Homily for Advent Midweek Service, December 9, 2020 (Isaiah 9:6-7)

“Babushka” (2020) by Myra Niemeier.

Originally preached at Messiah Evangelical Lutheran Church in East Setauket, New York.


Tonight, I’d like to share a story with you, one that I’ve often read many times since I was a child.  It’s an old Russian folktale that takes place at this time of year.

On the night Christ was born, far to the north in what is now Russia, an old woman known as Babushka lived by herself in a small hut.  She was thankful that her little home was warm and cozy and kept out the bitter winter cold.  The wind howled outside and the snow swirled, but she was safe inside.  “It’s not fit out for man nor beast,” she told her cat, but I’m so glad that we are safe and warm in here, while the cold winter is kept out there.”

She settled into her chair before the fire in the grate and began to doze, when suddenly there came a knock on her door.  “Who could that be?” she asked her cat.  “Who would be abroad on a night like this?”  She went to her door and opened it to find three faces smiling down on her (she wasn’t very tall) from behind great bushy beards.  These three men wore fine robes, the clothes of eastern philosophers and wizards, and carried chests and jars with them full of gold, jewels, and fine perfumes and incense.

“Die heiligen drei Könige,” Piotr Stachiewicz (1858-1938), in Die Kunst für alle: Malerei, Plastik, Graphik, Architektur, 24 (1908-1909), Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg.

“Greetings, Babushka,” these wise-men said, “Have you not heard?  A child has been born to us today, a son given!  And the government will be upon his shoulders, and he is to be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!  We have traveled far and wide in search of him, and we wish to give him these gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We are going to find him in a land far to the south.  Babushka, will you join us in our journey?  We have seen his star in the night sky and are following it to him.”

Babushka looked at the beaming faces of these wise men, but felt a pang in her heart to go with them, but then she looked at the cold winter weather outside and looked back at her warm hut’s interior and felt the pang to stay.  “No, dear friends,” she said, “I cannot go with you.  It is too cold, and the hour is too late for an old woman like me to go on such a journey.”  And so she went inside, and the wise men continued on their journey to find the Christ child.

But Babushka felt badly that she didn’t go with them.  After she sat by the fire for a while, thinking, she decided that she, too, must go find this special child.  She, too, would take him a gift.  So she wrapped herself in her coat and shawl and filled up her basket with toys and trinkets a baby might enjoy, and set off to find the Christ child.

But Babushka realized that she hadn’t asked the wise men the way to find the Christ child, so she asked everyone she met, “Is this the way to the child born to us?  The one who is to be called the Prince of Peace?”  But everyone told her, “Go on Babushka, go farther on.  He is not here.”  And so Babushka traveled on, looking for him, and it is said that she still is seeking him to this day.  In Russia, when Christmas comes, Babushka enters the houses where there are children.  “Is the Christ Child here?” she asks, but when she does not find him there, with tears in her eyes, she turns to go.  But before she does, she leaves a gift from her basket with the children in the house saying, “For his sake.”  Then she goes off again to continue her search for the Christ child, bringing gifts to children everywhere, but never finding the One she has desired to see for thousands of years.

As a child, I never realized how sad the story of Babushka actually is.  Babushka is condemned to wander the earth forever looking for the Christ Child, all because she didn’t join the Magi on their journey to find Jesus.  Everyone she meets tells her that the Child is “farther on, farther on,” and she keeps journeying, visiting other children and giving them the gifts she would have given Jesus, but she never finds **the** Child.  And she never learns more about who Jesus is and what he will do, and what he has done, especially for her.  She just knows that he has been born, but she does not know why.  She does not know that the baby she seeks has grown up.  She does not know that he has preached the coming of the kingdom of God.  She does not know that he has been put to death on a cross or that he has taken the sins of the world upon himself.  She does not know that he has taken her own sins upon himself and has saved her from them.  And she does not know that he has risen again from the dead to show that death is no more.  And what’s more, she does not know that he has done all of this for her.

Luther makes a wonderful point regarding what Isaiah says in our reading tonight:

“In this text we do well to mark that little word US.  In this Word lies all the power of this passage.  Every child born is born for his own sake or because of his parents.  Only this single child carries the title that He is born for US.  US, US, US it says.  This child is born for the good of all of us…everything that He is, has and does, from birth or according to His humanity, is all meant only for us.  By it he serves us, that He shall be our salvation and holiness.  That word, US, now commands certain faith.  For even if He would have been born a thousand times or a thousand times a thousand, and yet He were not born for us so that He would not be our own, then it would not in any way benefit us” (Martin Luther’s Festival Sermons, p.81-82).

If only Babushka had known it!  Or maybe she did know it, but didn’t understand it.  But if only she had known that she did not need to trek on in futility, hunting for the Christ Child but never finding his cradle.  If only she had known that she did not need to go find him because he had found her, that he had come for her, and that the gift of life that he would give her was greater than any toy or trinket she could give him.  This Child was born for US–for HER and for all people.  A Child who is Wonderful; who brings words of counsel; who is mighty; who is God in the flesh; who is eternally like a father to us (he calls us his children as well as his brothers and sisters); who is the prince of peace.  And so we remember this prophecy at Advent, because Christ, this promised Child, was born for US.  This Son of God was given to US.  And he gives us everything.  He seeks us out and pulls us up out of the darkness of our sins and into his everlasting light.

So if you, like Babushka, are searching for him, for the promised Christ Child, you need not search for him, for he has come to you, and to all people.  So look to him, and trust in his saving work.  This Child has been born for you.

Amen.

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