Third Advent Service
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 11:9-13

9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" 

        Christmas stories. There are lots of them.  During our Advent services this year, I have been using various stories as a basis for our meditations.  We laughed at the mother's difficulties with her children and the church Christmas program, and we chuckled with the father who was struggling with all those gifts that had the dreaded words, "some assembly required."

            Tonight, I thought I'd begin with one author's take on Christmas stories.  It's not long, but I think it sort of brings things into perspective for us.  It is entitled, "Why We Love Funny Christmas Stories."

        A lot of the time, when we think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is a great laugh.  Christmas and laughing go hand in hand, whether it be Santa's deep belly "Ho Ho Ho - Merry Christmas!" laugh, or the giggle of excited children ripping apart the wrapping on their Christmas presents.

        So when we think of Christmas stories, naturally we gravitate towards those with humor.  People love to laugh, people love stories, and with Christmas time being so lighthearted the combination of the three makes it a perfect time to share funny Christmas stories with our friends and family.

        Sometimes we do that by passing along emails with funny pictures and narratives, or E-books with funny Christmas stories.  Other times, we do it by just sharing our funny stories of past Christmases.  After all, if you celebrate Christmas I'm sure you can recall at least one thing that has happened which made you laugh so hard your belly hurt!

        Perhaps, these most personal stories - the stories of our own Christmases - are really the ones that we love the most.  Not necessarily because they make us laugh (although that always helps), but really because they help us connect our hearts with those we love and care about.  We find that deep human connection that is sometimes only found through the unique element of telling stories.

        This evening, I'm going to share one last story with you.  Since we've talked about mothers and fathers and children, I thought maybe we should have one about the person who isn't mentioned in church very often; namely, Santa Claus.  Here is one mother's letter to Santa:

        Dear Santa: I've been a good mom all year.  I've fed, cleaned and cuddled my two children on demand, visited the doctor's office more than my doctor, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground and figured out how to attach nine patches onto my daughter's girl scout sash with staples and a glue gun.

        I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmases, since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon, on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles, and who knows when I'll find anymore free time in the next 18 years.

Here are my Christmas wishes:

        I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache after a day of chasing kids (in any color, except purple, which I already have) and arms that don't flap in the breeze but are strong enough to carry a screaming toddler out of the candy aisle in the grocery store. I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy. If you're hauling big ticket items this year I'd like a car with fingerprint resistant windows and a radio that only plays adult music; a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals; and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.

        On the practical side, I could use a talking daughter doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with one potty-trained toddler, two kids who don't fight and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools. I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting, "Don't eat in the living room" and 'Take your hands off your brother,' because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can only be heard by the dog.

        And please don't forget the Playdoh Travel Pack, the hottest stocking stuffer this year for mothers of preschoolers. It comes in three fluorescent colors and is guaranteed to crumble on any carpet making the in-laws' house seem just like mine. If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.

        If you don't mind I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season. Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It will clear my conscience immensely. It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family; or if my toddler didn't look so cute sneaking downstairs to eat contraband ice cream in his pajamas at midnight.

        Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is ringing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the chimney and come in and dry off by the fire so you don't catch a cold. Help yourself to cookies on the table but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

        Yours Always...Mom.  P.S. - One more can cancel all my requests if you can keep my children young enough to believe in Santa.

        In the church, we have this tendency to hold the Santa Claus stuff at arm's length, because it represents the greed and selfishness of the world's Christmas celebration.  Santa is so often turned into a "substitute god," because he knows who's been naughty or nice, and he seems to lavish those good gifts on the nice boys and girls, while the bad boys and girls will find a lump of coal and a bundle of twigs waiting under the tree on Christmas morning.

        Santa Claus is the butchered form of the name St. Nicholas, who was a very real person that lived in the 4th century.  He was a very staunch defender of the Christian faith, and he served on a number of the early Church councils, the most famous of which was the Council of Nicea, from whence came the Nicene Creed.  He was also a philanthropist, who would secretly give gifts to the poor children in the community on Christmas as a token of Christian love.

        I think the Dutch have the right idea here.  St. Nicholas Day is December 6th.  The Dutch children put their shoes outside of their bedroom doors the night before, and St. Nicholas comes and fills them with candy and trinkets.  So for them, the whole Santa Claus thing is over and done with by the time Christmas rolls around.  Nothing detracts from the celebration of the birth of the Christ child.

        The Bible verses I read this evening from Luke 11 talk about God being the one who gives gifts to his children on earth out of love.  Jesus compares the way God gives to his people to the way parents give to their children.  God wants to give us good things.

        Of course we always remember the most important gift he has given, the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ.  That's the ultimate gift of love.  Jesus is our Saviour through faith alone, which is also a great gift of God.  The Christmas gifts we give each other are nothing compared to what God has given to each of us.

        One of the really neat things about some of the Christmas stories we read is that they have a tendency to touch us rather deeply.  Some are funny, and make us laugh.  That's a response of joy.  Then there are those that have a deep moral, and we might even shed a tear or two.  That's a response out of love and sentiment.  Then there are those stories that motivate us to act.  That's a response out of a thankful heart.

        This Christmas, I pray that we all will feel the joy that God has given to us.  I pray that we will grow in our faith.  And I pray that we will come to a deeper appreciation for the salvation Jesus has given to us through the gift of faith alone. 

        So regardless of what day or season it is, may we always join with the Angel choir in singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men."