The Eve of the Nativity

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Easter 5, Year B April 22, 2018 The Fifth Sunday in Easter, Year B John 15:1-8
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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany February 4, 2018 The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

 

The Eve of the Nativity

Sermon Date:December 24, 2017

Scripture: Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Liturgy Calendar: Eve of the Nativity, Year B


Photo -William Lynn Weaver

PDF Version


I recently heard this story on Story Corps. 

On a cold Christmas Eve in 1967, just before dark, William Weaver, age 18, home from college, was walking down the street in his small neighborhood in Knoxville, TN,  when a young boy rode by on a bike.

“Hey,” William thought to himself.  “That looks like my brother’s bike.” 

Dr. William Lynn Weaver with his younger brother, Wayne, in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1963. Courtesy of the Weaver family. 

So when he got home, he asked his little brother Wayne where his bike was.  And his brother said it was outside against the steps.

“No, it’s not,” said William.  “It’s gone.”

Because it was a small neighborhood, the boys soon found that the child who had taken the bike lived in a small shack in a nearby alley, and so they planned to go get the bike, and beat up the kid who’d taken it. 

But their father, who went with them said, “Hold on, boys, let me do the talking.” 

So they knocked on the door of the dark shack and a very old man, using a cane, came to the door.  The only light in the cold room was from one candle.

The old man called his 10-year-old grandson, who admitted to taking the bike.  He started crying, and said that he had only wanted something for Christmas.

“Give the bike back,” the grandfather said. 

And so William and his father and his little brother headed home with the bike.

When they got home, William’s father told his wife what had happened.  Without a word, she went into the kitchen, divided the turkey in half that she had just taken out of the oven, and packed up half of all the fixings that went with the turkey.  Meanwhile, William’s father went to the coal yard and got a bag of coal.  William’s father said to Wayne, “Don’t you have another bike?”

“Yes,” Wayne answered, and so he got that bike and they all headed back to the shack in the alley. 

The old man and the grandson came to the door, and William’s family gave them the bike, the coal and the food.  The little boy started crying.  William’s father gave the old man $20, which was a big deal back in those days, and said “Merry Christmas.”

The old man broke down in tears of gratitude.

So much about the story of Jesus’ birth shines through the story that William told about this particular Christmas Eve. 

That little boy who stole the bike wanted something for Christmas.  He knew that he wouldn’t get anything, unless he stole that bike. Stealing seemed like his only option. 

But what he found out was that the bike he had stolen and then had to return was given back to him along with so much more—food, and warmth and knowing that someone cared.

God’s gift of Jesus to us is like that—we can’t steal God’s love, or earn God’s love.  God gives us the gift of love, God’s Son, Jesus, because God loves us!  Even when we mess up, God is still giving us God’s gift of love!  Freely given!    

And this gift of love is Jesus, is the one who will grow from this infant to a man who will show us how to live in love, and who will die on a cross out of love, so that we are forever freed to live with love and in the hope that someday all the world will accept God’s love. 

William was angry about his brother’s bike being stolen.  His plan was to teach the kid a lesson by beating him up. 

But William’s father said no, let me do the talking, and he showed his sons a different way to deal with an injustice.  He showed his sons God’s way of love.

So often we get angry over the injustices of life and want to even the score, a perfectly human emotion. 

But in the Christmas story, Joseph, who suffered the injustice of having his beloved Mary give birth to a child not his own, did what God asked and responded in love, loving and caring for Jesus as his own. 

And on that Christmas Eve in 1967, William’s father chose a different way to deal with a wrong, and did what Jesus did so often.  He took the time to look and listen, to see for himself the poverty in that old man’s life, and then to meet the need that he found standing there in front of him. 

Jesus himself took the time to see people, to know their faults and their needs, and then to respond in love by offering them forgiveness and on top of forgiveness, to provide new beginnings and direction for those who were lost like sheep without a shepherd, to provide healing and sight, and to get rid of the demons that possessed them.

Just as William’s mother divided up the food she had prepared for her family and in so doing provided food for an old man and his hungry grandson, Jesus also multiplied loaves and fish, fed the hungry, thousands of them, just as he continues to feed us today when we accept the gift of his love. There’s always more than enough food and enough love to go around. 

Jesus was the one who suffered the ultimate injustice of death on a cross, and yet, as he was being crucified, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  No anger, just forgiving abundant lifegiving love, even in death. 

The old man who came to the door with the help of his cane, with only a candle for light, who had nothing, is part of the Christmas story too.

For all of us at some point or another find ourselves in cold dark places in our lives, with nowhere to turn.  Depressed, helpless, and hopeless, we hide ourselves away.

But this old man, not knowing what to expect, answered the door—and righted a wrong without any thought of repayment when he made his grandson return the stolen bike.    And then the old man answered the door again, surely wondering who was at the door this time, and found waitng for his grandson a bike, freely given, and for him, food, fuel, money, and love.

Something different happened in Bethlehem.   The innkeeper did not open his door to Mary and Joseph, because there was no room for them in the inn.  The innkeeper’s problem was that his inn was so full that he believed that he couldn’t find room for Joseph and Mary, who was about to give birth.  And so he refused to open the door.  He believed that he already had more than he could handle. 

Just think, his inn could have become the birthplace of God’s own son, but instead, it has been remembered for over two thousand years as the place with no room, with a door shut in the face of two people in great need. 

How often do we refuse to open the door to something new and wonderful in our lives because our lives are already so full?  How often do we shut the door to someone in need because we’re already so busy? 

And yet, God is always asking us to open our doors to those who knock, to open our doors to love, to new possibilities, and to resurrection hope, both when we believe we already have too much, but also when we are feeling hopeless because we are poor and have nothing, and need the help of a cane to get to the door, like that old man who lived in the cold dark shack. 

God knocks on our doors in all sorts of unexpected ways.  And all we need to do is open the door and to invite God to   “Please, come in.”

Why did William Weaver decide to tell this story to the world fifty years after it happened? 

William says that his mother was a domestic, and his father was a chauffeur, and that they never had much stuff.  He doesn’t even remember what gift he got that year, but he’s never forgotten this Christmas because it made him feel better than any Christmas he had ever had.   https://storycorps.org/listen/william-lynn-weaver-171215/

William could have tucked this story away in his memory until it was lost, but he had to tell it to the world,

because this story is the good news of Christmas– the story of open doors and open hearts, forgiveness, and unexpected generosity. 

On that Christmas Eve, William, like the shepherds, caught a glimpse of those angels that appeared in glory and cried out in the night, “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!”  Like the shepherds, William witnessed the birth of joy and peace and hope, not at the manger, but at the open door of a poor and humble shack.   And like the shepherds, he had to tell this story, to make his own little bit of good news known.

We are hungry for good news—the good news of Jesus’ birth in a stable two thousand years ago,  the good news that took place in a dark alley on Christmas Eve just fifty years ago, the good news that happens over and over in our lives when we get up and open the doors of our hearts to God and to the good news that our Savior has come!

Joy to the World! 

The Lord is born, and is being born, and will be born, over and over, whenever we open our hearts to love. 

So “Go tell it on the mountain.”

“And with the angels, let us sing, hallelujah to our King!”

Christ the Savior is born! 

Amen. 

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