A Stocking for Jesus:
A Christmastide Sermon

One of my favorite Christmas movies is “The Bishop’s Wife.” It’s the story of an Episcopal bishop named Henry Brougham who’s trying desperately hard to raise money for a new cathedral, and he prays to God for guidance. God sends an angel named Dudley to him, played by none other than Cary Grant. The guidance that Dudley brings is not how to fund the cathedral, but how to help the good bishop pay attention to his wife Julia and their daughter and to help meet the real needs of the community.

A Christmas Sermon on John 1:1-18

During the movie, Dudley crafts a new Christmas Eve sermon for the bishop—miraculously the typewriter types it out while Dudley speaks the words. This is what Henry preaches during his Christmas Eve sermon, “Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry. A blazing star hung over a stable and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries; we celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, the sound of bells and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. We forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled – all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we are celebrating. Don’t ever let us forget that. Let us ask ourselves what he would wish for most, and then let each put in his share. Loving kindness, warm hearts, and the stretched out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”

Jesus’ birthday was just a few days ago. And yet what gifts did we bring him?

John doesn’t take the same route as Matthew and Luke, forgoing the details of the Nativity story entirely. He writes his Gospel near the end of the 1st century, long after the details of Mary and Joseph and the journey to Bethlehem have been told and retold and finally written down. John strikes out on his own path to help explain how Jesus, the Word, had been with God from the very beginning. And not just that, but he also was God.

This is heady stuff, to be sure. It’s one thing to celebrate the birth of a child, even a child of miraculous origins. It’s another to claim that in the very beginning, when the world was formed, the Word—Jesus—stood near to God. Jesus was—Jesus is—God.

Unbelievable. God became flesh—God became flesh!—and lived among us. Literally “tented among us.” God took up residence in our world, our neighborhood, in order to be among us and love us and show us truly what God is like.

So John writes that Prologue of his to declare quite unmistakably that Jesus was the Word and the Word was God. Jesus, born in Bethlehem so many years ago there among the animals, exuded a light into our dark world. And that light shines out in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. John writes, “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”

The world did not see his light. It did not respond to him. It left his stocking empty.

I think one of the great challenges is that we live in a culture that has almost completely subsumed the true meaning of Christmas. Our economy is driven by it: retailers hit their sales marks with holiday shoppers on black Friday, the day in the year when they finally move from the red, signifying a loss, into the black on their balance sheets and turn a profit. We make Christmas lists detailing the gifts we want, and even way back in 1965 during the Charlie Brown Christmas special, Charlie’s sister Sally asks Santa to simply forgo the gifts and bring her money in the form of 10s and 20s. That’s like asking for 50s and 100s today; with inflation, $20 back in 1965 would be worth nearly $200 today. And on and on it goes.

As Dudley had bishop Henry preach, we forget to even hang a stocking for Jesus. And we usually fail to remember what Jesus really came for in the first place. 

According to a UNESCO report in 2020, it would cost $114 billion to provide clean water and sanitation to every person in our world, which is a little over 10% of what we Americans spent on Christmas this year. (Imagine the amount of money that gets spent worldwide on celebrating Jesus’ birth, and that percentage would drop considerably.) It’s estimated that more than 3 billion people and 40% of world health care facilities lack access to clean water. Yet the investment of that $144 billion would yield a substantially positive economic return, never mind the value in saving human life and the potential for increased girls’ education, as most of those who walk to collect water—whether it’s safe to drink or not—are girls and women. It’s estimated that they collectively spend 200 million hours each day collecting water. The world remains dark.

In the film “The Bishop’s Wife,” one of the subplots concerns the wealthy widow whom Bishop Henry wants to make a little less wealthy in order to build the new cathedral. Henry is willing to do almost anything—including sacrificing his integrity—in order to get the money. But due to Dudley’s involvement in the situation, the widow decides to make a significant donation, except it’s not for the building fund but to help the poor in the city.

But, you might be thinking, Christmas is over. Our money is spent. We’ve moved on. To which I remind you that we’re only on the 7th Day of Christmas, with its swimming swans according to the familiar song. We’ve got 5 more days to go. While our society has moved on by slashing the prices on Christmas themed merchandise and stocking the shelves with Valentines’ Day hearts and candy and cards, we can choose to do something different. A way to embrace the light and love of Jesus that enters our world and offer him a gift.

The last few days I’ve received a number of emails about matching gifts from charitable organizations. Episcopal Relief and Development which is doing good work across the globe has received a dollar-for-dollar matching gift of up to $850,000 for gifts made by the end of the day today, including gifts going to the Diocese of Jerusalem and their work in Gaza. Additionally, Heifer International has received a commitment for a 4 times match for any gifts—including monthly gifts for the upcoming year—made by midnight tonight. For $30, you can give 4 families the gift of honey bees, the training to raise them, extra honey to sell, and increasing the yield of a home garden through pollination. For $300 to Heifer, you can give the gift of clean water and have the impact quadrupled. I could give you more ideas—and I encourage you to find ways to support those organizations closest to your heart—but I don’t want to overwhelm you into inaction.

Because Jesus came into the world in order to bring light and peace and joy and salvation to all. We’ve likely given and received a number of gifts in the last week. But can we give one more? Can we give one to Jesus? Can we choose to spread his light even further and offer hope to those who could use it? Even a monetary gift that might seem rather small, can make a huge difference to someone in need. Choose to embrace the light during this Christmas Season. Commit to filling Jesus’ stocking with one gift that will bring him joy, and will bring the gift of hope to another human being.

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay.

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