What is Christmas about?

A sermon preached at St. Albans-St. Saviour's, by Imogen de la Bere, on the 25th December 2000

What is Christmas about?

No, what is it really about?

Well truthfully, if youíre an adult itís about eating and drinking, with the emphasis on the drinking. And thereís nothing wrong with that. We need to get together and celebrate. We need to enjoy the good things of life. God made them, God made wine delicious as well as intoxicating, and he made truffles and duck a líorange and Christmas pudding, with a bit of help from in the kitchen. He made them and he made them good and told us to enjoy ourselves.

But if youíre young, Christmas is really, truly, underneath, in spite of everything the adults say, Christmas is about presents. And thereís nothing wrong with that. God is generous and because he is generous and we are made like him, we like to give. And us adults need someone to give to, so we give presents to you children.

Iíll tell you a secret. We adults probably enjoy giving presents - seeing the parcels under the tree Ė as much as you enjoy getting them. But donít let on that you know that.

But adults like to get presents as well. And like some of you, Iíve brought my favourite one to church today.

Here it is.

Itís a bit battered because I played with it already. I want someone to have a look at it, and figure out what it is. And weíll come back to it in a minute.

First I want to tell you a story.

Many of you will have heard some of my stories about the monks of Lundy.

These monks lived on the windswept island of Lundy, which is in the Bristol channel. It used to be a haunt of pirates and rebels, but much later there were only a few farmers and the monks, who lived in a big stone house overlooking the sea. There werenít very many of them Ė six monks at this particular time. There was the Father Abbot, who managed the farm and the books, the Father Cellarer, who was in charge of the wine, the Father Librarian, who was very clever, the Father Cantor, who did all the singing, Father Lionel who did all the cooking, and Brother Michael, who did absolutely everything else.

Now this particular Christmas I telling you about the monks had all been very busy getting ready. There arenít any trees on Lundy Island, so Father Librarian had made a Christmas tree out of used toilet rolls Ė heíd saved them all year, and decorated it with sheepís wool and shells painted gold. Father cantor had written some new antiphons and practised and practised them with his little choir of island children. Father Abbot had spent hours polishing his sermon. Father Cook had selected two specially plump chickens from the farmyard, and stuffed and dressed them. Heíd made a huge pudding and buckets of creamiest ice-cream. Father Cellarer spent ages in the vault debating which wine to bring upstairs.

Brother Michael had done everything else. Heíd killed the chickens and drawn then and plucked them. He painted the toilet-roll tree green. Heíd decked the Refectory with holly and scrubbed the floor extra well. He polished all the cutlery and buffed up the wine-glasses. He washed and starched and ironed the extra special lace table cloth. He delivered everyoneís cards and dropped off parcels and ran errands for everyone, all over the island. He had the church decorated like an shop window on Oxford Street, and the monksí house shining like a pin.

Then Christmas night came, and the monks sang midnight mass for the islanders, very elaborate and beautiful. Then Christmas morning came, and just like us here at St Saviourís, the monks had another service for the islanders who couldnít make it tot midnight. Brother Michael had to rush about for both services, putting out the books, setting the altar, swinging the incense. After heíd finished tidying up the second service, he rushed back to the house and laid the table and helped Father Cook, who was getting very red in the face in the kitchen.

But at last they all sat down to eat, and it was a splendid meal.

But Brother Michael couldnít enjoy the meal because all the time his eyes kept straying to the Christmas tree. Under the tree there was a pile of presents, and Michael knew exactly what was there. Father Cellarer had wrapped up five bottles of his own honey mead. Father Cantor had given everyone a copy of his new CD. Father Librarian had hand-painted a book-mark for every monk. Father Abbott had splashed out and bought each monk a new prayer-book, and Father Cook had spent weeks in the kitchen secretly making chocolates for every one.

But in the big pile there were no presents from Michael There were presents for him, but none from him and he felt terrible. He hadnít had any ideas, he didnít have many talents, and he hadnít had much time.

Heíd spent days worrying because he hadnít given any presents. He prayed and he worried and he kept hoping for a miracle, that God would suddenly show him what he could do for his brothers.

But there was no miracle. And here it was Christmas day, and he still hadnít got any presents to give his brothers.

All through dinner he worried. The other monks ate and drank and pulled crackers and told silly jokes and laughed, but Michael kept on glancing at the pile of presents under the tree and worrying. He felt terrible.

After dinner the brothers all sat down in their old armchairs around the fire. They were very tired after all their exertions, and they nodded off. All except brother Michael who kept on worrying. He looked at his brothers snoring by the fire and he looked at the pile of presents under the tree, and he prayed for a miracle.

After a while, when no miracle arrived, he looked a the big mess of dishes and plates on the table and felt sorry for his brothers, who had been working so hard and were so tired.

So he carried everything into the kitchen and wiped it down, so it was perfectly clear. And his brothers slept on. So he started to wash the dishes. The brothers didnít have a dishwasher, so he had to do them by hand. The water wasnít very hot, so he had to boil the kettle several times to get rid of all the grease. He washed and he dried and he put away and all the time he prayed and prayed for a miracle. There was a little statue of the child Jesus in the kitchen, and Michael talked to it while he worked.

Please Lord, please give me an idea. Let me find a packet of unopened handerkerchiefs in the linen cupboard. Let a parcel fall out of a passing plane. Please Lord please!

But nothing fell out of the sky. Michael finished all the washing-up and he started to cry, because now the brothers would wake up and open the presents.

Then the miracle happened. The child Jesus spoke to him.

ĎMichael, look at your hands.í

Michael looked down at his hands. They were all red and wrinkled from the washing-up.

ĎMichael,í said Jesus, Ďgo in and sit by the fire with your brothers. When itís time for the presents, show them you hands. You have given them your time, you have given them your efforts, you have given them your love. Thatís my present to you, and your present to them. Tell your brothers from me. Time and trouble and love, but love is the best present of all.í

 

So letís go back to my present.

Can you tell me whatís inside it?

Nothing at all.

Thatís right.

And on the card thereís a verse.

Itís a bit hard to read, so Iíll tell you what it says.

This is a very special gift
That y
ou can never see.
The reason itís so special
Is itís just for you and me.
Whenever you feel lonely
Or are ever feeling blue,
You only have to hold this gift
And know I think of you.
You never can unwrap it.
Please leave the ribbon tied.
Just hold the box close to you.
Itís filled with love inside.

 

And thatís what Christmas is about. Itís about presents, the best present of all Ė the present of love. Godís love, and our love which is a pale copy of Godís love. You canít buy it, you canít sell it. You can only give it away. The more you give the more love you have. Now thereís a miracle.