This is a night of stories.
We gather in our Christmas finery, seated with family or friends, in this little church,
and the memories come flooding back of Christmases past
of people we used to celebrate with
some who are present tonight
and those who by death or divorce, distance or decision, are not with us.
We remember the baptisms and pageants and weddings and funerals in this building.
Some of us are returning here, some regulars, others here for the first time.
But whatever our history, we all bring our stories to this night.
And then of course, there is The Story—
the story of a peasant travelers, covering many miles on foot where no one wants them.
of shepherds, the common working poor,
and angels, who are anything but common.
It’s a story with a message – a message for the world:
Good tidings of great joy!
A lasting joy and peace that no ruler, hardship, or change in circumstances can take away.
But to be honest, sometimes The Story gets a little dusty for me--
like the family yarn you’ve heard so many times you could recite it in your sleep.
So I am going to tell you another story tonight.
It’s an old Hassidic tale – but I think of it as a Christmas story.
It’s called, The Turkey Prince.
Long ago in a kingdom faraway, in a huge palace, in a busy kitchen,
underneath the table next to the sink, there was a prince who would one day be king.
But all was not right, for the prince had lost his mind, and thought he was … a turkey.
People say it happened one night when the prince’s parents, the king and queen, were giving a great feast.
They had commanded their son, their pride and joy, to speak to the assembled leaders.
They wanted to show him off, as he would be the next ruler of the land.
But looking at the crowd, and seeing the kingdom in the distance behind them
the prince did the only thing that made sense to him:
He threw off his velvet cape, ripped off his satin shirt;
he ran to the kitchen, squatted under the table, and began to gobble like a turkey.
The king and queen were very concerned.
Day after day the prince stayed under the table in his underwear, pecking at food on the floor.
They brought all kinds of healers and learned men to try to cure their son.
But no one could.
Until one day, a stranger showed up in town.
He claimed he could heal their son.
So, with nothing to lose, the king and queen brought the stranger to their son.
The first three days, the stranger simply watched the prince in the kitchen.
Then suddenly, the healer threw his cloak to the floor, tore off his clothes and got under the table.
“Who do you think you are??” the prince sputtered, “and what right do you have to be here?”
The healer replied, “I am surprised you can’t tell. I’m a turkey, just like you.”
The prince looked the stranger up and down. A smile spread across his face.
And he accepted his new companion.
For days the two stayed under the table, pecking at food—but now they laughed and told stories together.
Then chilly morning, the healer, said, “I am cold.”
He crawled out from under the table, got a warm cloak, and put it on.
“What are you doing?” the prince cried. “You are a turkey, and turkeys don’t wear clothes!”
“I am not confused,” the healer said. “I am a turkey, a turkey who is cold. So I am putting on a cloak.”
The prince saw how much more comfortable the healer looked as they squatted under the table,
and so he too crawled out and put on a cloak.
Another day, the healer came out again from under the table.
This time he made himself a sandwich.
“What are you doing?” the prince cried. “You are a turkey, and turkeys peck at food on the floor!”
“I am a turkey who loves the taste of this food,” the healer replied. “Why shouldn’t I eat it?”
And the prince thought, “yes, why not?” and made himself a sandwich, too.
Gradually the healer and the prince began to do more and more things together.
They left the kitchen and began to explore the kingdom.
The prince saw all the people, some wealthy, some poor, some laughing, some sad.
The prince grew into a confident and compassionate young man
and when he returned home, he was ready to take his rightful place in the kingdom as the king.
But one day on his travels through the kingdom, he met a couple who looked very sad.
He asked if he could help them, but they said, “Oh we wish you could, but you see our son is not well…
He thinks he is a turkey.”
“Take me to him at once,” the king commanded.
In the kitchen, underneath the table, was a little boy.
The king knew just what to do.
He threw off his robe and crowd and squatted down under the table.
“Who do you think you are?” the boy sputtered, “and what right do you have to be here?”
