CHRISTMAS 2008 - "You've got a winner here!"

So on this day we celebrate the birth of our "King", comes a story out of a place named royally, "Queens" - as in Queens, NY (seems to lose a little luster, but hang in there . . . this is a good one).

So, this 92 year old great-grandmother named Mary Alice goes to a local market where she buys a couple of those rub-off lotto tickets - like she does almost everyday. She purchases three tickets, rubs them off, sees that they are all losers and asks Chris Connelly, a young guy in his early 20's who works at the market, to throw them out for her.

For some reason, Chris decides to double check the tickets by running the bar code under the computer scanner on the lotto machine, which made him realized that one of them was a winning ticket. And he said he realized that it was a substantial prize of over $1,000, since the computer instructed him that the winner would need to bring the ticket to lotto headquarters to claim the prize, which is the standard procedure for any prize over a $1,000. So he says to Mary Alice, "Wait I think you have a winner here."

So Mary Alice returned, and Chris pointed out to her that she had missed rubbing off all the boxes on the card. So she did. She stood there numb. Chris looked in disbelief. Mary Alice kept looking and saying, "Are you sure? Are you sure?" - and yep, you guessed it, she had just won One Million Dollars.

The odds of winning a prize that big are astronomical to begin with. But could any mathematician even begin to calculate the odds that Mary Alice would miss rubbing all the boxes on the winning card, or the odds of it being thrown out, or the odds that some young guy working at a market would bother to check the tickets he was being asked to toss?

As heartwarming as it is that the young man did the right thing, what almost happened seems to stand out even more to me. This older women purchased this lotto ticket, like she did every day - why? Probably a whole bunch of reasons. But the biggest motivation that people "buy" into when it comes to the lotto is the idea that their lives may be forever changed, their lives would be different if they won this prize. As the commercials lure us - hey, you never know...

Had the ticket been discarded, Mary Alice would never had realized what she had done, Chris would not have realized what had happened, the NY State Lotto commission would be happy with another million dollars in unclaimed prizes they could legally keep - and life would have continued on as usual.

But with this discovery, Mary Alice plans to divvy up her newfound riches over the next two decades among her seven children. Reflecting on how this newfound wealth could provide some financial assistance to her family for the next twenty years, Mary Alice said, "What a way to end your life." And this opportunity would have been missed completely if the winning ticket had been thrown away.

Why are we here today celebrating the Feast of Christmas in this Church? For many of us, going to bed last evening, amid the happiness of the season, we still went to bed with some fears in our hearts and souls. Something that took away from the joy and the excitement we see in the innocence of children who are happily anticipating Santa and what he will bring them, children happily shielded from the things that preoccupy our thoughts.

The sick relative.
The suddenly unstable economy (and, possibly, unstable job).
The relationship that is beyond strained.
The sense that everything is just overwhelming.

Some of us say our prayers - some of us don’t - but somehow, we’ve all found ourselves together in this Church on another Christmas. And we kind of get into the Christmas routine, where Church comes after breakfast and before dinner; a lull after all the pre-Christmas preparation stress and before the upcoming days of returning gifts, before some over-indulgence as we gear up for the New Year’s celebration.
But, before we sing another hymn, receive the Eucharist, and walk out the doors here, God cries out to us, in the voice of a newborn child saying, "Wait a minute, you have a winner here."

Because if we can scratch beneath the surface of things, beyond all the other holiday trappings, we can find that the true meaning of Christmas speaks more important words to us, more needed truths.

The Christ child born into our world as a human being some 2,000 years ago is no longer a baby in a manger. That was the wonderful beginning of this new story we call "The New Testament". And so we rightly and appropriately gather to celebrate the "Good news of Great Joy for All People." God has come to us - not as an angry judge condemning us for our failures, nor as a distant leader demanding our service as his subjects.

He comes to us as one of us. Born in the most meek and humble manner, so as not to alienate those born today into similarly meek and humble conditions. He comes to offer us His Love, His Joy, His Peace - all of which come in ways we least expect, if we are open to Him. And He comes to stay with us, to continually offer the rich, life-altering treasure His Presence - and only His Presence - can bring to our lives.

If only we are willing to cash that ticket in.

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