Christmas Sunday 2016 COME, LET US WALK IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD
Is Anyone Missing Jesus? click here for audio
Pastor Marty Raths
It was a few years ago while we were serving the Northfield Church, and it was a few days after Christmas, when I found this in our box at church. It is a baby Jesus from a nativity set. It came with a note from Kris, one of the faithful members of the church, and this is what she had written, “Hi Marty and Donna, Could you make an announcement on Sunday and ask if anyone is missing Jesus?! We had an extra when we packed up the SERRV items. It may be the Quinby’s because I know they bought one set, but we don’t remember who purchased the second set. Thanks! Kris”
First, I want to put all of our minds and hearts at ease. As it turned out, Donna and I had bought the second nativity set, and our set had a baby Jesus, and I spoke with Claudia Quinby, and their set had one too. So no need to worry about that. But as happens with a lot of things in my life, I could not help but feel that there was a sermon illustration somewhere in all this, especially in Kris’s question, “Is anyone missing Jesus?”
As we celebrate Christmas today, it is hard to imagine a more poignant question. At that first Christmas, most of the world missed him, and that makes me wonder about this Christmas. What about us? In the midst of all the other activities, have we missed him too?
Now there were a few who did not miss Jesus’ coming that first Christmas. Mary pondered in her heart all that was happening to her. Have we given it much thought, or taken it to heart in any way, what it means for us and for our world that Jesus has come again? The shepherds rejoiced. Have we, recognizing how blessed we are? And the wise men, after their long journey from the east, they went home by another way. An encounter with Jesus always does that. It leaves us changed, and unable to go back the way we have come. Has anything changed for us this Christmas?
Then there was Simeon and Anna in the temple, patiently waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled. It had been revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. So he waited, and hoped, and faithfully practiced the faith, as did Anna, until that day when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple. And Simeon took Jesus into his arms, and he praised God and found in Jesus a long awaited peace.
Neither Simeon nor Anna missed Jesus when he came. And what about us? Christmas has come again, have we found him? If not, there is still time. We just need to know where to look, and to know that it need not be any place special. We just need to look with hearts open to the ordinary, everyday happenings of our lives. That is what the stable symbolizes, God coming to us in the midst of our lives, if we are open to it./
There is an old rabbinic story about a man who comes to his rabbi asking, “Rabbi, I just cannot understand it. Why, of all the things on earth, would God speak to Moses from out of lowly bush?”
And the rabbi thought for a moment, and then he said to the man, “God chose the lowly bush to remind us that there is nothing on earth, no thing, no time, no place, no circumstance, that is too humble to be a dwelling place for God.
Then after another moment of thought, the rabbi added, “Anything can be the means by which God comes to us.”
The simple stable is the Christian version of the lowly bush, reminding us where we should be looking for Jesus if we do not want to miss his coming. We need to be looking no further than right here and right now and right in front of us./
As you may have learned by now, I love to tell stories, and stories are especially in keeping with the spirit of Christmas, so as luck would have, or grace perhaps, I came upon this story by the writer, Kent Nerburn . . .
Many years ago, he wrote, I drove a cab for a living. One time I arrived in the middle of the night for a pick up at a building that was dark except for a single light in a ground floor window.
Under these circumstances, many drivers would just honk once or twice, wait a minute, then drive away. But I had seen too many impoverished people who depended on taxis as their only means of transportation. Unless a situation seemed dangerous, I always went to the door. This passenger might be someone who needs my assistance, I reasoned to myself. So I walked to the door and knocked.
“Just a minute,” answered a frail, elderly voice.
I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940’s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.
The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
“Would you carry my bag out to the car?” she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness.
“It’s nothing,” I told her. “I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated.”
“Oh, you’re such a good boy,” she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” I answered quickly.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice.”
I looked in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were glistening.
“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don’t have very long.”
I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. “What route would you like me to take?” I asked.
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, “I’m tired. Let’s go now.”
We drove in silence to the address she had given me.
It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.
“How much do I owe you?” she asked, reaching into her purse.
“Nothing,” I said.
“You have to make a living,” she answered.
“There are other passengers.”
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.
“You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,” she said. “Thank you.”
I squeezed her hand, then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.
I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly, lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?
On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware—beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one./
Nerburn’s last sentence makes for a wonderful description of that first Christmas. It was a great moment beautifully wrapped in what others considered to be a small and insignificant and meaningless one. So many people, maybe most, ended up missing it. It would not be the last time. Is anyone missing Jesus? And where might we find the stable now? Perhaps we make too much of this sometimes, looking high above towards heaven or far off towards some promised future, when Jesus just might be as near to us as the next person we meet, in a chance encounter with a woman calling for a cab ride. Life does not get more lowly than that, but the stable reminds us that that is where we should be looking for Jesus.
And what if we were to make a more regular practice of this, looking for Jesus right here and right now and right in front of us? Who knows, it just might cause us to ponder life more deeply like Mary, or to rejoice in life more fully like the shepherds, or to change our lives in some way, as it did for the shepherds, sending us on our way by a different way. Or it just might end up being one of the most important things that we ever do in life, as it was for Nerburn that night he spent driving around his cab following the memories of a dying woman.
God of our salvation, in this holy season of your coming we are once again in search of the stable, lest we miss his coming. Remind us again how you came that first Christmas, and help us to keep our sights set upon what is right here, and right now, and right in front of us because he is as near to us as we are to one another.
And when we find our way to him, let our ears hear anew the good news that unto us a Savior is born. And let our eyes see, as Simeon saw so long ago, that in the mysterious workings of your grace this child is the consolation of the world. And make us open and receptive to the wonder of the stable, that our spirits may kneel down and adore him and our hearts may bow down before the mystery of Emmanuel – your presence with us.
Bless to us this day as a day of rejoicing. Open to us the deep mysteries of the incarnation, of your word become flesh, full of grace and truth. Strengthen our hope. Fill us with peace. Move us to love.
And keep us ever singing of your glory until we sing of your glory with all the company of heaven. In the name of the One who is our joy and salvation, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.