First Congregational Church
December 20, 2020
4th Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:26 – 2:7
“Love Can Look So Strange”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
What’s Santa’s favorite snack food? Crisp Pringles. What do you call a scary looking reindeer? A cariboo. Why don’t crabs celebrate Christmas? Because they’re shell-fish. Why do Christmas trees like the past so much? Because the present’s beneath them.
Okay, so that last joke is rather lame, but it’s about Christmas trees, so it stretches into this 2020 Advent Year of the Tree theme we’ve been using. We sent out Advent devotional booklets this year - to kids and adults - that feature the Jesse tree - or Jesus’ family tree - or our whole family tree - however you want to look at it.
Each day there is a different reading that relates to the history of God’s people - of Jesus’ family tree as it is laid out in the Old Testament and the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. In an added layer to this enrichment of heart and mind and soul, today we celebrate the Advent candle of Love - knowing full well that this is not a romantic love, but the larger, most encompassing love we call agape. It is a love - of breadth and depth that sometimes requires a little more thought and attention. So we come to this morning’s scripture passage from Luke 1, beginning with verse 26.
Luke 1:26 – 2:7
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Thank you, Jeanne. This is a strange choice of verses, primarily because it starts out in one direction, but at the change of chapter, takes a completely different path. But what joins the two is the reference of Joseph being a descendant of, belonging to the house and line of David.
I would venture a guess that even the most ardent genealogists can get a little glassy-eyed when reading through the list of names - begats and “son of”s and I won’t even start on the few references to women in Jesus’ family tree. So here’s the Haag Notes version.
Including Adam and King David, the Bible counts 34 connected - related - names between Adam and King David. Between King David and Mary, there are 26 directly related names and between King David and Joseph, even though Joseph didn’t have any DNA involvement, there are 41 directly related names to Jesus - making Jesus doubly related to David - through David’s sons Solomon and Nathan. We don’t often think about family trees in terms of a diagram or picture, as being one of love, but it is a background to include in the envisioning.
We don’t often think about Christmas trees as being pictures of love, but as a representative of all trees, especially those that point upward, they are part of the landscape of love that God gave all of us - from the creation of the world - through love - to the empty wooden cross - through love. Sometimes, love can look so very strange.
As Congregationalists, I don’t know that very many of us realize that our beginnings in this country were not as pastorale as painters would like us to believe. In fact, our Pilgrim forebears didn’t abide by the frivolity and pagan mockery of celebrating Christmas. So no cross in the meeting house, no banners, no Christmas tree or greens in early Pilgrim churches. Just the elevated pulpit to highlight the inspired and educated preaching of God’s word.
It took a while, but eventually the Pennsylvania Germans said foey on that and went on to bring Christmas trees into their homes and I don’t know who brought them into churches, despite the fact that bringing greens in to decorate goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, early Romans and ancient Celts. From abstention of decorating to the embracement of decorating - these, too, are very strange ways of showing our love for God.
There was a story that was printed in the Traverse magazine in December of 1998 that told the remembrance of another strange display of love - in a Christmas pilgrimage from Glen Haven to Traverse City, which takes about 40 minutes in most any car today.
“We didn’t call it a pilgrimage then,” wrote Margaret Thompson Day Travis. "To us it was a matter of course like Christmas itself: the whole family, seven strong, would step out of our everyday frontier life and travel 40 winter miles for a two-day celebration of hotel luxury and glorious, prodigal shopping.
Father was one of the early day lumbermen, whose business involved a great deal of shipping by water, and we lived in the tiny hamlet of Glen Haven, which was clustered around his docks on Lake Michigan. The Christmas shopping trip was our annual taste of the fleshpots.
It was mid-December and the snow was already deep in the north country. The journey began with an eight-mile sleigh ride to the nearest railroad at Empire. Father looked magnificent in a burly raccoon coat; Mother was splendid in unaccustomed sealskin and ostrich plumes; and of course, we children were under fur skin robes and swathed in mounds of coats, veils and muffs.
