Rev. George Miller
“Into this Family”
Dec 24, 2010
I once heard someone say “When you have hope, you hope with God.” I invite us to hear a story about a family and how hope came into their lives.
One day, in Ohio, or was it Michigan (or perhaps it was New York or Florida), a boy went to see Santa at the mall.
He was holding a photo of his sister Sarah, who had leukemia. “She wanted to see you so much Santa,” he said, “But she can’t.”
Santa tried to be cheerful, so he changed the subject, asking what the little boy wanted for Christmas. The answer was so simple “Can you visit her? She’s not expected to make it through the holidays.”
Santa thought about family and what if he had a sister in the hospital. He asked where she was, and later that night, after all the girls and boys went home, Santa made his way there.
Inside Sarah’s room was a family, with a mother and grandmother, uncles and aunties and the brother. They had the weary, sad look of people who were crying and afraid.
Santa took a deep breathe and entered the room bellowing “Ho, ho, ho!”
Sarah shrieked with glee, a nine year old girl with IV tubes attached to her frail body. She was bald due to the affects of her chemo.
But her huge, beautiful eyes spoke of the joy she had of seeing Santa. Santa and Sarah talked for awhile; he commended her for being such a good, brave girl. The family circled the bed, holding hands.
Not knowing why, Santa asked Sarah if she believed in angels. She said yes.
Santa said “I’m going to ask the angels to watch over you. I want you to concentrate on getting well. I want you to have fun with your friends this summer, and I expect to see you next year at the mall.”
Santa knew it was risky to say this to a young girl with a chronic illness, but he knew he “had” to do it. He knew that beyond the gifts of dolls and toys, the greatest gift he could offer was hope.
The family began singing the words to “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright,” and ended with a word of prayer.
Sarah was beaming when Santa slipped out of the room, back into the cold winter night. Everyone was smiling, crying tears of joy, crying tears of hope.
A year later, in Ohio, or was it Michigan (or perhaps it was New York or Florida), a boy went to see Santa at the mall…
…but this time, he was joined by a little girl with long hair and rosy cheeks. She sat in Santa’s lap. “Hi Santa! Remember me?”
“Of course I do,” Santa proclaimed, for it was his job to make each child feel as if they were the “only” child for that moment.
“You came to see me in the hospital last year” she said. Santa’s jaw dropped, tears sprung to his eyes. “Sarah! I barely recognize you with all that hair!”
He looked over and saw her brother, smiling and waving. Santa looked up to the heavens and humbly said “Thank you, God. ‘Tis a Merry Christmas indeed.”
That was the best Christmas for Santa, for he had witnessed the miracle of hope…
…It has been said that when we hope, we are hoping with God. Hope is what I’d like to talk about tonight, because our scriptures show how hope comes into the life of a particular family and into a community.
Then I will ask how we as a church family can use these gifts of hope to bless our local community.
The Gospel of Luke goes out of its way to show us not just the birth of Jesus Christ, but how Jesus was born into a particular family, in a particular way.
Although our world has become narcissistic, Luke shows us Jesus’ extended family made up of Elizabeth, Zechariah and John.
We are told of their careers, their faith and feeling of disgrace. We’re told of their blessings, joy and place in human history.
Luke tells us of the unique situation in which Jesus comes into this world: the first born son to parents who are not married; a mother who was very young, a father who was descended from King David; a child born on the side of the road placed in a feeding trough for animals.
Through these particulars, Luke makes it so clear that we’re not dealing with superstars or demigods, but with a very human family.
If you think Mary and Joseph had it easy or lived a fairy tale, you got it all wrong. Their family was one with their own issues, fears and possibilities.
But, as we heard tonight, God stepped in and did something for this family that God is so good at doing: God gave them hope; a child who would bring blessings upon his mother, lift up the lowly and fulfill promises made throughout the generations.
It doesn’t stop there. Another kind of family receives hope, a family created by hard work and long hours: shepherds in a field.
In the dark of night, when most people were asleep, hope comes to this motley family of manual workers. “Do not be afraid” they’re told. “This day a Savior, the Messiah, has been born, and God has given you a sign.”
Joyful songs break through the night and this man-made family of shepherds makes their way to where the family of Jesus is.
Seeing Emmanuel, God is With Us, must have given them so much hope. After all, if the Messiah could come to them as “One of Us” then their own lives could not be seen as lowly or despised.
They share what they’ve experienced with Mary and Joseph; the hope between these two kinds of families brightens the night.
Then, another kind of family appears: a family of faith. 8 days after Jesus is born, he’s brought to the Temple where he is circumcised and named.
More then just events, these were signs that he had an identity and was accepted into the covenant community of faith, and the hope that Jesus brings extends out, as we later see in folk like Simeon and Anna.
Hope, through the birth of a child enters into the life of a seemingly hopeless family, radiates out into a group of folk stuck in a hopeless job and spills into a family of faith through which God has promised to bring hope to the entire world.
Immanuel, God is with Us, becomes a reality, ushering wholeness and healing upon all of God’s people.
So tonight, as signs of hope fill this place, as we gather together, away from the elements and fears of night, I ask: how do we, as one kind of family, embrace this hope?
For we are called to do more then just celebrate the goodness of hope that has entered into our lives, but to share and to be that hope with others.
One way we do that is when we say “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Though we do not always live up to this statement, we try and we are constantly being challenged in what that welcome means, what it looks like and how it is done.
Because we try, our acts of welcome become one way in which the hope of Jesus is shared with others.
What are the other ways?
This Christmas, let us embrace the fact that we are a family, a family of faith that has been gathered to hear the hope and share that hope with others.
Let us, through the Holy Spirit, discern ways to be that hope to families that are dealing with realities that can threaten to wipe hope away.
Let us embrace and celebrate that the gift that has been given through the birth of Jesus Christ is a hope that will continue to change the world, one family and one community at a time.
Because when we hope, we are hoping with God, and beyond the gifts of dolls and toys, hope is a powerful gift.
Blessing be to God for being so, so good, for the Holy Spirit for leading us to places we could never imagine and for Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate tonight.
Amen and amen.