Here is the church / Here is the steeple / Open the doors / See all the people!
This rhyme answers the question “What’s inside?”
And this Christmas eve there are many things to wonder about, to wonder what’s inside.
Maybe before you came into this church tonight, you wondered, what’s inside? Well, now you can see what’s inside: Lots of people. People you know and people you don’t know. And lots of decorations — red and green and white. It looks fancy and it feels special.
And over on one side, in sort of a corner, there’s a creche. What’s inside? Mary and Joseph and — soon — Jesus. In a little while they will be surrounded by lots of presents — clothes and stuffed animals for babies who, just like Jesus, who were born to poor parents.
Tonight we hear the story that tells us what’s inside a dark stable — a barn, really — many years ago. A story that tells us how God decided to come into this world inside human flesh — although God could have come in any number of other ways. But tonight especially we think of Mary’s baby, Jesus.
We sing a song about shepherds, who looked into the night sky, and saw angels, and the angel voices telling them the good news — to go to the stable and see what’s inside. What’s inside the manger. A baby named Jesus.
Do you have a Christmas tree? Are there presents under it? You probably wonder what’s inside!
Let me tell you a story about Christmas when I was a child, pretty long ago. One of my relatives was called ‘Aunt Mab.’ She was old: she was my great-grandfather’s sister. She lived by herself and sometimes I would go with my mother and my grandmother to visit her. Every Christmas, for as far back as I can remember, I got an envelope with my name on it from Aunt Mab. [show envelope]
What was in the envelope? A crisp, new, one-dollar bill. [reveal dollar]
Now when I was very young I didn’t really know what a dollar was, what it was worth. And by the time I was old enough to know what a dollar was and to understand what it was worth, I’m sorry to say that I felt one dollar from Aunt Mab wasn’t worth very much.
Yet Christmas after Christmas after Christmas, envelope after envelope after envelope, the dollar bills came, one at a time. I never had to wonder “what’s inside” because it was always the same. A crisp, new, one-dollar bill.
Now this would be a pretty good story if I could go on to say “And I saved those dollars for many years and eventually I had enough to…..” — to do something exciting, or something generous. Or even something practical.
But I cannot tell that story because it didn’t happen that way. A dollar came and a dollar went, and none of those dollars seemed to make much difference in my life.
I am thinking of Aunt Mab and remembering her tonight because I believe she had a faith that what was inside each envelope would, in some way, make a difference in my life. And I believe that each Christmas putting one dollar in an envelope and writing my name on it made a difference in her life.
Because you see there was a dollar in the envelope, but there was also love. Love that caused her to send a dollar every Christmas, even though I am ashamed to say, I don’t recall ever writing her a thank you note.
Why do I tell this story? Well, first of all, it is a long overdue was of saying thank you to Aunt Mab. And it is a way of reminding each one of us that what’s inside — whether we can see it or not — is important. And sometimes the things we can’t see are more important than the things we can see.
If you have Communion when you come to church, you know that something like this— only smaller— is part of the service. [hold up large wafer] What do we see here? Well, a round bread-y or cracker-y thing, really without much flavor, right?
But if you ask the question, what’s inside? This is the answer: This is special food full of God’s love for you. And when you eat that food, you carry God’s love inside you. And when you carry God’s love inside you, you can share it, bit by bit, piece by piece. Share it with your family, your friends. Share it with people you know and people you don’t know. Share it with the world.
What is inside your heart tonight? Here is what is inside mine: I thank God for sending us Jesus, a baby full of God’s love, to share with the world. Love. That is what’s inside.