As we sped across the snow between the black and white winter hardwoods, our nerve ends literally vibrated with the sweetness of the Russian harness chimes. It was almost possible for us children to visualize that many-clappered music, as in the narrow canyons of plowed-out logging roads it rang out its imperious announcement of our arrival. The whole forest seemed to throb with a silver ecstasy.
At the railroad village, we caught a combination passenger-baggage-smoking car that had been hitched to the end of a log train. Logging railroads laced the country at that time. One rode them gratefully, perfectly willing to angle 30 or so miles in order to achieve what would have been 12 as the crow flies. We changed at various little junctions in the woods, moving from one coach caboose to another—all equally gritty with coal dust, pitted from caulked boots, dirty with tobacco juice, and nauseating from the smell of coal gas.
But past these grimy windows slid magic forests, and we children watched, enchanted by the miles of evergreens knee-deep, draped and garlanded in snow—a million Christmas trees whispering to us with a million voices, whispering to us of Christmas delights. We found ourselves wrapped in Christmas as in a cloud.
Eventually, the logging railroads merged with the main line. We waited for three interminable hours at a dingy little station for the big train that would sweep us into Traverse City. The early winter darkness fell while we waited for the train’s incandescent eye as it rushed down on us out of the night.
This train was clean, smooth-riding, and well lit. In it, mother hooked furs, her fingers expertly working the difficult clasps of the period. Very quickly she straightened curls and retouched faces, while father, his rustic raccoon coat replaced by a well-tailored overcoat and visored sealskin pillbox, arranged for “carriages” with the Traverse City transfer. Father was inordinately proud of his lively brood. Nothing tickled him more than the fact it took two carriages to transport us.
The carriages—closed hacks on runners—were waiting under the station lights in Traverse City to gather us into their musty dark interiors. Slowly we glided across the viaduct into the shopping district. Here it burst upon us at last—a fairyland of lighted plate-glass windows, festooned with looped ropes of holly and filled with candy canes, life-sized dolls, mechanical trains and 10-foot toboggans. The jewelers’ windows winked with diamonds and heavy yellow bracelets rich on purple satin; deep red, yellow and purple fruit glowed in the window of an Italian fruit store and great boxes of loose mistletoe and holly stood outside on the sidewalk. Throngs of people hurried about on mysterious errands, their sleighs disappearing knowingly around corners while Salvation Army lasses rang bells beside kettles under street lamps!
Once at the hotel, there was the business of paying cab drivers, directing porters and marshaling us children en masse into the plushly mirrored parlors which smelled so excitingly worldly. There were smiling greetings from the proprietor and his wife, who were friends of Father and Mother. After miles of labyrinthine hallways leading to walnut, marble and red-plush bedrooms, we hastily freshened up and hurried down to the big dining room with its gliding, black-uniformed waitresses. Then came the supreme moment of ordering our own suppers from a printed menu. There were radishes with the soup, and crisp, green parsley garnishing the meat, although snow lay deep outside the windows—could luxury go further?
Mother’s methods with us were mass-production. Her first move the morning after we arrived was to run the whole flock of us through the hotel barbershop. Then she made group appointments for us with the dentist and the photographer. These necessities attended to, she turned us loose, each with a shopping list and the money we had been accumulating since July.
My older sisters, Alice and Eva, very prim and dignified, slipped away together quickly lest a younger one tag along with them. My brother David and I teamed up. That left mother with only baby Estelle to take with her while she shopped. In addition to gifts for the six of us, her list also included gifts for her family scattered all over Canada, Father’s family in Upstate New York, and gifts for the maid at home and for sundry employees’ families. We used to stumble upon her wherever we went, giving us a feeling of coziness in this strange vastness. She would be standing intently before a counter, or crossing the street half a block ahead of us, or sailing down the thickly carpeted hotel corridor toward us when we would return to unload parcels. How her hazel eyes and her swinging diamond earrings sparkled against the soft darkness of her fur collar! How deliciously she rustled, how regally her village-made broadcloth skirt swept back when she walked! No world-famed duchess could ever be half so chic.
