraphernalia, not to mention padding their electric bill by about $2500 per month. It was interesting that one family had a ‘believe it’ meter to see if the host believed in ‘Christmas.’ One of the contestants said, “Ever since I was a little kid, I have been searching for the most meaningful Christmas.” As they were about to turn on the lights, the host, Taniya Nayak, said, “This is going to be the most memorable Christmas ever!” And when the Wright family of Houston, Texas won, the host told them they did so for their 15-foot tall reindeer and gingerbread houses.
I suppose all of that is well and good, but something; check that, someone was glaringly conspicuous by His absence.
John tells us that the true meaning of Christmas can only be found in Christ and His love for us.
John 1:5 – The light of God’s love has penetrated the darkness that was lurking in our hearts and now the darkness that still lurks there can never extinguish the light
John 1:12 – To all who believed Him and accepted Him
notice John went beyond mere belief to accepted
NASB has “to all who received Him”
don’t just carry the knowledge, do something with it
John 1:17 law vs. grace
So that’s it, that’s all; there’s nothing else to be had. Our most meaningful Christmas is behind us! Right?
For those of you who have already connected with Christ, your most meaningful Christmas now lies in being Christ for someone else.
For to be sure, one day Jesus went into the Temple in Jerusalem and boldly proclaimed, “I am the light of the world.” But wonder of all wonders, He touches every person who accepts that truth with His light and life and love and enables and encourages us to reach out to others in His name. For He also said, “You are the light of the world.”
So if you are looking to have a meaningful Christmas, go light your world.
One way, of course, is to share your faith with someone who needs Christ.
Another way to go light your world is to give your presence to someone. I didn’t mean, ‘presents’ as in ‘p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s;’ I meant ‘presence’ as in p-r-e-s-e-n-c-e.’ You see, at Christmastime, it is more important to give your ‘presence’ to someone than it is a ‘present.’ Or another way of saying this is the greatest present you have to offer anyone really is your presence.
Go to a nursing home or the Medina County Home. You’ll find plenty of people in either place who need to experience the love of Christ. We have a few people in associated with our congregation who would love to have you come and hang with them for a time. When you go, take your Bible, read the Christmas story according to Luke to them and before you leave, offer up a simple prayer on their behalf.
Pastor and author, Arthur Gordon, writes in A Touch of Wonder: “There is not enough darkness in all the world to put out the light of one candle.” 2
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5).
So on this third Sunday of Advent, on which we have celebrated the theme of PROCLAMATION, go light your world.
1 Gulley, Philip. Home Town Tales. [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, © 1998] pages 44-49.