The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 12/24/07
Text: Luke 2:1-20
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Christmas Eve. Are you ready? The stockings all hung by the chimney with care?

Was shopping fun this year? A fellow was brought before a judge and was asked what his offense was. He responded, "I was doing some early Christmas shopping."

The judge was puzzled. "Why are you in this court because of early Christmas shopping? Early shopping is not a problem. Just how early were you doing your shopping?"

The reply: "Before the store opened."

Another one. An older woman was cruising a busy parking lot just before Christmas in her new Mercedes-Benz looking in vain for a parking space. She finally saw someone loaded with packages heading for a car, so she followed him, put on her blinker and waited patiently until he pulled out. Just as he pulled out a young man in a sleek black Porsche zipped in to the space ahead of her. She was dumbfounded and outraged, and jumped out of her car, shouting, "How could you do that? Didn't you see me waiting there with my signal on?" to which he replied, "That's what happens when you're young and fast."

As the young man was about to enter the store he heard the hideous crunch of metal striking metal. He ran back, horrified, to see that the woman had gunned her Mercedes and smashed it into his beautiful black Porsche. He ran back and cried, "How could you do that?" to which she replied, "That's what happens when you're old and rich!"(1)

Let me share a better Christmas story.(2) It is the story of a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of a Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of trees in that home for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercialism - overspending...the frantic running around at the last minute to get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma - the gifts given in desperation because you could not think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, his wife decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. She reached for something special just for Mike.

The inspiration came in an unusual way. Their son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to Kevin's team in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, Kevin's folks were alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, the better-equipped team ended up walloping their poorer opponents. Every weight class. But as each of the inner city boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that could not acknowledge defeat.

Mike shook his head sadly and said to his wife, "I wish just one of them could have won. They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them."

Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That is when the idea for his present came.

That afternoon, Mike's wife went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, she placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what had been done and that this was his gift from his bride this year.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, she followed the tradition - one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of their Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and the children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story does not end there.

You see, they lost Mike a couple of years ago - cancer. When Christmas rolled around, his wife was still so wrapped in grief that she barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found her placing an envelope on the tree, and in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of their children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with the grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with his family, and now that we know the story, with you and me as well. Have a Merry Christmas.


1. Via Internet,

2. Among many other places,

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