Christmas Eve

Hans Christian Anderson published a short story in 1845 he titled, “The Little Match Girl.”  Walt Disney made the story into an animated feature short film in 2006.  It’s just a little less than six minutes long.

If you are looking for a joyful story with a happy ending, this story isn’t for you.

If you are looking for a story with some real-life lessons, then it’s worth a look.

I read that Anderson was moved to write the story when he read about a little girl who was sent out into the freezing cold to sell matches by her father and she was told not to return until she’d sold them all.

Instead of disappointing him and returning home with unsold matches, she stayed in the cold all night long, long after all the people had left the streets.  All alone, she sat near a brick wall and struck the matches one by one through the night to stay warm.

As Hans told the story, he imagined the little match girl having visions of hope with each match she struck.

As she struck the matches, the darkness and the cold were momentarily pushed away and visions of hope were cast against the brick wall.

In one vision, she imagined herself warming by a fire in the comfort of her own home.

In another, she imagined herself sitting down to a feast that was lit by candle light.

In one of her last, she imagined being whisked away by a chariot of horses to a mansion in the sky and welcomed into heaven by a nun.

When that vision eluded her as her match burned out, she struck all her matches at once until the vision was complete.  She ran into the arms of the nun in the heavenly place once again.  This time there was a beautiful Christmas tree there, and the Little Match Girl used one last match to light the candles on that heavenly tree.

When morning came, the little girl sat cold, still, and lifeless, with her burned matches in her hand.

She was discovered by a real nun who placed her in arms and carried her away.

I know, it’s Christmas Eve.  No one wants to leave with a tear and a broken heart and I assure you, my summation of the story tugs at the heart much less than the poetic words of Hans Christian Anderson.  That’s why I didn’t read the story.

I think I know you.  You would much rather read about the angels saying, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people,” (Luke 2:10)

We don’t like reading the passage where the angel says,

“Get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” (Matthew 2:13).

We had much rather stay with Luke’s story and skip Matthew’s part of the story.

For one night pastor, can’t we forget that the darkness exists?

I’d like to, I really, really would, but the truth is that we cannot completely ignore the darkness or the light would have no meaning.

The very reason Jesus came was because darkness existed, and the only reason the Wise Men found Jesus is because they traveled at night, guided by a star.

Even my granddaughter who is not yet two knows when it’s dark and I know you do as well, not just at the end of the day, but metaphorically.

But if we as Christians are the light of the world as Jesus says, then we must be aware of the darkness that those around us are living in and experiencing darkness.  It’s up to us to bring the light of Jesus to them.

I met a woman this year who lives in Gainesville who cares for an elderly woman who cannot care for herself.

When she first met the woman, she discovered that she had no family and that the woman did not believe in God.  The elderly woman did not have had any friends because she was not friendly.  She repelled would-be friends easily.

If Scrooge had a sister, this woman would have been her.  Even though there was nothing pleasant about trying to befriend her, this younger woman believed God had placed her in this woman’s life for a reason.

It took some time to win this older woman’s trust.  Slowly, the love she showed toward this elderly woman began to penetrate her heart until one day the older woman responded with some words of appreciation.

One day this Christian caretaker asked the older woman, “How does it feel to have someone to love you?”

The elderly woman responded, “It’s been so long that it feels really strange, but it feels good.”

Today, these women are like a mother and daughter to one another.

The older woman still has a bit of a salty attitude and is cut rough around the edges.  But that’s part of what makes her who she is.

This older woman could have been just another “Little Match Girl” if she had not been found and loved.   She could have died with no hope that this world would ever get better, that it would never get brighter, or that anyone cared or loved anymore.

She could have struck her last match and died unnoticed and unloved.

But someone found her and refused to allow her to go unloved.  It took a while for the love to find its way into her heart but when it did, she also began to be open to being loved and she also began to be open to the truth that God loves her, too.

That is a gift that cannot be put in a box.  That is the gift that you cannot buy in a store.  That is a gift that lonely people all over this world are longing for and looking for.

There are lots of people in this world who want to know, “Does anybody love me? Does anybody care about me? Is there a God?  If so, does this God know me or care about me?”

The reason that Jesus was born is so we could know that God loves us.  Jesus has given us the job to tell others, “to go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere.  Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.”

However, for a lot of people, they will not be convinced of the love of God if they never feel the love of another human being.

So next time you light a match, light a candle, build a fire, remember the Little Match Girl.  More importantly, remember that it’s our job to share the light in a dark world, to spread to the love of Jesus to people who need to know someone cares.

Now, as we sing “Silent Night, Holy Night,” and you pass your light to a friend, remember that after all the gifts have been unwrapped and long forgotten, what lasts is hope, Joy, peace, and love, and the greatest of these is love.

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