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My Miracle on 34th Street

A Christmas remembrance...

Please excuse the ALL CAPS.  What follows is the exact transcript of a sermon for Christmas Eve 2012…

NORMALLY I WOULD KNOW THIS, BUT I CAN’T SAY EXACTLY WHAT YEAR IT WAS…

PROBABLY 1971…  MAYBE ’72.

I HAD SAVED ALL MY CHRISTMAS SHOPPING TO BE DONE IN ONE FELL SWOOP AND THESE WERE THE DAYS WHEN WE HAD REAL WINTERS WITH BITING COLD AND SEARING WIND.

BECAUSE I WENT TO SCHOOL IN NEW YORK, I DECIDED TO DO MY SHOPPING AT GIMBEL'S UP ON 34TH STREET.

THIS WOULD BE MY LAST OPPORTUNITY BECAUSE IT WAS THE 23RD – AND THE LAST SCHOOL DAY BEFORE VACATION.

GIMBEL'S IS NOW OUT OF BUSINESS, BUT IN THEIR HEY DAY THEY WERE THE CHIEF COMPETITION TO MACY’S.

AS I RECOLLECT THIS WAS THE FIRST YEAR I EVER HAD ANY REAL MONEY TO SPEND ON ANYTHING…

IN MY POCKET I HELD ABOUT $50.00 – SO WHEN I CAME UP FROM THE SUBWAY AND WALKED IN THROUGH THE MAIN ENTRANCE I FELT LIKE A PRETTY BIG MAN.

NOW, TO ME THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH DOING ALL OF YOUR SHOPPING AT THE LAST MINUTE.

THAT’S WHY 8 MILLION NEW YORKERS AGREED, AND DECIDED TO VISIT GIMBLE'S THE VERY SAME DAY I WAS THERE.

PUSHING THROUGH THE REVOLVING DOOR I ENTERED A SEA OF PEOPLE REMINISCENT OF THE STOCK MARKET CRASH IN ‘29.

THE TEMPERATURE INSIDE WAS ABOUT 89 AND IT WAS AN ABSOLUTE MAD HOUSE – PEOPLE SCREAMING AND HOLDING MERCHANDISE UP IN THE AIR TRYING TO GET THE ATTENTION OF A STORE CLERK BEHIND THE OLD MECHANICAL REGISTERS THAT WENT – "CHCK-CHCK, KACHIGADINK – CHCK-CHCK, KACHIGADINK."

THE MODERN DAY BAR-CODE LASER “BEEP-BEEP” IS OK, BUT IT’S NOT AS WARM AS “CHCK-CHCK, KACHIGADINK.”

IMMEDIATELY I MADE MY WAY TO THE ESCALATOR, NOT SO MUCH TO GO ANYWHERE, EXCEPT AWAY FROM WHERE I WAS…

IT WAS THE ONE OF THE ORIGINAL KIND WITH THE NARROW WIDTH AND THE WOODEN SLATS.

TO A GREAT EXTENT MY GIVING THAT YEAR WAS DETERMINED AS MUCH BY THE WILL OF THE CROWD AS BY ANY PLAN I HAD.

PUSHED AND PULLED FROM DEPARTMENT TO DEPARTMENT, AS I UNPEELED THE MONEY CRUMPLED IN MY POCKET THE BUNDLES UNDER MY ARMS GREW.

SINCE THEN I’M CERTAIN THE PRESENTS I’VE GIVEN HAVE MADE MORE PRACTICAL SENSE AND THEY’VE DEFINITELY BEEN MORE EXPENSIVE.

BUT I THINK THERE IS A PURITY OF HEART THAT GOES WITH THE GIFTS WE GIVE WHEN WE’RE KIDS THAT’S NEVER QUITE THE SAME LATER ON.

OVER THE YEARS I PROBABLY GAVE MY DAD ENOUGH PAPER WEIGHTS TO COLLAPSE HIS DESK.

BUT THEY WERE ALL WRAPPED WITH LOVE AND EXCITEMENT.

IN A FEW HOURS I WAS ALL FINISHED AND MAKING MY WAY DOWN TO THE GROUND FLOOR I FOUND MYSELF COMPLETELY SURROUNDED AND CRUSHED BY THE SAME MOB OF PEOPLE ALL LEAVING VIA THE SAME EXIT AT THE SAME TIME.

AS WE GOT CLOSER TO THE DOORWAY THE PRESSURE OF ALL THE PEOPLE GOT GREATER AND GREATER, TILL I COULD BARELY BREATHE.

