Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Around the crib...

It's quite miraculous that this many days before Christmas Eve I have my 'sermon' (in the form of a story in three parts) for the Christmas Eve crib service! A member of the church gave me a pack of candy sticks (canes) to use at Christmas, so the story has grown around them... At the end the dressed up children will gather around the crib for the blessing and to show us what the picture in the note looked like - along with the others at the 'stable' of course.... you'll see! (I haven't got a sermon for Sunday morning or the Carols by Candlelight yet, but we can't have everything can we!)

I want to tell you about a little boy today and something quite special that happened to him at Christmas time.

Now this little boy lived with his mum and dad and Gran and his two little sisters in a very small house and they didn’t have much money. Sometimes it got very chilly indoors and they had to put on an extra jumper until there were enough pounds to put on the meter key and make the heating come on again. And sometimes his mum had to go out to her second job almost as soon as she came in from her first one so they could pay the bills, while dad was working away from home and Gran looked after them.

When the children at school were talking about all the things they’d like to get for Christmas – X-boxes and DVDs and big toys and vouchers to spend, this little boy felt a bit left out because he knew he wouldn’t get anything like that. He wondered, even though he was only 7 years old, why Christmas was so different for some people to others.

He wondered why some people put lots of lights on their houses that twinkled and sparkled when it started to get dark, and other people didn’t.

He wondered why some people started to get excited when Christmas was coming and smile a lot more and other people had a scowl on their face and got very grumpy or just looked very sad and didn’t really want Christmas to come.

He wondered why some people spent lots and lots of time in the shops and carried huge bags full of things to wrap as presents and other people, like his mum, thought very carefully about the one little gift they could buy for the people they loved the most.

He wondered why some people had great big turkeys with lots of potatoes and vegetables and stuffing and then Christmas pudding at home, and some people who didn’t have anywhere to live went to a special shelter on Christmas day while people they didn’t know kindly made them a lovely dinner before they went back to the cardboard box they lived in on the street (he’d seen that on the television).

Yes, this little boy wondered lots of things about Christmas. He often wondered them while he was sitting by the windowsill with his chin resting on his hands.

And then, one day, about three days before Christmas Eve, while he was sitting in his usual spot, chin on his hands, looking at the people and traffic passing the window, he heard the clonk of something coming through the letterbox and landing on the doormat.

He thought one of his inquisitive little sisters might run and see what had come through – but there was no sound of movement. So he got down from his perch by the window and went to the door where he found a candy stick with a little note tied to it, with his name on.

The little boy picked up the candy stick – and what a delicious looking treat it looked to a little boy who didn’t get many sweets. But when he looked at the note it said, “Don’t eat me!”
“Oh, he thought… and that got him wondering again – why can’t I eat this lovely candy stick?” But something made him realise it was important to do what the note said, so he didn’t eat it. Instead he looked more closely and there was some more writing on the note: “Hold me upwards so the hook is at the top.” (the little boy held the candy stick upwards). “Just like a walking stick is there to hold frail people up and help them along, I am here to hold you up and help you along!” Well what a funny thing for a candy stick to say, he thought.
And then he turned the note over… and there was a picture of a little baby, wrapped in strips of cloth, but instead of lying in a baby’s crib bed, this baby was lying in an animal’s feeding trough with bits of straw poking out from underneath him.
The little boy had an idea he knew who that baby was… they’d talked about a baby who was lying in a feeding trough, in assembly at school.

What a lot of things to wonder about, and as the little boy wasn’t to eat the candy stick he took it into his little bedroom and tucked it under his pillow.

Late that night, well after everyone was in bed asleep, the little boy was lying awake wondering again about that little candy stick with its note. And while he laid there, in the quiet of the night, he thought he heard a noise. It sounded like the clink of the letterbox again and the gentle thud of something hitting the mat. But what could be delivered in the middle of the night?

