No Gift To Bring
Sun, Dec 25, 2016


(LK 2:8-20)

[Delivered Christmas morning, 2016, at Plattsburg UCC]

                ….. What an amazing night!  My family and I had been traveling all day to reach our destination here in Bethlehem, the birthplace of our ancestors, in response to Herod’s recent decree for a census.  By the time we arrived, the sun had set, and all the rooms at the inns were taken, so we settled down here in the courtyard of the last inn we found, built a fire, and made our camp for the night.  As I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t help but notice how clear the night sky was, and how brightly the stars were shining.

                Sometime later, I was woken up by a commotion at the gate, which the innkeeper had closed for the night.  He was not pleased to be awakened at such an hour!  It was a group of shepherds, who spoke excitedly about … did they say angels … who were singing?  And they told them that a child was to be born in Bethlehem that night, who was … God’s Chosen … our long awaited Messiah?

                I think the innkeeper thought they had been drinking - but there was something in the way they told their story that seemed … sincere.  And then he remembered a couple who had come late that evening – and the woman, scarcely more than a child herself, was heavy with child.  “Yes!” they exclaimed, “The angels said the child’s mother would be a young maiden … she must be the one!”  So, the innkeeper said he would take them to the stable out back where the couple was staying for the night – the last little bit of space to be found when they arrived.

                Well, by this time, I was fully awake, and I found myself … intrigued by what the shepherds had said.  So I decided to follow them and see … well, whatever it was there was to see – if anything!  And as I arose, I felt a tug at my robe – it was my grandson, who had also evidently been awakened by the commotion.

                “Where are you going grandfather at this late hour?” he asked.

                I told him there was a couple staying in the stable out back, that the woman was expecting a baby, and I was going to see if there was anything they might need.

                “Can I go with you?” he asked.

                I was about to tell him to just go back to bed, but there was such a keen look of excitement and wonder in his eyes, I couldn’t tell him no.  So he took my hand, and we followed the innkeeper and shepherds behind the inn to the stable.  There we found a single lamp burning, and in the dim light we could make out a man, standing, and a woman, seated - and in her arms was a baby, wrapped in a cloth, sleeping.

                The shepherds were telling her, and the man – whom I presume was her husband, although he looked quite a bit older, what they had heard and seen while watching over their flocks in the hills.  They spoke again of angels singing, and being told that a child would be born this night in Bethlehem who would grow to be God’s Chosen One.  …..  I halfway expected the man and woman to look at the shepherds with disbelief, or possibly assume, as the innkeeper had initially thought, that they had been drinking.  But instead, they exchanged a … knowing glance.  And the young woman said to the shepherds, “Would you like to hold him?”  They shook their heads and said, “Oh no, we are unworthy to hold him – we have no gift to bring him, and our clothes and hands are dirty from living in the hills with our flocks.”  But the young woman insisted, and so one of the shepherds carefully took the child in his work hardened hands, and just … looked at him for, well … it seemed like a very long time.

                I found myself thinking, “If this really is the Chosen One of God, what gift might I bring him?”  And then I suddenly realized that my grandson was no longer at my side … where had he gone?!  I started to look for him … and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw some movement in the stable near the shepherd holding the baby – it was my grandson!  And what was he carrying … a drum?  The young woman saw him as well and quietly said, “Well hello … what do you have there?”  And my grandson said “I wanted to bring the baby a gift, but I didn’t have anything.  Then I found this drum over in the corner of the stable, and decided maybe he would like to hear me play it.”

                No, no – nut a drum … the baby’s sleeping!  But before I could get to him, he started to softly play the drum … rum pum pum pum, pum pum pum.  I’d never heard a drum played so gently before.  The young woman nodded at him, as if to tell him to keep playing … and then, it seemed to me that the baby, who was scarcely hours old, opened his eyes – and smiled.  Could that be, or was it just the shadows of the dim light falling across his face?  I can’t be certain.

                My grandson played for a bit longer, oh so quietly, and when he was finished, he said “I hope your baby liked my gift.”  To which the young woman said, “Oh yes, very much so, I’m sure.  That’s the best drumming I’ve ever heard.  Thank you.”

                At that point, my grandson and I walked back here to our camp, in silence, and returned to our beds.  And as I tucked him in, he looked at me with his big brown eyes and simply said “I played my best for him.”  I patted him on the head, and before I could rise and turn away, he was already fast asleep.

                At first light, after starting a fire for our morning meal, I returned to the stable to check on the young couple and their child – but they were already gone.  All I could find was this small scrap of cloth, possibly one that had been used to wrap the child at his birth.  Otherwise, there was no evidence of them having been there, or of all we had heard and seen just hours earlier.  …..

                Could this child really be our long awaited Messiah … God’s Chosen One?  …..  And, if you had been with us last night – what gift would you have brought him?