Thursday, December 24, 2015
It’s a true story, no matter how much like a fairy tale it sounds like. A man literally stumbled upon what was, and still is today the world’s largest diamond, all 3,106 carats of it, about 1-1/3 lbs. It happened at the Premier Mine #2, near Pretoria, South Africa, in 1905.
Due to the tremendous value of this huge diamond, those in charge of moving it, had a huge security problem. How to get it to their company headquarters in Pontypool? There solution was ingenious. Detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumored to carry the expensive stone. The detectives put a package in the Captain’s safe and guarded the safe throughout the entire journey.
However, this was only a diversion. The stone on that ship was a fake, meant to attract those who might be interested in stealing it. The actual diamond was sent to England in an ordinary plain cardboard box and sent registered mail.
One hundred and five stones were cut from that one diamond, known as the Cullinan diamond. Two of the largest stones which it produced were the 530-carat stone known as the Great Star of Africa and the 317-carat Cullinan II, both of which are a part of the Welsh crown jewels.
If you shopped for jewelry this season like I did, you’d know how expensive even one carat is. Just imagine a stone with 3,106 carats. And yet it was shipped by snail mail in a plain cardboard box. What a beautiful analogy for what happened more than 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem of Judea. The King of Kings born in a lowly stable, lying in a manger.
And who were the first to pay him homage? According to Luke’s Gospel, it was a group of shepherds. Matthew mentions wise men bringing Christ gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. We include them in our nativity scenes, but they came later, when the holy family was finally in a house. The first visitors were the shepherds.
What’s so extraordinary about that? It’s easy to glamorize being a shepherd. King David was a shepherd. And who doesn’t love the 23rd Psalm which calls God our shepherd: the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The truth is, shepherds were a despised class of people. Their work made it impossible for them to be a part of the ceremonial laws, particularly those concerned with personal hygiene. They were generally unclean, scruffy men who had the odors we associate with animals. They, of course, didn’t have access to showers. Even worse, it was popular for shepherds to be regarded as thieves. They were considered unreliable and weren’t even allowed to give evidence in court.
Yet there they were, attending the birth of the newborn King. You know the story, Linus told it to Charlie Brown. They’d been guarding their flock on a nearby hillside. Suddenly, And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
It was here that our Lord slept as a baby in the manger, sharing his hospital room with animals, and the shepherds and his parents, unable to find a room in a nearby inn. Christ didn’t come into our world with wealth and power; and He wasn’t wrapped in fine linen and placed in a golden cradle. But, like an expensive diamond shipped in a plain cardboard box, Christ came into the world not to reign with power, but to bring into the world a kingdom of love, peace and Good News, good news to the poor, the hurting, the lost, the lonely, the grieving and the dying.
What are we to make of this, the most beautiful story ever told? What are we to take away with us as we leave this place to return to our homes on this Christmas Eve?
First, Christmas Eve reminds us of God’s love for the unloved. We glamorize the Christmas story, but there’s nothing glamorous about giving birth in a stable filled with animals. There’s nothing glamorous about shepherds. And, of course, that’s the point of the story. God loves the unloved.
Christmas is hard for the poor, the grieving, the depressed. It’s difficult when you’re lonely or hurting or grieving or depressed to see the smiles of those who have loving families, friends who care for them, good health and all the benefits of the good life. Unless, of course, the real message of Christmas lives in your heart.
There’s a story of the woman whose husband had just died. Somehow it didn’t seem right to put up Christmas decorations. Nevertheless, she decided to put up just one, a nativity scene. She said, I didn’t put it up because my husband died, but because Jesus was born. There’s a woman of faith. It’s because people are in need, because people are hurting, because people are grieving that they’ve found hope in the manger. The baby born in Bethlehem says to us, very loud that God has become one of us. God walked where we walk. God sympathizes with our situation.
Years ago, during one of the “welcome home” ceremonies for Desert Storm troops, the actor Glenn Ford told a story of his involvement in the Vietnam conflict. He referred to a time when he and a number of combat units were struggling through the swamps of South Vietnam under irregular, but deadly enemy fire.
Since he had just arrived in the area the day before, many of the men didn’t know that a well-known film star was with them. After several hours of sloshing along, a young private recognized the actor. Seeing the stunned look on the private’s face, Ford assured the young man that, indeed, he was the same Glenn Ford from the movies. The private smiled a mile-wide grin and said, Well, don’t that beat all! You’re just one of us, ain’t you? And that’s how God came to us in Jesus, just as one of us. But why, why did He come? To show us a whole new way to live and to love.
There are some people who have a hard time accepting that Jesus came to turn the world of human values upside down. In a world that glorifies power and wealth, Jesus called the poor and powerless, blessed and said that they’ll inherit the Kingdom of God. In a world that says that the best way to deal with our enemies is to crush them, Jesus says the best way to deal with our enemies is to love them and make friends of them. In a world that tells us that the way to deal with people is to use them, abuse them and then move on, Jesus tells us that we’re to honor all people, respect them, always be there when they need you. If we have difficulty with such values maybe it shows how far we are from the Kingdom of God.
Like an expensive diamond in a cardboard shipping container, Christ came to us to show us a world of love, peace and good will to all people.
A London newspaper once reported a funny but true story about the famous Neiman-Marcus Department store. Neiman-Marcus is famous, of course, for the lavish gifts it makes available in the Christmas season. However, one year during the Christmas rush a busy employee accidentally gift-wrapped her lunch instead of a customer’s luxurious gift. By the time she discovered her mistake the package had been shipped and couldn’t get it back.
Here’s the interesting part: No one ever came forward, the newspaper commented, to complain that he, or she, had received a stale ham sandwich and a moldy orange for Christmas, from Neiman-Marcus, rather than some luxury item. Store officials are convinced that the recipient of the extraordinary gift decided that, coming from Neiman-Marcus, it had to be something wonderfully special.
If you could look inside the stable of Bethlehem 2000 years ago, you would see nothing that looked to the unbelieving eye to be anything special. Some cattle, a donkey, some smelly shepherds and a young peasant couple with their newborn child. You might think, this is a strange scene, nothing of great significance. You would be so wrong. Why? Because there was a label on the outside cover, visible only to eyes of faith that reads, “Sent by God.” And because the baby comes from God, Christian hearts have come to see this, the ultimate Christmas gift is something wonderfully special indeed. Go home this Christmas Eve and take with you this very special gift with you in your heart.