FOR A YARD AT LEAST MY FEET NEVER TOUCHED THE GROUND AND I WAS STRUCK BY RAW TERROR WHEN I STARTED TO FALL DOWN AND I COULDN’T STOP.

FOR CERTAIN I’D HAVE BEEN TRAMPLED IF SOME GUY HADN’T GRABBED MY COAT AND PULLED ME UP STRAIGHT…

EVEN SO, THE SURGE CONTINUED RELENTLESSLY TO THE EXIT, UNTIL, IN A MOMENT NOT UNLIKE BIRTH, WHEN I THOUGHT I COULD STAND THE PRESSURE NO LONGER I WAS SPEWED OUT ONTO THE SIDEWALK.

AT FIRST FEELING TREMENDOUS RELIEF FROM WHAT I HAD JUST EXPERIENCED, I GOT A SHOCK WHEN I STEPPED IN A PUDDLE AND ICY SLUSH GOT INTO MY SHOE AND STUNG MY FEET.

BUT THAT WAS THE LEAST OF MY CONCERNS BECAUSE ALL OF A SUDDEN IN FRONT OF MY EYES I SAW SOMETHING I WILL NEVER FORGET.

IT’S A SIGHT THAT STILL REMAINS FOREVER ETCHED IN MY MEMORY.

THERE BESIDE AND AGAINST THE GRAY CONCRETE DEPARTMENT STORE I HAD JUST LEFT, A MAN WITH A BOTTLE WAS LYING ON THE GROUND, ASLEEP ON TOP OF THE SUBWAY STEAM GRATE – SURROUNDED BY A TREMENDOUS CROWD, YET COMPLETELY ALONE.

IN THE BACKGROUND, ABOUT 10 FEET AWAY A SMALL SALVATION ARMY QUARTET PLAYED A CAROL IN THAT SLIGHTLY OFF KEY MANNER THAT NOW THAT NOW SEEMS FITTING…

WHITE VAPOR FROM THE HEATING PIPES BELOW THE STREET WAFTED UP AND AROUND THE TREMBLING MAN AND BECAME ILLUMINATED BY THE NEON LIGHTS OF RED AND GREEN.

WITH THE RELIGIOUS MUSIC ECHOING FROM BEHIND, IT WAS LIKE THE HOLY SMOKE OF A TWISTED OFFERING MADE TO GOD.

THE INCENSE OF OUR INIQUITY BILLOWING AROUND A FELLOW FOR WHOM IT WAS OBVIOUS, WE HAD NO ROOM.

PERHAPS IT WAS THE FUMES THAT STUNG THE LORD’S EYES, OR THE SCENE ITSELF, FOR IN THAT MOMENT IT BEGAN TO RAIN UPON US ALL.

AS QUICKLY AS IT CONFRONTED ME WITH THIS AWFUL VISION THE CROWD PUSHED ME ONWARD TO THE SUBWAY ON 33RD STREET, BUT IN MY MIND, THE NAMELESS MAN CAME WITH ME.

I COULD BARELY SEE, LET ALONE REMEMBER HIS FACE, BUT I COULDN’T LEAVE HIM BEHIND.

AND FOR AS LONG AS HE REMAINED, THE PACKAGES I FAITHFULLY CARRIED IN THEIR CRINKLY COLORED PAPER MADE NO SENSE.

FOR HOW COULD CHRISTMAS BE GOOD, WHEN FOR THIS MAN IT WAS DESTINED TO BE SO BAD?

AS WAS MY CUSTOM, I GOT ON THE LEAD CAR OF THE SUBWAY, SO I COULD SEE OUT THE FRONT WINDOW INTO THE TUNNEL.

BUT THIS TIME AS I STARED OUT INTO THE BLACKNESS, I FOUND MYSELF DESPERATE TO SEE THE MEANING OF CHRIST’S BIRTH IN SUCH A MESSED UP WORLD.

UP TO THAT POINT I HAD BEEN TRAINED WELL BY A SOCIETY THAT TRIES TO FIND THE JOY OF CHRISTMAS BY IGNORING THE WORLD.

THAT’S WHY SOMETIMES WE EAT TOO MUCH, AND DRINK TOO MUCH.

INSTEAD OF GLORIA IN EXCELSIS, WE JUST HAVE GLORIA IN EXCESS.

WITH THE TRAIN CREAKING THROUGH THE TUNNEL, IT SEEMED CLEAR TO ME THAT CHRISTMAS HAD TO INCLUDE THAT MAN, OR SOMETHING WAS AMISS.

