An Unexpected Gift

Luke 2:8-20

One of the joys of gift giving is finding just the right gift for that person and the unexpected look on their faces when they open your gift. A couple of years ago, my niece and her new groom were opening gifts after their wedding when they received not exactly the gift they had hoped for. In the midst of all the brand new gifts for a brand new marriage, they received a used, greasy, grimy popcorn maker in its original box from some very close family members. Shocked and amazed they graciously received the greasy, grimy wedding gift. (Why they gave a used gift, nobody knows.)

The following year this corn popper became the gift that kept on giving. Each person who was celebrating a birthday or anniversary became the new owner of that popcorn popper. Mysteriously it would appear—through the mail or from an “unknown friend”—whatever it took to get rid of the gift. Included was a card with the names scratched off of the previous owner and the new owner scratched in. Everyone was dreading their upcoming birthdays because certainly it was going to be their turn to receive the corn popper. Who would be next in line? No one said a word in fear of their own birthday being the next potential target. About three years later the popper was sent to my brother-in-law for his birthday (or so we believe). They claim to have never received it. So who received our practical joke? Nobody knows. Has it disappeared and fallen into the hands of some unexpecting stranger wondering why on earth were we sending this nasty gift? I only hope they laughed as much as we have about the whole thing.

The angel told the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). A very special gift has been given to you—Jesus Christ. Jesus came as an unexpected gift in an unexpected way. He came as a baby, born in a stable, not a hospital. No fanfare except the angels, no royal procession or grand entrance for this new king. Even though prophets spoke of his coming, no one was expecting him but his parents. So much better than that old greasy popcorn popper!

Christ coming into the world was a true gift—a gift of love from God. A gift that, when someone discovers what is inside their hearts, will be forever changed; no waiting in line to exchange it or re-gifting because it wasn’t exactly what you had in mind. This world is prepared to be loved again and embraced once again by a God who cares about our needs and about us. Remember the chaos that broke out on Black Friday? People using violence to get their way over a present is an indicator that we have forgotten what love and the meaning of Christmas is all about. We need Jesus! Jesus brings peace, joy, love and hope into our world as gifts, not demands. They are gifts by which God comes to us and changes our worldview and expectations of life.

You have been given a gift—Jesus born again in your hearts. Jesus, the great God, our Lord and Savior, who saves not only as God but as God-man, came to love us and gave himself for us; and what can we do less than love and give love back. Many songs have been written about what gift we could offer to Jesus. The animals in the stable gave him wool to keep warm and a manger to sleep within. The shepherds brought their lambs, the wise men brought frankincense, gold and myrrh. The little drummer boy played his drum and the angels sang. What gift can you give to Jesus? Like the shepherds you have the opportunity to respond by taking the love of Christ out into the world with you. The darkness is gone and the light is shining brightly. We who have walked in the darkness have seen a great light: the light of Christ. Share that good news with your family and friends; the news of how a baby came unexpectedly in an unexpected way.


Rev. Susan Oeffler

No Vacancy

Luke 2:1-7

It was 9:30 on Saturday night the weekend after Christmas. We had driven 16 hours in one day and it was time to settle into a hotel. I had visions of my son waking up in Sedona and we would relive the western movies as the highlight of our trip from Wisconsin to California. My dreams quickly shifted as each hotel sign read, “No Vacancy.” No problem. We headed up to Flagstaff—there were tons of hotels there. Forty miles later we entered Flagstaff. The Christmas lights twinkled against the snowy background. The bustle of the city felt welcoming to our weary minds. We stopped at the Super 8. No vacancy. Days Inn. No vacancy. Marriott. No vacancy. I drove to the next set of hotels, and each one no vacancy. The expensive hotels. No vacancy. I drove down the main strip, into every little dive hotel. Before we could climb out of the car the sign switched to No Vacancy.  How can a city with more than 70 hotels not have a room! The people coming out of the hotel were the same ones we saw at the last stop—they too were looking. No Vacancy. I was beginning to feel like Mary and Joseph entering Bethlehem with no room for them to sleep.

Finally—one lone hotel—vacancy! I pulled in, ran into the office. It offered a king bed and we needed two beds. I went out to ask my son what he wanted to do. I stood there in amazement as a lady in a white pick-up and red trailer drove by the side of my parked car, scraping the entire driver’s side with her trailer until our tires locked together and she could drive no further. When she got out of her truck, she looked at me and said, “Don’t think I am going to be entirely responsible for this!”

Not only was there no room in the inn, now my donkey was broken! We were hours from home, it was 25 degrees out, the car was broken, and the only hotel room available just went to the next person. I imagine the people Mary and Joseph encountered as rude and uncaring as my encounter in Flagstaff—every aspect from the neon signs, the tired people trying to find a place to stay, the angry front desk clerks, and the faultless woman in the truck, it all said, ‘Go away! You are not welcome!’ Flagstaff may not have been Bethlehem, but it was that night.

Have you ever felt so unwelcomed? Have you made someone else feel that way? Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem after traveling for days across the desert. Bethlehem means house of bread. Imagine a city full of bakeries…can you smell the aroma of bread drifting through the air?  Bethlehem was bustling with activity. It was time for the census. People were gathering with cousins and old friends similar to a family or class reunion, filling up every room available. The city that was full of life was not warm, but cold. The people had cold hearts and the innkeepers were tired of answering the door: “go away, we are full!”  Regardless of the people or location and hospitality available, the baby Jesus was born.

This Advent/Christmas season many people will close the doors on others who are in need. Every Christmas, Christ tries to enter into a world that is cold and uncaring, but a few will welcome him with loving hearts. There are many people waiting for someone who has arrived already to the majority of the world but not to them. They are waiting for new liberation from the pains of AIDS; from the frustration of immigration; for the curing of their addictions; waiting for the promise of new life and hope when life doesn’t seem to let up. How will you prepare your heart to receive the gift of love? In what ways can you share the love of God with someone close to you or a stranger in need? How can you be a channel of God’s care for them? May the Spirit of God open your heart, minds, and doors to welcome the Christ child with love.


Rev. Susan Oeffler