December 25, 2016, The Christmas Doll – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000001
Since it’s Christmas today, I wrote more of a story than a sermon.
Once there was a little girl who got a doll for a Christmas present. It was a gift from her father. The little girl’s mother had died when the little girl was just a baby, and her father had taken care of her for as long as the little girl could remember. This particular Christmas was a little bit disappointing. The father’s business hadn’t been doing very well, and on Christmas Eve, the little girl noticed that there was still only only one present under the tree, wrapped in wrinkly gift wrap and fastened with way too much Scotch tape. It didn’t even have a bow.
But on Christmas morning, with her beloved father watching eagerly, the little girl opened that one little box. Inside the box was a doll, nothing special, just a plain little doll. She hugged her father as tight as she could, and told him thank you, and I love you so much, and she put that doll up on a shelf in her room.
As the little girl grew up, there were a lot more Christmasses, and a lot more Christmas presents. She didn’t really think too much about that long-ago Christmas. She grew up and her father helped her move into her first apartment, miles and miles away from home, and it was her father who unpacked the little doll and set it carefully up on a shelf in her living room, before he kissed her goodbye and went back home.
Life got busy, and the little girl, who was a young woman now, didn’t see her father again for more than a year, but one day she got a call that her father was sick, and she booked a flight home to take care of him. She spent a lot of time visiting the places she remembered as a little girl, and one day she decided to visit the office where her father used to work. The office manager recognized her right away, and welcomed her warmly.
“Your father is the most wonderful man I ever met,” he told the young woman, “I don’t think I’ve ever known a father who was more devoted to his little girl than your Dad. I remember one Christmas,” he said, “when business had been poor, and your poor father was saving up every penny to make sure he could get you a present. He had his eye on a doll at the toy store. He worked through every lunch hour, and he worked through all his coffee breaks, and finally, by Christmas Eve he had saved up enough for that doll. He ran out of here like a lunatic, I remember; he was so afraid the store would be closed before he got there. He sure loved his little girl!”
The young woman walked out of the office thoughtfully and found herself walking around the corner and down several blocks to the toy store. She remembered how magical a place it was years ago, when she was little. It looked much smaller now, as she pulled open the door, but the bell rang just like she remembered. The shopkeeper, a lot older and grayer now, recognized her at once.
“You’re that little girl who used to come in with her father every Saturday,” he said. “I think those Saturdays were the highlight of his whole week. I remember one Christmas when he was having a rough time coming up with a present for his little girl. There was a doll he had his eye on, and he came by for weeks, paying for that doll little by little. He came to pick it up on Christmas Eve when I was just locking up the store for the holiday. Such a nice man, your father.”
The young woman walked home thoughtfully, and when she got back to her father’s home her father’s sister was there visiting him. Her aunt welcomed her warmly. She made a pot of tea for the two of them, and they sat down at the kitchen table for a long chat. In the course of their talk, the young woman told her aunt about visiting her father’s office, and the old toy store.
“It was funny,” she said, “both of them mentioned that old doll Dad gave me for Christmas when I was little. I hadn’t really thought about that for years.”
“Oh, that doll!” her aunt exclaimed, “I have never seen anyone so excited about giving somebody a gift as your Dad was about giving you that little doll. I offered to wrap it up for him – because you know what a mess he always makes with wrapping paper. But he wouldn’t have it any other way; he had to wrap it with his own hands. When you opened that package, I swear his eyes were shining so bright you could have read the newspaper by the light of it! You would have thought he was giving you the world!”
When her father was better, and the young woman went back to her quiet apartment, she went right to the shelf where her father had carefully set the little doll. She took it in her hands and looked at it more intently than she had ever looked at it before. And she no longer saw just a plain little doll. She looked at that little doll and for the first time she saw that her father had not just given her a gift. In giving her the doll, he had given himself to her.
Sometimes, I think, we feel like growing up means that Christmas isn’t supposed to be about getting presents anymore. Partly, we think that because we have learned as we grown older that it’s not things that make us happy; happiness isn’t about having more stuff. And if we have learned that we are certainly wiser than we were as children.
On the other hand, no matter how old we are, no matter how mature and unselfish we get, Christmas, if we really understand it, will always be more about receiving than giving. That might seem backward, but the reason is this: at the heart of Christmas, underneath all the glitz and busyness of lights and music and gingerbread and candy canes and sending cards and buying gifts for our family and friends – when you get right down to the very center, there is only the one great gift. And that gift is more than we will ever be able to give.
At first sight, the first Christmas gift wasn’t much to look at. It was such a small gift that most of the world didn’t take much notice of it. In the grand scheme of things the birth of a baby boy into the family of a common laborer barely made a splash. Once the local papers stopped running articles about those crazy shepherds who claimed to see angels in the sky outside of Bethlehem, most everybody pretty much went back to life as usual and forgot all about it.
But there were a few special people who knew the Giver. And they have something to say to us about this gift. There was a man named Isaiah, who was in on the plans long, long before the gift was ready for us. He knew that what was in the package was a gift beyond anything mankind had ever received. Speaking of that tiny homeless child, wrapped in rags, he wrote: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” Who would have thought that all that could come in such a small package?
It was Isaiah, too, who understood what the gift was going to cost the Giver. Later on he wrote about this same child: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
It might be that the human being who knew the Giver best of all was John the Apostle, who referred to himself in his writings only as “the one Jesus loved.” John understood that if we sons and daughters of the Father have any love at all to give, it is only because we first received the gift of that first Christmas. “Beloved, let us love one another,” John wrote, “for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,” Paul wrote to Titus, “He it is who gave himself for us…” And here we see what the girl in the story learned; that no gift can be measured by its size or by how it looks. A gift can only be measured by the love of the Giver. And the greatest gift that will ever be given was on that night in Bethlehem, when the great Giver gave himself to us.