Like so many years before, we have gathered once again.  We’ve gathered to hear the Old Story.  Once again we have journeyed to Bethlehem.  We have accompanied Mary and Joseph.  Once again, there was no room for them in the inn.  And so they were reduced to a cattle stall.  And we entered the stall with them, once again.

Mary delivered her child.  It wasn’t pretty.  It wasn’t like what you see on Christmas cards.  But in those awful and primitive conditions, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger.

She’d hardly caught her breath, when shepherds showed up.  They smelled.  They smelled pretty bad.  But they smelled no worse than animal dung.  There was plenty of animal dung in that stable that night.  Remember?

Finally the shepherds departed, and we were glad to see them go.  Nice guys, but Mary and Joseph needed sleep.  They were exhausted, worn out.  Especially Mary.  Poor girl.  What a night.

And so Joseph closed the stable gate.  Time for sleep, at last.  Let’s go to sleep.  Sleep.  Blessed rest.

Wouldn’t you know it?  According to legend (Now this is legend.  You won’t find it in the Bible.), there were two more visitors that night: a very old man and a very old woman, stooped over and quite frail.  They looked near death. 

“Can we come in?” the old woman asked.  “We’re here to see the baby.”

Joseph paused.  He recognized the pain and desire in their faces.  He nodded and pulled back the gate.  They entered, and Joseph stepped outside.  It was good to get fresh air.

Some moments later the old couple joined him outside.  Without saying a word, they made their way down the road.  But something was different, Joseph noticed.  They were no longer stooped over.  They walked upright.  They were strong and alive.  They moved quickly.  Strange.  Very odd. 

When Joseph re-entered the stable he noticed something else.  There was an apple that wasn’t there before.  The apple rested in the corner of the manger, next to Jesus.  He picked it up, and then he understood.

The old, frail visitors were Adam and Eve.  Adam and Eve.  By God’s grace, they had travelled forward through time.  They had offered to Jesus the apple they had stolen in the garden of Eden so long ago.  They had given it back to Jesus.  They gave back to God what they had stolen so long ago.

Tonight we have gathered to hear the Old Story.  Tonight the Old Story demands an answer.  What is your apple?

What do you need to give back to God?  What has kept you stooped over all these years?  Is it Pride?  That’s a big one.  Obstinance?  Is there someone you simply will not forgive?  Forget “cannot forgive”.  We can forgive if we so choose.

What old grievance do you need to leave at the manger?  What personal failure?  Sloth?  Indifference?  Complacency?  A judgmental attitude? 

We have gathered here once again.  We have gathered to hear the Old Story, to praise and adore the newborn king.  That’s a very good thing.

Here’s an even better thing: leave your apple at the manger.  Leave your pride.  Don’t be obstinate any longer.  Let go of that.  It just weighs you down. Forgive, and you will know the freedom forgiveness brings.  Commit yourself anew to God and God’s family.  Leave judgment in God’s court.

Whatever your apple happens to be, leave it at this altar tonight.  Get a fresh start.  You’ll leave here a different person.  Your strength will be renewed.  You’ll walk upright.  Love will be re-kindled in your heart once again.

I’ll close with a prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The day of joy returns, Father in heaven,

and crowns another year with peace and good will. 

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus,

that we may share in the song of the angels,

the gladness of the shepherds,

and the worship of the wise men. 

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love

all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift

and good desires with every greeting. 

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings,

and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. 

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be

thy children,

and the Christmas evening bring us to bed with

grateful thoughts,

forgiving and forgiven,

for Jesus’ sake.


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