Father had business at the bank, at the foundry, at the hardware store and harness shops. We saw him in the hotel at mealtimes, affable but elusive, and lost him immediately afterward to his concerns while we plunged back into the fairyland musical carnival atmosphere of the shopping district.
At night I awoke in the big bed and lay looking out through the opening between the window and the sill at the lights that pierced the city night, hearing the soft hotel stirrings going on all about me and the distant train whistles. The unfamiliar smell of coal smoke faintly nauseated me and I lay there vaguely disturbed by what seemed to my 10-year-old mind a massive violation of the night, nostalgic for the limitless star-hung darkness of my experience—the reassuring pine fragrance coupled with the rhythmic pulse of Lake Michigan.
But the two days were a dream of delight. When David and I had bought all of the presents on our lists, we spent our time savoring city life. We went to all of the crepe paper–garlanded moving picture “palaces” and criticized them expertly. We tried all of the ice cream parlors and Kandy Kitchens. We bought exotic fruit and armfuls of holly and mistletoe. We began to see ourselves as pampered sophisticates, spending money, amusing only ourselves, eating delicious meals, and pressing buttons if we wanted anything.
On the third morning, all of this magnificence went into reverse. The mounting excitement of our arrival ran the other way. The hacks took us in daylight from hotel to train. The trains to which we changed grew progressively dingier. When we got off the last one, our waiting three-seated open sleigh looked cold and crude. The mounds of coats were much more uncomfortable when donned in a cold station. Logging roads and snowy fields were dreary and commonplace after the splendor we had known. But when the sleigh dipped into the snowy forest tunnels and the whole visible world rang with the silver clamor of the bells, our spirits stirred again. That music escaping into the forest trailed a Lorelei song back over its shoulder—a song that was at once a promise and a challenge.
“Tomorrow,” David and I told each other, “we will go out into the woods—way back in the woods and find a Christmas tree. We’ll stay all day till we find a beautiful one, the most beautiful one we have ever had.”
If there is a longing at Christmas, I think it is connected to the sense of love that surrounded us as children, that morphes into a sort of nostalgia. I wonder, as we grow up, wiser, and mature, if we think that we outgrow that sense of love, wrapping us up like a blanket at a really cold football game or the enveloping smell of freshly mown grass on a really hot day in the summer time. Mayhap it be that that is what makes Christmas - and the Advent preparation time of it - so dear to the heart - the remembrances of those times of love that perhaps looked a little strange.
The good thing is that we don’t have to have a perfect understanding of what this preparation time means. It is simply good to think more about it, pray more about it, and hold it gently - as strange as love may look. So we pray.
Holy and Ever-lasting to Ever-lasting God, thank you for being the parent who created us - in love - way back at the beginning of time. Thank you for loving us - way into the future of eternal life. It is a strange life and love that you give us - in a child - who is still so woven into the fabric of our lives. Enable us to settle more into that love this coming week, that we might look back on this year, season and Christmas with deeper appreciation for all the ways you enable us to see and embrace your love. And all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
December 13, 2020
Third Sunday in Advent
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Ole and Sven vent out in da woods lookin’ for a Christmas tree. And ya know, after about a couple of hours lookin’, dey finally decided to take vun vit out da decorations. Later on, Sven vas decorating da tree vit his son. After a little bit, his son said, “Dad, can’t ve use tinsel like efery von else? Dis is really uncomfortable. - decorating with son….
Here at Frankfort Congregational, we have declared this Advent to be the Year of the Tree - focusing our thoughts and hearts around all the trees that surround us. Of course, Christmas trees take front and center at the moment. But as 21st century Christians, we have another important tree - that of the cross on which Christ died. Last week we took a gander at the Tree of Life, as it connects us to beginnings and sustenance. The very first day in the Advent devotionals we’ve been using gave us part of the scripture passage we are reading today from Isaiah 11:1-10.
Isaiah 11:1-10 NIV
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.
We don’t know this passage all that well these days - as a culture. Some of us might recognize one of the over 60 different versions of Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” and we might recognize the phrase the “stump of Jesse” from Christmas Eve readings, but after that, this passage is probably rather distant. And yet it is still so relevant.