TO ME, IT DIDN’T MATTER HOW THE MAN GOT TO WHERE HE WAS, WHETHER TRIPPED UP BY HIS OWN HAND, OR PUSHED DOWN…

PERHAPS IN HIM I SAW MY OWN SIN AND STUPIDITY…

EITHER CHRISTMAS SPOKE FOR HIM OR IT SAID NOTHING OF VALUE FOR ME, AND I KNEW I HAD TO TALK TO GOD ABOUT IT.

BY THIS TIME IN MY LIFE’S JOURNEY, GOD AND ME WERE PRETTY TIGHT.

NOW EVEN IN THE EARLY ’70′S KNEELING DOWN ON A SUBWAY TRAIN AND SPEAKING TO SOMEONE WHO DIDN’T SEEM TO BE THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN PERCEIVED TO BE MOST UNUSUAL BEHAVIOR.

SO KNOWING GOD WAS LISTENING, I CLOSED MY EYES AND OPENED MY HEART.

THIS WAS PERHAPS MY FIRST EXPERIENCE IN FINDING OUT THAT THE QUICKEST WAY TO DEEPEN YOUR FAITH IS TO EXPRESS YOUR DOUBTS.

NOW IT’S NOT THE LORD’S CUSTOM TO SPEAK OUT LOUD ON TRAINS EITHER, BUT IN MY HEART I HEARD WHAT HE HAD TO SAY…

AT FIRST IT WAS, “YOU REALLY DON’T GET IT, DO YOU BILL…”

I SAID, “NO…”  (AND I DIDN’T)

HE SAID, “LOOK BILL.  LOOK AT THE DARKNESS IN THE TUNNEL.  DON’T TURN AWAY.  LOOK AT THE MAN.”

AT FIRST I RESISTED…

BUT THE INSTANT I RELENTED, IN SEEING THE MAN I HEARD GOD SAY IT WAS PARTICULARLY FOR HIM THAT HE CAME.

NO WONDER THERE WAS NO ROOM IN THE INN, NO WONDER FOR MARY AND JOSEPH AND JESUS, THERE WERE NO FAMILY, NO FRIENDS!

I REALIZED THAT NO MATTER HOW HARD WE TRY, AND TRY WE MUST, BUT EVEN SUPPORTED BY THE STURDIEST STEAM GRATE, EVENTUALLY ALL OF US FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS.

SOME MUCH SOONER THAN OTHERS.

SOME WHO NEVER REALLY HAD A CHANCE.

THE SECURITY IS NEVER PERFECT, THE SHELTERS ARE NEVER ENOUGH, THE FOOD DOESN’T ALWAYS GET TO WHERE IT SHOULD – THE ANTIBIOTICS DON’T ALWAYS WORK – THE SURGERY IS NOT ALWAYS SUCCESSFUL.

WHEN I LOOKED AT THIS DYING MAN I SAW HE REPRESENTED BILLIONS OF OTHERS, FOR WHICH, LIKE JESUS, THE WORLD HAS NO ROOM, BUT FOR WHICH GOD HAS COME, AND GOD HAS A PLACE.

I DON’T THINK THE POOR MAN MADE IT TO CHRISTMAS THAT YEAR, BUT I’M CONVINCED HE WAS GOING TO HEAVEN FOREVER.

I’VE NEVER HAD ANY INTEREST IN THE MOVIE, BECAUSE FOR ME, THAT’S THE REAL MIRACLE OF 34TH STREET, WHERE A STEAM GRATE GIVES WAY TO SALVATION AND GRACE.

EVERY YEAR I REMEMBER THAT MAN, AND I FULLY EXPECT TO MEET HIM AGAIN, AND GIVE THANKS, BECAUSE HE GAVE ME A CHRISTMAS THAT’S LASTED OVER 40 YEARS, THROUGH GOOD TIMES AND TIMES REALLY, REALLY BAD.

SOMETIMES, MORE THAN OTHERS, WE’RE ESPECIALLY FACED WITH AN AWARENESS OF DEEPLY NEEDING A SAVIOR.

BUT IF WE’RE FAITHFUL TO LOOK INTO THE DARKNESS, AND FEEL THE ANGUISH OF TRULY NEEDING TO BE SAVED, THEN, WE MAY JUST FIND THE REAL JOY OF KNOWING THAT FULLY, AND ETERNALLY, A SAVIOR HAS COME.

CHRIST THE LORD.

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