Christmas gift

Author: 
Rev'd Sarah
Date: 
Sunday, December 31, 2017 - 9:30am

Christmas Gift.....Sermon Christmas 1: New Year’s Eve:

Isa: 61:10-62.3   Gal: 4:4-7  Luke 2: 15-21

 (Put up the shepherds banner of Andree and the children)

 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 

This morning, as we recover from whatever Christmas has flung at us, too much food perhaps, competitive games and chatter with family or friends, or maybe very difficult times at this most difficult of seasons for many.....I thought we might all be in need of a moment to just sit back and listen to a very good story. 

Of course every Sunday we hear a passage from the greatest of all stories, and today is no exception as we hear how the Shepherds responded to the angels’ call. They went, saw, received and radiated the greatest gift, the love of Christ.  

It’s the gift we too have all received, whether we’ve unwrapped it yet or not.  But having travelled to Bethlehem once again, knelt, seen and been filled with the love of the infant Jesus flooding into our lives, what now? We’re received our Christmas gifts, now what as we begin a fresh new year?

 Well, as you ponder.... sit back now in your comfy seat for a moment and listen to the tale of the Happy Prince by Oscar Wild.  I think it says something of what Christmas means, and what the New Year might hold. 

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. 

He was very much admired indeed. “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not. 

“Why can’t you be like the Happy Prince?” asked a sensible mother of her little boy who was crying for the moon. “The Happy Prince never dreams of crying for anything.” 

Now one night there flew over the city a little Swallow. His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love.

All day long he flew, and at night-time he arrived at the city. “Where shall I put up?” he said; Then he saw the statue on the tall column. 

“I will put up there,” he cried; “it is a fine position, with plenty of fresh air.” So he alighted just between the feet of the Happy Prince. 

“I have a golden bedroom,” he said softly to himself as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep; but just as he was putting his head under his wing a large drop of water fell on him. “What a curious thing!” he cried; “there is not a single cloud in the sky, the stars are quite clear and bright, and yet it is raining. The climate in the north of Europe is really dreadful.

a second drop fell, and he looked up, and saw—Ah! what did he see? 

The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity. 

“Who are you?” he said. 

“I am the Happy Prince.” 

“Why are you weeping then?” asked the Swallow; “you have quite drenched me.” 

“When I was alive and had a human heart,” answered the statue, “I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace, where sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful.

My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot chose but weep.” 

 “Far away, far away in a little street there is a poor house. One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is embroidering passionflowers on a satin gown for the Queen’s maids-of-honour. In a bed in the corner of the room her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying.

Swallow, little Swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out of my sword-hilt? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I cannot move.” 

“I am waited for in Egypt,” said the Swallow. “My friends are flying up and down the Nile.” 

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad.” 

 “It is very cold here,” he said; “but I will stay with you for one night, and be your messenger.” 

“Thank you, little Swallow,” said the Prince.

So the Swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince’s sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town. 

He passed by the cathedral tower, where the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the palace and heard the sound of dancing.

. At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was so tired. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman’s thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy’s forehead with his wings. “How cool I feel,” said the boy, “I must be getting better”; and he sank into a delicious slumber. 

Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. “It is curious,” he remarked, “but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.” 

“That is because you have done a good action,” said the Prince. And the little Swallow began to think, and then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy. 

When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath.

“To-night I go to Egypt,” said the Swallow. When the moon rose he flew back to the Happy Prince.

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?” 

“I am waited for in Egypt,” answered the Swallow. “To-morrow my friends will fly up to the Second Cataract of the Nile.

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “far away across the city I see a young man in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers. He is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint.

“I will wait with you one night longer,” said the Swallow. “Shall I take him another ruby?” 

“Alas! I have no ruby now,” said the Prince; “my eyes are all that I have left. They are made of rare sapphires. Pluck out one of them and take it to him. He will sell it to the jeweller, and buy food and firewood.” 

“Dear Prince,” said the Swallow, “I cannot do that”; and he began to weep. 

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.” 

So the Swallow plucked out the Prince’s eye, and flew away to the student’s garret. The young man had his head buried in his hands, so he did not hear the flutter of the bird’s wings, and when he looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on his withered violets. 

The next day the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince. 

“I am come to bid you good-bye,” he cried. 

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “will you not stay with me one night longer?” 

“It is winter,” answered the Swallow, “and the chill snow will soon be here. In Egypt the sun is warm on the green palm-trees. My companions are building a nest in the Temple. 

“In the square below,” said the Happy Prince, “there stands a little match-girl. She has let her matches fall in the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will beat her if she does not bring home some money, and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings, and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other eye, and give it to her, and her father will not beat her.” 

“I will stay with you one night longer,” said the Swallow, “but I cannot pluck out your eye. You would be quite blind then.” 

“Swallow, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “do as I command you.” 

So he plucked out the Prince’s other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the match-girl, and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand. “What a lovely bit of glass,” cried the little girl; and she ran home, laughing. 

Then the Swallow came back to the Prince. “You are blind now,” he said, “so I will stay with you always.” 

“No, little Swallow,” said the poor Prince, “you must go away to Egypt.” 

“I will stay with you always,” said the Swallow, and he slept at the Prince’s feet. 

All the next day he sat on the Prince’s shoulder, and told him stories of what he had seen in strange lands.

 “Dear little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you tell me of marvellous things, but there is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.” 

So the Swallow flew over the great city, and saw beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the white faces of starving children looking out listlessly at the black streets. 

Then he flew back and told the Prince what he had seen. 

“I am covered with fine gold,” said the Prince, “you must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to my poor; the living always think that gold can make them happy.” 

Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. Leaf after leaf of the fine gold he brought to the poor, and the children’s faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street. “We have bread now!” they cried. 

 

Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost.

The poor little Swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, he loved him too well. But at last he knew that he was going to die. He had just strength to fly up to the Prince’s shoulder once more. “Good-bye, dear Prince!” he murmured, “will you let me kiss your hand?” 

“I am glad that you are going to Egypt at last, little Swallow,” said the Prince, “you have stayed too long here; but you must kiss me on the lips, for I love you.” 

“It is not to Egypt that I am going,” said the Swallow. “I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?” 

And he kissed the Happy Prince on the lips, and fell down dead at his feet. 

At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two.

Early the next morning the Mayor was walking in the square below in company with the Town Councillors. As they passed the column he looked up at the statue: “Dear me! how shabby the Happy Prince looks!” he said.

“How shabby indeed!” cried the Town Councillors, who always agreed with the Mayor.

“The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer,” said the Mayor, “in fact, he is little better than a beggar!” 

 “And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!” continued the Mayor. “We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here.” And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion. 

So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. “As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful,” said the Art Professor at the University. 

Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. “We must have another statue, of course,” he said, “and it shall be a statue of myself.” 

“Of myself,” said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarrelled. When I last heard of them they were quarrelling still. 

“What a strange thing!” said the overseer of the workmen at the foundry. “This broken lead heart will not melt in the furnace. We must throw it away.” So they threw it on a dust-heap ...where the dead Swallow was also lying. 

“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird. 

“You have rightly chosen,” said God, “for in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.

As you leave church today please receive a white gold coin. Perhaps ponder how you’ll use the gift – unwrap it, share it, taste it, enjoy the gift, be nourished and live fully the life it brings.  All you shouldn’t do is just sit on it......it’ll only melt.

 The shepherds returned to their ordinary lives but made known the gift they’d seen and received..... and all who they touched through their lives, were also amazed and transformed.

Ponder, treasure the gift, and as we start this fresh New Year, let Christ’s gold, that greatest gift of love given to you, fill your heart and radiate out into the world.

Amen