The little boy quietly slipped out of bed and tiptoed down the stairs, and there on the mat was another candy stick!
This one had a note attached to it as well… and the note said his name again and, “Don’t eat me!” But there was some more writing on this one too… “wave me around like a conductor’s baton and imagine the music being played.” The little boy had a feeling he should do what the note said again, so standing by the front door, in the middle of the night, in his pyjamas, he started to wave the candy stick in the air just as though he was conducting a whole orchestra and as he waved it he could hear the hum of the music. And then he saw that there was some more writing on the note… “Now remember the music you’ve learned about me and sing it.” “About who?” the little boy wondered… and then he turned over the note and there was the same baby… wrapped in cloths… lying in a feeding trough. Perhaps that was who he should sing about?

By this time the little boy was feeling very tired, so he went back up the stairs, tucked the second candy stick under his pillow, climbed into bed and was soon fast asleep. But in his dreams there were lots of songs that night… songs of a star in the sky and bright angels pointing at something in the distance.

When the little boy woke up in the morning, two days before Christmas Eve, he’d nearly forgotten about the candy sticks, but then he felt something bumpy under his pillow and remembered those little surprises and all the things they made him wonder about.

So you’ll guess how very surprised he was when he went downstairs and on the kitchen table was another candy stick! His mum (who was too busy getting ready for work to worry much about it) said she didn’t know how it had got there – it must have come through the letterbox again, but this one had his name on it too.

And “Don’t eat me!” Hmmm, all these lovely candy sticks – “I wonder why I can’t eat them”, thought the little boy?

He looked at the note on the third candy stick… “Hold me downwards so the hook is at the bottom. Remember my name when you see the ‘J’. It is me who will walk with you and help you along.” And on the other side of the note was… the little baby, in the feeding trough, with bits of straw poking out from under him.

Well the little boy remembered what the note on the first candy stick had said… like a walking stick I will help you along. And now this note was telling him who that was, because he knew that the baby on the other side was Jesus… ‘J’ for Jesus.

Well, that gave the little boy a whole load of other things to wonder about! How could the baby on the picture, on the note, help him along… perhaps it was more than just a nice story and perhaps the songs that had started off in his dreams and got him singing, were more than just songs – perhaps they were pointing him to someone very special?

By that time the snow had been falling for a few hours so wrapped in his dad’s thick, old scarf and wearing his Gran’s gloves the little boy went outside and decided to build a snowman.
He made a ball with a handful of snow and then gradually started to roll it around in the snow on the ground so it got bigger and bigger and bigger. Then he left the big ball of snow to be the snowman’s body and started again to make his head. Then he turned around to find some stones under the snow to make some eyes and a mouth. And when he turned back again… what do you think he saw sitting on the snowman’s head? Another candy stick!

“How did that get there?!” he thought and looked quickly up and down the road to see if he could see who might have left it… but there were just busy looking people hurrying along and cars whizzing past in the slush on the roads… how very puzzling!

So he lifted it off the snowman’s head and read the little note: “Don’t eat me!” He wasn’t very surprised to read that now and wondered if he’d ever get to taste a delicious, sugary candy stick?
But, as usual, the note carried on: “look at my stripes – red and white. Life is stripy sometimes – good and bad, difficult and easy, light and dark, happy and sad; but I will walk with you on the red stripes and the white ones.”
And there on the back was that little baby again…

The little boy thought about the words on the note – he’d certainly noticed how stripy things could be and it made him feel good, hopeful, when he thought about there being someone who knew about the things that were bad and difficult, dark and sad in the world and who would be close by then. So he went back into the house, up to his bedroom and put the fourth candy stick under his pillow with the others. Then he went back outside and finished the snowman.

The next day no candy sticks appeared, or the day after that… and then it was Christmas Eve!
Even though the little boy knew that there wouldn’t be lots of presents the next day, he was still excited about Christmas. And he still wondered every so often about the candy sticks under his pillow. He had a feeling inside that something good was happening.

During the morning the little boy played with his sisters, though they could be a bit annoying sometimes – especially when they broke up the lego castle he’d built – but that was little sisters for you. While they were playing near the Christmas tree, the little boy looked at all the sparkling tinsel and decorations they’d put on the tree together the week before. And as he looked at the tree, a glimmer of red and white caught his eye… he went over to the tree and behind a little hanging star… he found another candy stick!

“Don’t eat me!” it said again! And, “Run your finger along my stripe – look at the winding path that goes from one day to the next and follow me along it.” And there again, on the other side, was the little baby.