Jesse was the great king David’s father. In fact, sometimes David’s “alternate” name is just “Son of Jesse.” He was the son of Obed and the grandson of Ruth and of Boaz, and get this, he lived in Bethlehem. You can check out the rest of the lineage in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke. So the shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse would, of course, be Jesus.
With this third Sunday of joy in Advent, I have an extra one, in that after waiting 23 years, I finally get to use a story that has been patiently waiting on the shelf - literally. It may look like and read like a children’s book, but it is really a story for everyone.
The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale retold by Angela Elwell Hunt, Illustrated by Tim Jonke
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up.
The first little tree looked up at the stars twinkling like diamonds above him. “I want to hold treasure,” he said, “I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I will be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!”
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean. "I want to be a strong sailing ship," he said. "I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I will be the strongest ship in the world!"
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and busy women worked in a busy town. "I don't want to leave this mountain top at all," she said. "I want to grow so tall that when people look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world!"
Years past. The rains came, the sun shone, and the little trees grew tall.
One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain.
The first wood cutter looked at the first tree and said, "this tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining axe, the first tree fell.
“Now I shall be made into a beautiful chest,” thought the first tree. "I shall hold wonderful treasure.”
The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, "This tree is strong. It's perfect for me." With a swoop of his shining axe, the second tree fell.
“Now I shall sail mighty waters,” thought the second tree. "I shall be a strong ship fit for kings!"
The third tree felt her heart sank when the last woodcutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the woodcutter never even looked up. "Any kind of tree will do for me," he murdered. With a swoop of his shining axe, the third tree fell.
The first tree rejoiced when the woodcutter brought him to a carpenter’s shop, but the busy carpenter was not thinking about treasure chests. Instead his work-worn hands fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals.
The once-beautiful tree was not covered with gold or filled with treasure. He was coated with sawdust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals.
The second tree smiled when the woodcutter took him to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ships were being made that day. Instead the once-strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat.
Too small and weak to sail an ocean or even a river, he was taken to a little lake. Every day he brought in loads of dead, smelly fish.
The third tree was confused when the woodcutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard.
“What happened?” the once-tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted to do was stay on the mountaintop and point to God.”
Many, many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams.
But one night golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box.
“I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered.
The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said.
And suddenly the first tree know he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.
One evening a tired traveller and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveller fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake.
Soon a thundering and thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. He knew he did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and rain.
The tired man awakened. He stood up, stretched out his hand and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun.
And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of heaven and earth.
One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten woodpile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry, jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to her.
She felt ugly and harsh and cruel.
But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything.
It had made the first tree beautiful.
It has made the second tree strong.
And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God.
That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.
I would say, “The End,” except it is not the end of the story at all. In my study for today’s message, I came across a super interesting article that was posted on a nytimes.com page about Suzanne Simard, a professor of forest ecology and teacher at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Her ground-breaking (no pun intended) work brought to light - how trees communicate, interact, and help each other through threadlike fungi in soil - even trees of different species. (picture)
She figured out that the oldest and biggest trees send resources like glucose and carbon to younger and smaller plants and that “Chemical alarm signals generated by one tree prepare nearby trees for danger” and “if a tree is on the brink of death, it sometimes bequeaths a substantial share of its carbon to its neighbors.”
Because of Ms. Simard’s research, she sees forests as intricate societies - ancient republics - that occur in prairies, grasslands, and even the Arctic tundra. She found that nutrients and water didn’t only flow one way, but sometimes back and forth, depending on the season. “When Douglas fir seedlings were stripped of their leaves and thus likely to die, they transferred stress signals plus a substantial sum of carbon to nearby ponderosa pine, which subsequently accelerated their production of defensive enzymes.” Ferris Jabr, the author of the article, ended it this way: “As I knelt beneath that white bark pine, staring at its root tips, it occurred to me that my whole life I had never really understood what a tree was. At best I’d been aware of just one half of a creature that appeared to be self-contained but was in fact legion. I dare you not to think about that concept the forest you drive by.
