Our neighborhood in Antioch was far more interesting place to live than Tullahoma’s Sharondale Drive. We lived on a busy side street in the most diverse zip code in TN. Several times a day a conjoined city bus drove by our house and the pick-up line for Cole Elementary often backed up past our house.
One day as Lewis and I sat on the front porch, our newest neighbors-the children of three families from Egypt walked by. I called out “good morning.” NDavid waved and rushed towards school. In a few minutes, NDavid’s dad backed his old Honda out of the driveway, swung the car hard right and proceeded to drive backwards down the street. In reverse he backed into on-coming traffic accelerating past seven houses and backwards through the intersection. His head hung out the window calling his children. Despite other drivers offering colorful commentary in English, Spanish and Farsi, NDavid’s dad remained in reserve until he caught up with the children to deliver a forgotten backpack. Lewis looked at me with wide-eyed twelve year old wonder and laughed “I guess that is how they drive in Egypt”” When NDavid’s dad roared home in a forward gear, I offered no advice, I just waved knowing our terrible driving neighbor spoke no English.
Our new neighbor, fourth grade NDavid reminded me of his name- David. He acted like a little king. With the best English in the family, King David ruled the families’ interactions with the non-Egyptian world. He would come to borrow a shovel, a lawnmower, a soccer ball, or to ask a question, or sometimes he carried a note he did not understand from the school. At times his dad or mom stood in the yard watching as the little ambassador to Antioch carried out his diplomatic missions, but usually he came alone. “King David”, I jokingly anointed with him. Pleased he folded his arms posing like a little pharaoh and laughed.
On Halloween, NDavid led the Egyptian Trick or Treat delegation. About eight children from multiple families stood on our front porch all shouting a well-rehearsed “Trick or Treat!” as I came to the door. I laughed and began greeting the collection of second hand Batmans, thrift store princess, and threadbare power rangers. King David stood proud when suddenly his eyes froze on something behind me. David stepped to my side peering past me into our house. The Little King was so engrossed I turned to see if our dog was eating the bag of snickers. The fourth grade king focused on our entrance foyer china cabinet. He was Gazing at Connie’s collection of Nativity Scenes as if he was looking at Raphael’s Madonna and Child. Transfixed by the Nativities NDavid lips barely moved as he whispered one quiet word “Jesus.” Noticing me Ndavid’s face grew serious. In unusually halting English he asked, “Are you Christian?” I wondered why he asked, but smiled and said, “Yes – yes we are.”
NDavid’s eyes danced wild with joy, his mouth puckered freezing opened. He repeatedly slapped his chest over his heart and repeated the refrain “We –we – we are Christians” gesturing to me, himself, his pink princess sister and the entire elementary age Egyptian delegation. King David spoke in rapid happy tones in his native tongue. The whole gaggle of supermen and ballerinas pressed in until they fogged the storm door’s glass looking at the Nativities. One batman leapt for joy. They all whispered “Jesus”. Suddenly, they made haste departing from my porch towards their homes. They were excited enough to forget their Halloween candy. In a few short minutes, King David returned with the entire Egyptian delegation – three families, six parents, a few extra uncles, and one grandmother dressed in an old-world styles. A pink princess skipped down our side walk – the Power Rangers jumped around for joy. Pleasing Egyptian tones descended from our front porch. The entire delegation stood inside our front foyer looking at all our nativities. The children helping their grandmother pronounce “Jesus” in English. King David’s father, who I would learn had fled religious violence in Egypt pointed at a wood carving of Mary holding the baby while Joseph led a donkey. He touched his heart- “Egypt…. We are Christians – Coptic- Jesus is Egyptian.”
Finally the princess and Power Rangers remembered the candy, and I loaded them up. I wish I had thought to say, “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Halloween.” As the children rushed off to another house a grandmother lingered in my doorway, streams of tears rolled down her cheeks- she bowed toward the crèches making the sign of the cross with her thumb on her forehead, lips, and heart- then she looked right at me and prayed- blessing me in her native tongue.
Christ had come to 125 Bart Drive on Halloween. Christ stood my foyer in old world clothing and second hand superman suits.
Friends, our Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me in.” When the Egyptian delegation trickled away, I stood and wept, confessing my sins and rejoicing, for Jesus had come to see me. He was carried there by a fourth grade Magi.
The angel said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord!” Who is the Good News for? It is for All people!
Tonight, I pray that you might experience welcome strong enough to make you forget candy, gifts, and everything else. I hope you experience love lavish enough to change your every interaction. I hope you come to know God’s amazing gift- Jesus the Christ-The Lord- Incarnate Love- the crucified one- the very forgiveness and grace of God.
Hear the Good News- The angel said “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those who rest in God.”
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart! We are blessed if we open our hearts and treasure Christ. I hope this holy Christmas mystery catches you tonight.
Christmas is more the beginning of Mary’s service to God, she feed, clothe, change and care for this Holy Child. She will flee to Egypt, carry him to synagogue, loose him in the Temple, and see him crucified… and on the Third day rise to life. Mary will be in the upper room on Pentecost.
What is God’s Christmas gift to us? Is it a child to treasure in our hearts or redeem to get into heaven? Or is it a living hope, an unspeakable joy- that no tongue can tell?
Christ comes more when we give than when we receive.
It is in giving ourselves away that we catch Christmas and receive Jesus.
Do you want Christmas? “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” It is not in eating Christmas dinner that we will find the true meaning of Christmas, but in feeding the hungry. It is not a bottle of wine or cup of nog that will satiate our souls filling us with Christmas joy, but Christ comes when we dig a well in Africa or tomorrow we truly offer our family turned enemies Christ’s deep and wide cup of forgiveness. Christmas power and peace will not come with our good friends coming through the door, but as we welcome the stranger.
‘Don’t be afraid! I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today
The good news is not to be held only in our hearts but to be given away. Christmas comes when we offer ourselves to God and to the world.
God gives us a gift at Christmas- A Savior has been born- a living hope, an active love, a kingdom within us. For God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus- not to possess but to give away. This miracle of God’s love born in our midst is a gift. Christmas is not something that we only treasure in our hearts.
Christmas Hope is not like a bowling ball or diamond ring that can be set on a shelf for decades unaffected by a lack of use. Christmas is more like a puppy that must be turned loose to roam. Faith is alive- it must be shared. Unshared- our hope fades. Boxed in- our love grows cold. Unused- our Faith falters. The Christ Child brings us a Living Hope that flourishes through our daily use. Hope must be shared. Love must be given away. Faith must be broken in by daily our daily walking in it. The light must not be contained under a basket- it must shine- it must burn to show others the way to God or friends Christmas will be set aside like cast off wrapping paper!