Christmas Eve: December 24, 2021
Year C: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
We’ve heard the story of the birth of Jesus Christ, the story of the Nativity. We heard about the great joy that “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The gift of Christmas cannot be explained or understood by logic, the rational mind, or our various theologies and doctrines. It can only be experienced, and that’s what I want us to do right now. I want us to experience Christmas.
So, I’m going to tell you a story. It’s a real story of a family at Christmas. It is the story of Henry and Jennie Lindsay and their Christmas vacation to Philadelphia.
Back in the late 1800s, in Glasgow Scotland, where two of my great-great-grandparents came from, Henry Lindsay married Jennie Dunlop Morrison, a widow with six children. Henry and Jennie raised the children together.
Not long after they were married, Henry left Scotland for America. It took him nearly two years of hard work to save enough money to send for Jennie and the children to join him. After they were reunited, the family settled in Rhode Island, where Henry worked as a blacksmith at a stone quarry.
Henry and Jennie’s son, Harry, later moved to Philadelphia, where his wife gave birth to their son, Henry, named for his grandfather. At the same time, Grandfather Henry took a job at a granite quarry in Quebec, Canada while Jennie moved to Providence with another son and his family.
In December 1908, Henry, who was still working in Canada, received a letter from Harry. He hadn’t seen Harry in nearly four years and had not yet met his namesake grandson. So, on a whim, he decided to surprise Harry’s family with a Christmas visit. Henry stopped first in Providence for Jennie, and together they traveled by train to Philadelphia.
Henry and Jennie arrived in Philadelphia early on Christmas morning. They hired a carriage (the 1908 version of Uber), and Henry gave the driver the address he had memorized, 252 10th Street.
“North 10th or South 10th,” the cabbie asked? Henry didn’t know. They looked Harry up in the city directory, but he wasn’t listed. Henry closed his eyes and thought hard, picturing the return address on the envelope of Harry’s most recent letter, and confidently announced that it was North 10th.
The driver dropped them off in front of 252 North 10th, a four-story boarding house. He knocked at every door, but no one knew his son.
Henry and Jennie then hailed another carriage and headed for 252 South 10th, which is only about a mile away, but it feels more like 10 miles in the city. Once again, they found themselves at a boarding house. The woman there informed them that no one named Lindsay ever boarded with her.
Henry and Jennie were lost. Henry frantically went up and down both sides of South 10th Street, but no one could help them. Finally, their desperate search brought them to another nearby boarding house owned by Miss Mary Bare.
Miss Bare could see their distress and invited them in for a cup of tea. After hearing their story, she insisted they stay for dinner. Over a Christmas goose, it was resolved that Henry and Jennie would stay the night.
After breakfast the following morning, Miss Bare, who had made the acquaintance of a reporter several years earlier, decided to appeal to the Philadelphia Inquirer for help. That afternoon, an Inquirer photographer was dispatched to the house. The next day, December 27, the morning newspaper printed Henry and Jennie’s photo, along with the caption: “If the son’s eyes chance to fall upon this article, two anxious parents are waiting for him at 930 Spruce Street, who would be overjoyed to hear from him and to see him.”
At 7 a.m., Harry was at the kitchen table reading the paper, waiting for his wife Anna to make breakfast, when he spotted his parent’s photo on page three. He immediately got up and ran out the door, shouting, “Don’t wait breakfast on me; the paper will explain!” Half an hour later, he was at Miss Bare’s door, and it was quite a tender scene as he embraced his relieved parents.
They couldn’t find him because Henry had the house number wrong. Harry lived in a apartment house at 253 North 10th, not 252. One can only imagine how many times poor Henry had to hear from Jennie, “I don’t know why you didn’t write it down.”
Henry and Jennie arrived at Harry’s apartment later that morning, and there was much rejoicing as they met their grandson for the first time.
Did you hear what just happened?
You just heard the Christmas Day story in a new and different way. Admittedly, it’s not the usual story we tell or have been told.
To be sure, Miss Bare received Joseph and Mary that night. Jesus came the next day.
Miss Bare said yes to the Christ child.
This child we receive and celebrate tonight is the sign of God’s yes to you and me. It’s the love, and care, and concern showed by Miss Bare as she took in a couple she never met, fed them, and housed them for the evening.
Just think if we would all do this. Saying yes to the poor, yes to the hungry, yes to the weeping, yes to the sinner, yes to the pure in heart, yes to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, yes to the peacemakers.
That yes, is the gift of Christmas, and it is unconditional. It is a pure gift. That yes comes to us as love, acceptance, forgiveness, presence. And God’s yes to you and me always comes without an if, a when, or a why.
There are no prerequisites to God’s yes. That’s the gift of the Christmas season: God’s unconditional yes. That was Miss Bare’s yes when she took in the Lindsay family.
It’s sort of like the story of a man who had gone to visit his four-year-old granddaughter. She asked, “Pops, why are you here?” “Because I love you,” he said. “But why?” she asked. “Because I just do,” he said. “But why?” she asked again. “It’s just what I do,” he said. “I can not not love you.” Her face lit up, and she smiled. She had heard his yes, his unconditional yes. There was no why to her granddad’s love.
As we come together to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, we remember and celebrate that God comes into the world as a baby to make a difference. And we can find Jesus in the most unexpected places. Indeed, God came through that grandfather and through Miss Bare, a cup if tea and a Christmas goose.
That’s the Christmas story.
We come to remember, be reminded of, and hear God’s never-ending Christmas story. That story is in the songs of Christmas we sing tonight. And they’re playing for every one of us.
 The story of Henry and Jennie Lindsay was written by Bob McNulty, August 8, 2014, and expanded December 19, 2021. It has been adapted. The top photograph of Henry and Jennie Lindsey is from the Philadelphia Inquirer, December 27, 1908, and the bottom photograph is from phillyhistory.org
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.