It occurred to me that we can think of joy being like trees. We may not be cognizant of all the joy in the world, and sometimes joy can seem buried in what is in reality rotting vegetation. But that doesn’t mean joy is gone or dead. In fact, it takes joy a little further from the word “happy,” with which it is so often confused.
There is more to joy than it’s hidden life-sustaining and healing properties. It is the breath that keeps us going, like the slightest of breezes on a smooth, still lake. It goes back and forth between us and God like nutrients in trees and like branches, it emanates out from us to bring relief and healing to those who pass by. We are surrounded by, immersed in, wrapped up with and permeated with joy - the joy that comes from love - the love that comes from God.
Even in the dead-looking cross, there is a reverent and maybe even sorrowed joy because it represents salvation to eternal life. And that joy has been - since before the beginning of time and throughout the ages. It is joy on a different plane than merely that of humans, coming at us from all different directions. That is the gift we celebrate - even when it seems like the craziest thing to do. And so we should pray.
Heavenly God of Time and Reality and Joy, sometimes this life can feel overwhelming. You know well the worries and fears and sadness that can track with us like the dirt of the Snoopy character, Linus. And yet, the cross leads our eyes to look up, not at what what is temporary, but at what is eternal and life and hope and joy. So we pray for extra patience, extra attention, extra awareness to the way in which we are all connected to you and each other - even those who have gone before us. Help us to be mindful that the joy we lift up this day is not silly or insipid or even unreasonable, but that it is deeper and stronger and more miraculous than we give it credit. So thank you for your Son, who gives us a glimpse into the depth of your love for all of creation, including us. And all your people joyously say, Amen
First Congregational Church
December 6, 2020
Communion & Second Sunday in Advent
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Where do young trees go to become Christmas trees? Elementree school. What did Luke Skywalker say after he planted a Christmas tree farm? May the forest be with you. Why was the Christmas tree’s friend so sad? It was a weeping willow.
Last month, while the Worship Committee looked ahead into the foggy, very uncertain future, we decided to call this season of Advent 2020 The Year of the Tree. We sent out devotional booklets, to those we could think of, highlighting the Jesse Tree, including the kids’ own version, that refer’s to Jesus’ family tree.
The Jesse Tree is a decorative tree used during Advent to retell the stories of the whole Bible that lead to Jesus’ birth, and most often, there are symbols - the decorations - that symbolize each story. Last week we decorated the Church - well, as best we could - with greens - branches from evergreen trees of different types to help us get into this tree mindset.
It may seem an odd thing to celebrate Advent with a tree theme. And yet, as 21st century Christians, we see the link between the cradle and the cross - the beginning and the end, not only of Jesus’ life, but of all creation. Which is where those scripture verses come in.
After God created the heavens and earth, separated the light from the darkness and the sky from land, God went on to create vegetation: “seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it,” as it says in Genesis 1:9. For whatever reason, my heart was drawn to the phrase “tree of life” this week, so I looked it up, and well, you can see for yourself.
1. Genesis 2:9
The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
2. Genesis 3:24
After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Not only was/is the Tree of Life worthy and precious enough to call angels to guard it, the term is used to describe the grounded blessing of wisdom in the book of Proverbs.
3. Proverbs 3:18
She, being wisdom, is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
4. Proverbs 11:30
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.
5. Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
6. Proverbs 15:4
The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.
Out of those passages of plenty and abundance and healing - far greater than we would normally allot - we have this last one from the book of Revelation, pointing to the promise and healing and life of plenty in the world to come. (And I’ll give you the first verse as well - for context.)
7. Revelation 22:2
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Apparently there was a monk in the 7th century that traveled from England to Germany, who used the triangular shape of a fir tree to teach people about the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is tell that Martin Luther put a lighted candles on top of a Christmas tree to show his children how the star of Bethlehem twinkled through the dark night.
The thing that is interesting - maybe a good many of us have overlooked - is that beneath the decorations, lights and even shape of any Christmas tree is the actual trunk - the wood part - of the tree - even if symbolized in metal or plastic. It was really Queen Victoria who brought the Christmas tree from an obscure custom to one of the most popular and recognizable, if under appreciated, symbols of Christmas - or Advent.
