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    Dec 24, 2019

    Christmas Eve Service

    Passage: Luke 2:1-14

    Preacher: The Rev. Canon Patricia Grace

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Christmas

    Detail:

    At the risk of revealing myself to be an aging Baby Boomer,

                I am going to mention Facebook in this sermon.

     

    There has been a question going around,

                asking people to share the name of their favorite children’s book.

    The question intrigued me –

                Into thinking about it, but not responding…

    I am primarily a Facebook voyeur, you see.

    But so many cherished titles came to mind -

                Goodnight , Moon, of course;

    Harold and the Purple Crayon,

                Black Beauty,

    all of the Nancy Drew mysteries –

                The Box Car Children – the first one, that is…none of the others…

    Charlotte’s Web – some pig, you betcha!!

    But, by far, the most favorite was,

                The Velveteen Rabbit.

    A story about how love makes a person real.

    I hope you know it, but for those who do not,

                here’s what happens.

    The story revolves around a stuffed bunny

    • he’s pink velveteen with brown spots.

    The toy rabbit arrives in a little boy’s stocking

    one Christmas morning.

    And like what happens to many toys on Christmas,

    the boy plays feverishly with it that day,

    but in the excitement of Christmas dinner,

    visits from grandma and other relatives,

    the bunny is quickly forgotten –

    and is soon consigned

    to the bookcase in the boy’s playroom –

    which is called the nursery in this book,

    because it’s from England.

     

    The other toys in the nursery

    convince the bunny that they are far superior than he,

    because they are more like the real thing –

    and after all, he’s just made out of velveteen

    and is filled only with sawdust,

    which has become quite out of date.

     

    So the little bunny longs to become real,

    even though, because he’s never seen a real rabbit,

    he’s not completely clear about what being real might mean.

     

    Late one night,

    at the time when the toys in the nursery

    get a quiet moment to talk among themselves,

    he asks another toy what he knows about being real.  

     

    That toy is called the Skin Horse,

    a large rocking horse, in fact,

    made with hair and skin from a real horse.

     

    The Skin Horse was the oldest and wisest plaything

    in the nursery.

     

    He was so old, that most of his skin was rubbed off,

    and most of those real horse hairs

    had all been pulled out

    to string bead necklaces

                            or tie up other things.

     

    The Skin Horse had lived a long time in the nursery

                and seen a lot of those other bragging toys go their way –

    cast off when broken or out of date.

     

    He also knew about something called nursery magic –

    which could turn a simple toy into something else…

    but only those playthings that are old, and wise

    and experienced, understood all about it.

     

    Here’s the conversation the two toys had that night.

    "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before the nanny came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

     

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

    "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

    "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

    "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

    "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

    "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

    "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

    The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

     

    Now, shortly after this encounter,

    the boy becomes ill with scarlet fever and nearly dies.

     

    The stuffed bunny lies close to him during this entire illness –

    the bunny is faithful,

    giving unconditional comfort, keeping watch,

    loving the boy through the crisis.

     

    When the boy gets better,

    all his blankets, pillows and other bedding

    must be burned –

    and the tiny stuffed bunny, too.

    The velveteen rabbit

    is set out with the bedclothes by the gardening shed

    to be put into the burning barrel the next day.

    What a terrible story, you might think –

    if it ended there .

     

    The bunny sacrifices himself for the boy

    and is then cast off, and left to die.

     

    But before that can happen, the bunny becomes real –

    the nursery fairy does her magic

    and turns him into a real live rabbit.

     

    The little velveteen rabbit becomes real,

    but not really through nursery magic, at all.

     

    The bunny becomes real

    through his willingness to selflessly love the boy -

    without expectation of reward,

    by remaining faithful

    continuing to love,

    even when it is hard…

    and the price is high.

    Now lest you think that kind of real-making magic

                occurs only in children’s stories,

    I want to invite you to do something this evening –

       a little practice borrowed from Mr. Rogers, the children’s TV show host.

    I want to invite you to sit back, close your eyes

                And envision, think about, all the people who loved you into being.

    Would you just take, along with me,

    10 seconds to think of the people

    who have helped you become who you are,

    those who cared about you

    and wanted what was best for you in life.

     

    PAUSE

    Thinking about all those people

    And the message of the story,

    What resonates for me,

    is that true love makes us real –

                            in both the giving and receiving.

    We do not grow real all at once,

                it does takes time…

    And requires sacrifice.

    There is a cost to becoming real. A cost in giving and receiving love.

    Our hair can get loved off,

    we may grow shabby and loose in the joints over time.

    And our love may not be returned in kind.

    Yet we are called to keep on loving if we are to live for real.

    It has occurred to me more than once,

                this little story is really about incarnation,

    the truth that we really celebrate at Christmas time…

    that God loved us so much

    God sent a son, to become real to us, and real like us…

    And that Son, loved God’s world so much,

    that his whole life and death showed

    that love has the power to make each one of us, real –

    that is, the part of us that is created in the image of God.

    And so, we are called to love each other –

    especially the ones hardest to love…

    the ones who come to us already worn out,

    all their fur rubbed off.

    We’re invited to love and be loved, and in so doing,

    become as real as real can be.

    The giving and receiving of love will in fact, make us so.

     

    The truth is, also, that becoming real is hard

    for those who break easily,

    or have sharp edges,

    or who have to be carefully kept.

    And the cost of becoming real is often high…

    both our hair and sometimes our wide-eyed idealism

    can be loved off,

    and we can get worn down and loose in the joints

    by loving so much …

    and a person can grow very shabby

    giving him or herself away like that…

    at least by the standards of this world…

     

    We can’t become real

                without risking … or without giving of ourselves…

                we can’t become real without opening ourselves up

                            to the suffering of others …

    without opening ourselves up to the love of others…

    we can’t become real

                without the love of God.

     

    But we can become real by following God’s example,

                given to us in the person of Jesus,

                                        who showed us the way to go.

    We can become real by working at it,

                day after day,

                            by keeping the real story of Christmas in our hearts

                                        and on our minds,

                long after the tree comes down

    and the ornaments are stored away.

     

    We celebrate tonight a mystery beyond our complete knowing.

                We celebrate the paradox

                            of gaining everything by giving ourselves away.

    We celebrate the unfathomable truth

                that love makes us real,

                            but cannot do so, unless we give it away.

     

    Glory be to God in the highest for this great gift…

                Glory be to God.