“I am surprised you can’t tell,” said the king. “I’m a turkey, just like you.”
Some of you might be wondering how this is a Christmas story.
It doesn’t have angels or a starry night, it doesn’t have heavenly music or the cry of a baby.
For me it all hinges on this phrase: “I’m a turkey, just like you.”
I see in this story the central concept of what we celebrate at Christmas—
the incarnation itself.
Incarnation literally means ‘in the flesh.’
We will hear at the conclusion of this service another Gospel reading, this one from John:
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The Word is Jesus, God’s word which, present from the beginning of creation,
took on the human form and condition.
The reason for the season, as they say, is that in Jesus, God joined us ‘in the flesh.’
And to me, this makes all the difference in the world.
Like the healer throwing off his cloak and squatting under the table with the prince,
God threw off the mantle of power and invincibility to join us in our vulnerability.
In Jesus, God join us the every day aspects of living
our joys and our cravings, our exhaustion and our abilities, our unsavory qualities and our virtues.
The miracle of the incarnation is that God chose to enter our world
and therefore there is no place where God is not.
If Jesus was born into a barn full of ruffians and excrement
that means no matter how low we go or how far we stray
there is healing for us.
The incarnation is the sign that even the most God forsaken of circumstances can be redeemed,
even our greatest sins and mistakes can be openings for God’s grace .
In the Turkey Prince we see anew the love that heals.
Like Jesus, the healer takes on the squalor, the pain, and the fear of the prince
he joins him in his vulnerability, in his reduced condition
and by his presence and his identification with the Turkey Prince,
helps him to regain his true identity—one who can go and help others.
“I’m a turkey, like you.”
This Christmas, I imagine Jesus saying these words—to you, to me, to the world.
I see him squatting next to the cowering prisoner, the fleeing refugee,
at the hospital bedside and in the silent home.
The Word became flesh and lives among us.
I’m a turkey, like you.
Jesus loves us enough to enter our world.
He heals us.
He joins us.
That’s the incarnation. (story adapted from the picture book, The Turkey Prince.)
Children’s Sermon: If You Give a Moose a Manger
I’ve got a story for you called, “If You Give a Moose a Manger.”
If you give a moose a manger, he’s probably going to want some hay to go in it. After all, that’s what barn animals eat. And if he has some hay, he’ll want some straw for bedding.
When you bring the straw for bedding, that will remind him of the time he went to the farm to see the cows. He’ll want play farmer—he’ll be the farmer, you’ll be the cow.
Seeing you there as a cow will remind him that he’s pretty thirsty. He’ll ask you for a glass of milk.
And of course, when you have a glass of milk, you need something to go with it. So he’ll ask for a few cookies.
Seeing the cookies on the plate will remind him of Santa. The stories always say that Santa gets a plate of cookies when he comes to visit. Santa will make him think of presents. He’ll want to see the Christmas tree.
When he gets to the Christmas tree, he’ll notice the ornaments that look like toys: Star Wars action figures, tiny musical instruments, bitty dolls and shiny balls. He’ll want to play with them. You’ll give him a few of the sturdier ones to hold.
The Christmas tree makes him think of presents, and he’ll want to see if there is anything in the stockings yet. He’ll go to the mantle and gently squeeze each stocking.
That’s when he’ll see the crèche on top of the mantle. He’ll get up close to the little stable and peer inside. What does he see? Shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph. And of course, baby Jesus. Just like this one!
This Jesus, even though just a baby, is the best gift of all. Jesus is a gift to the whole world, a sign that God is with us in every day life. Jesus is with animals and common people, in homes and schools and workplaces— Jesus is even in the struggles of poor people like Mary and Joseph.
Seeing the baby Jesus, he’ll want to hold it. You’ll give it to him, with the instructions to be very gentle. You watch as he gazes at the little Jesus, waiting for the next request.
Because if you give a moose a baby Jesus….. chances are, he’ll probably want a manger, too.