I don’t know the origin of it, but I came across a story about a small cottage on the border of a forest where a poor laborer, his wife and two children kept themselves just barely afloat by cutting trees.
The boy's name was Valentine, and the girl was called Mary. They were well-behaved, good children, and a great comfort to their parents. One winter evening, this happy little family was sitting quietly around the fireplace, the snow and the wind raging outside, eating their supper of dry bread, when a gentle tap was heard on the window, and a childish voice cried out: "Oh, let me in, pray! I am a poor little child, with nothing to eat, and no home to go to, and I shall die of cold and hunger unless you let me in."
Valentine and Mary jumped up from the table and ran to open the door, saying: "Come in, poor little child! We don’t have much to give you, but whatever we have we will share with you."
The stranger-child came in and warmed his frozen hands and feet at the fire, and the children gave him the best they had to eat, saying: "You must be tired, too, poor child! Lie down on our bed; we can sleep on the bench for one night.” Then said the little stranger-child: "Thank God for all your kindness to me!"
So they took their little guest into their bedroom, got him on the bed, covered up, and said to each other: "How thankful we ought to be! We have warm rooms and a cozy bed, while this poor child has only heaven for his roof and the cold earth for his bed."
When their father and mother went to bed, Mary and Valentine lay quite contentedly on the bench near the fire, saying, before they fell asleep: "The stranger-child will be so happy tonight in his warm bed!"
These kind children had not slept many hours before Mary awoke and softly whispered to her brother: "Valentine, wake up and listen to the music under the window.” Valentine rubbed his eyes and listened. It was sweet music indeed, and sounded like beautiful voices singing to the tones of a harp:
"O holy Child, we greet thee! bringing
Sweet strains of harp to aid our singing.
"Thou, holy Child, in peace art sleeping,
While we our watch without are keeping.
"Blest be the house wherein thou liest.
Happiest on earth, to heaven the highest."
The children listened, while a solemn joy filled their hearts; then they stepped softly to the window to see who might be out there.
In the east was a streak of rosy dawn, and in its light they saw a group of children standing in front of the house, wearing silver clothes, holding golden harps. Amazed at this sight, the children were still gazing out of the window, when a light tap caused them to turn round. There stood the stranger-child before them - in a golden outfit, with a circle of light round his curly hair. "I am the little Christ-child," he said, "who wanders through the world bringing peace and happiness to good children. You took me in and cared for me when you thought me a poor child, and now you shall have my blessing for what you have done."
A fir tree grew near the house; and from this he broke a twig, which he planted in the ground, saying: "This twig shall become a tree, and shall bring forth fruit year after year for you."
No sooner had he done this than he vanished, and with him the little choir of angels. But the fir-branch grew and became a Christmas tree, and on its branches hung golden apples and silver nuts every Christmas-time.
It’s a far-fetched tale, but it reminds us that in this time of preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ on Christmas, he might already be at your door, in your house, in the disguise of someone who doesn’t look like you. He may be in the cup and bread on your dining table or kitchen counter.
Theoretically, we are reminded three times a day of Christ and his sacrifice for our eternal life of wholeness. On his last night, when he took the bread and gave thanks for it, he broke and gave it to the disciples, telling them to eat, that it was his body for them. And when he took the cup and gave thanks for it, he gave it to the disciples and told them to drink, because it was his blood shed for the forgiveness of sin.
Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper This is an open Table. All are welcome.
The great Paul reminds us that every time we take of the bread and the cup, we proclaim Christ’s death on a tree and resurrection to new life, which will be for all those who follow Christ. May Paul’s words be truer in each day we live. So let us pray.
Holy, Eternal God, we thank you for giving us ways to wrap our heads around your love for us - be it in Christmas trees or cup or bread or angels in our midst. Help us to keep our eyes on you - from the cradle to the cross - that we not become stuck in details that wear us out. Help us to cultivate the peace that you have for all your children, if we but ask. So we ask, generous God, for the peace that not only passes all understanding, but can bring new life to a world in need of you. For all your blessings, and most especially for Emmanuel, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.