Christmas is a time to give gifts. There’s a story about unexpected gifts at Christmas which were regarded as heaven-sent. The story comes from about 100 years ago in Germany. It was after World War I. In those days in Germany there wasn’t much work or much money to go around.
One Christmas, a factory owner asked a young man to be St Nicholas for his family. He gave him a bag filled with apples, nuts, chocolates and toys, to bring to his house. On Christmas Eve the young man dressed in his costume and set out for the factory owner’s home. There was a thick fog that afternoon. As Santa made his way, people suddenly appeared out of the fog, startled to see him. Soon there was happy laughter, as they realised it was the night for Santa to be doing his rounds.
At last he arrived and came up to the home ringing a bell and stamping his feet. He knocked at the door and immediately went in, because that’s what he was expected to do. But he was very surprised by what he saw. There was no Christmas tree and decorations. There was only one light on. A woman was lying on a bed next to a stove and near her was a girl of 5 or 6, sobbing bitterly.
The young Santa didn’t know what he should do or say. It wasn’t the factory owner’s home after all. In his confusion he heard the child say, half-crying, half-laughing, “Santa is here, Mummy! And you said he wouldn’t visit us!” “Mummy’s sick, you know,” the little girl said to Santa. “And she said that because she’s sick, you wouldn’t come to us.” Then, turning to her mother, she said, “But he’s come after all!”
The young man realised he’d become lost in the fog and had come to the wrong house. He couldn’t say, “I’m sorry. I got lost. I have to be going to a different house.” He did the only thing he could do. He took the bag off his shoulder, reached in and took out the gifts. Then he patted the girl on the head and shook hands with the amazed mother. He heard the woman say, “Whoever you are, I don’t know. But you are a gift from Heaven”.
On arriving at the home of his boss, he explained what had happened. “I couldn’t help it, Herr Schroeder,” he said. “I gave your gifts to someone else’s child without authority.” “It’s alright, my boy,” Schroeder said. You did the right thing. It wasn’t you who did it. It was Someone else. He led you to that place. That’s what can happen at Christmas. As for the bag, we’ll fill it again, right away.”
And so the young Santa went to the children’s party to give out his gifts, as he’d originally set out to do. He soon found out who it was he’d stumbled on by mistake. But the mother and her daughter never discovered who the young Santa was, whom, as the woman said, “Heaven had sent”.
Presents bring joy at Christmas, especially to children. But the greatest gift of all, which is the real reason for Christmas, isn’t merely something from this Earth that’s Heaven-sent.
The greatest gift is that ‘someone else’ in the story. He came from Heaven and was sent by God the Father. He was God’s Son from all eternity who came into our time as a little baby, the son of Mary. The message of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds of Bethlehem is also God’s good news for us: “For unto you is born … in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord”.
By nature, all humanity is a captive of sin and the devil, without peace and hope. By nature, all people are in a worse position than the sick mother and her distraught daughter. Because we live under the verdict of death and eternal punishment because of our sins, the birth of the Saviour, the Rescuer, is more than good news. It’s the best news.
Jesus, God’s Son, is the best of gifts. He’s the gift of God’s Love to us. He is Christ, that is, He’s the Anointed One. He was anointed by His Father with the Holy Spirit at His baptism, to be the one who would take into Himself the sins of all people and who would pay for those sins by His death on a cross. He could do it because He’s also the Lord, just as the Father and the Holy Spirit are the Lord. As we say in the Nicene Creed, He’s “God from God”.
Christ, the Lord, was conceived by the creative power of the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary. He came bound up in the wrappings of human flesh and blood. Gift wrapping you can throw out. God’s Son didn’t throw away the wrappings of His flesh and blood. He came to rescue us from our sins by giving His body into death and shedding His blood on a cross for the forgiveness of our sins. His saving work done, He triumphantly rose from the dead in His body, to show that He’s the victor over sin, death and the devil. Now He shares His victory with us.
He came from Heaven to Earth to unite Heaven and Earth. He came to bring about peace between God and sinners. He came to send us the Holy Spirit who brings about repentance in us and faith in God’s good news for us. All who believe in Him are rescued from sin and shame. We have great joy and peace and hope. Like the angels at Bethlehem, we also give glory to God who has brought about peace between Himself and us.
In our story, the identity of the young Santa remained concealed. When Christ was born to bring us God’s gifts, His identity was proclaimed by angels, so that all might believe in Him. His identity and location were proclaimed firstly to shepherds. They immediately went to find Christ, the King. When they found Him, they told everyone what the angels had told them about Him. They went back to their work, giving glory and praise God. The song of the angels was now their song.
We too give praise to God. We thank Him for the best of gifts: Christ the Lord, born to rescue us from our distress. God also tells us where we can find the Christ for our salvation. We find Him in the Bible, because there we’re given His words, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We find Him in His Baptism, where He places His name on us and makes us part of His family.
We find Him in His Supper, because there He feeds us with His own body and blood. Where He gives Himself to us, He brings us His forgiveness and love, and fills us with peace, joy and hope. Jesus wasn’t only Heaven-sent. He came from heaven so that we also might have a place in Heaven. He’s God’s Christmas gift to us.