The little boy wondered what that could mean? Perhaps there was someone making a safe path for him to follow that would show him how to do the right things? Then the little boy thought for a bit about his granddad – he had gone to heaven and they’d all been sad when that happened. But his granddad had once told him that he was following Jesus on a path that would take him to a wonderful place where they’d meet again one day. The little boy hadn’t really understood his granddad then but now he remembered the ‘J’ for Jesus and wondered if the candy stick was pointing him to the same path his granddad had told him about.

As he went upstairs to put the latest candy stick under his pillow, the little boy wondered where they had all come from – who had put the candy sticks through the letterbox, on the kitchen table, on the snowman and the Christmas tree? What a lot to wonder about!

He lifted up his pillow and there were the candy sticks… 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 with the last one… but then he looked again and saw that there was an extra one! There was his name again… but this time the note said, “Eat me!” The little boy looked again to make sure he hadn’t read it wrong – no, it definitely said, “Eat me!” this time. And the note continued: “Sometimes good gifts come from heaven. Enjoy them and be thankful.” And just to make sure… he turned the note over, and there was the little baby, lying in the feeding trough, with bits of straw poking out from under him.

Well, that little boy didn’t need to be told twice. He didn’t have sweets very often at all, and all those candy sticks had been making his mouth water… so he unwrapped the plastic and put that delicious sweet in his mouth… mmmmm. And in his mind he said, “thank you” as he enjoyed the lovely tastes.

There was a little thought in the back of his mind though, a thought that made him feel a bit sad and a bit guilty at the same time, because his two little sisters weren’t enjoying that lovely sweet, while he was. But he didn’t worry about that for too long!

And then night-time came again, and it was Christmas day! The little boy and his sisters came crashing down the stairs with excitement to see if there was anything under the tree. There were three little stockings laying there with their names on. The little boy put his hand into the stocking, and the first thing he pulled out was… another candy stick!

“Mmmmm, he thought, lovely!” But as he looked at the note he saw that this one said again, “Don’t eat me!” And underneath it also said, “The Christmas gift is a gift of love to be shared – give the rest of the candy sticks away.” Well, that was a difficult thing for a 7 year old boy to think about… but over those few days he’d wondered and learnt a lot of things, and he’d been able to keep those candy sticks under his pillow without eating them so far – and now he knew why.

But before he did anything else, the little boy turned over the note to see the picture on the other side. And there as usual was the little baby, lying in the feeding trough, wrapped in cloths and with bits of straw poking out from under him. But this time there was something else in the picture too – behind the baby was a bright light, an outline of wings and a halo. The little boy knew it was an angel. And underneath the picture this time were some words… “an angel appeared saying, ‘glory to God in the highest.’” And the little boy knew something else as he looked at the picture on the note – he knew that he would always remember the message of each of those candy sticks because they had come from Jesus – God in the highest heaven, and that an angel had been a messenger that Christmas bringing him good news of great joy.

But now there was something else to do. The little boy took the last candy stick and went up to his bedroom, but instead of tucking it with the others under his pillow, he took them all out. Then he went back downstairs to his mum, his dad (who was home for Christmas), his Gran, and his two sisters and gave each of them a candy stick. “Here’s a present from Jesus” he told each of them – “because he loves you” – and the little boy told them all about the upwards hook and the downwards hook, about the conductor’s baton and the music, about the stripes and the path to follow, about saying thank you for God’s gifts and about why he was sharing his candy sticks with them all. Then he looked down and saw that he had one candy stick left. “Who can I give this one to?” he thought. And then a thought popped into his mind… next door but one was an elderly man, a bit of a grumpy man, a man who told the children off if their football went on his garden, a man who didn’t have many visitors and was lonely; and the little boy knew that that’s who he should give his last candy stick to. So that Christmas morning, with his Gran, the little boy knocked at the neighbour’s house and holding out the candy stick with ALL the notes attached, he said, “Happy Christmas!”

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At December 16, 2009 10:50 pm, Blogger Kathryn said...

Love it! Wish I were overwhelmed with candy canes, now..just such a good story, anyway...I know it will go down a storm, and people WILL remember.


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