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Edward F. Markquart

Everything has a crack in it

Christmas Eve     Luke 2:33-35

The sermon for tonight is in the form of a story.  This story comes from the book, BRIGHT VALLEY OF LOVE, by Edna Hong.  It is from the chapter, “Everything has a crack in it,” and I have modified this written story into an oral story.  That is, I will tell the story and not read it.  The story could be entitled, “Gunther’s First Christmas,” because it is a true story about a young boy, Gunther, who was a physically handicapped child in Germany. 

Gunther was born in Germany in the year 1914.  Gunther was a severely deformed little boy.  He had a severe case of rickets when he was a little child that resulted in all his bones being curved.  His father was off fighting the war, and his mother had deserted him, and so his grandma ended up taking care of little Gunther. 

 Well, thanks grandmother was totally ashamed.  She was ashamed of this little boy, and as far as she was concerned, he was nothing but human junk.  In fact, that’s what she used to call him, “Come here you little piece of human junk.”  When grandma looked at Gunther, all she noticed were his deformed, curved bones.  Her eyes would focus on his foot bones and ankle bones, and leg bones, and finger bones, and wrist bones, and arm bones, and jaw bones.  All she saw was bones, deformed, curved bones, and there was no doubt that Gunther was a piece of human junk.

Gunther couldn’t talk.  The only thing that Gunther could say was, “ahwanna, ahwanna, ahwannah,” as he rolled his head from side to side.

Gunther was kept in the back room for years, so nobody could see him back there.  Of course, Gunther wasn’t really sad about this situation, being locked up in the dark, back bedroom.  I mean, if you had never seen a cherry tree, you would never miss seeing a cherry tree.  If you had never tasted rich, succulent cherries, you would never miss tasting those sweet delicious delights in your mouth. Gunther had never seen all the wonders of the world, nor tasted them, so he wasn’t really sad.  He never knew what he was missing.

The only thing of color in Gunther’s life was that once a week, a red checkered table cloth would be flying in the breeze from a house next door. Gunther didn’t realize what it was, but once a week, that flash of beautiful red and white cloth would blow in the breeze against the clear, blue sky, and Gunther would see it and smile.

Well, one day, some ruffian boys from the neighborhood stole into grandma’s house while she was away shopping, and these ruffian boys found this little human animal, this pile of junk, near its bed.  The boys had never seen anything like it in their lives, and so they took their sticks and started to jab at what looked like a bent up animal.  When grandma came home, she was absolutely outraged; not so much at the little boys, but enraged that they found the piece of human junk that she was hiding for all these years. Grandma was so mad that her secret had been found out, that she decided to take action.  She decided to send her piece of human junk to Bethel, a home for physically deformed children in northern Germany.  Bethel was a home where all the other deformed children were sent.  It was like a junkyard, so grandma understood, where they collected junk people. 

But just before she was going to leave with Gunther and go to Bethel, Gunther sensed there was something wrong.  For seven years he had been locked up in the safety of that back bedroom.  For seven years, he had only known grandma, and his eyes panicked.  He added one word to his vocabulary:  ‘Ah don wanna, ah don wanna, ah don wanna.”  And he was taken away.

Gunther was taken away to Bethel, which means house of God, and there he stayed in a house by the name of Patmos. He was brought into this house, into his new world, and he couldn’t believe his eyes.  He looked, and on every table, there was a bright, red, checkered cloth, and his heart fluttered for joy at the beauty he saw.

Life started to grow by leaps and bounds, and slowly and miraculously, Gunther began to learn to talk.  People started to learn that Gunther was not mentally handicapped, but physically.  And no one there at Patmos treated him like a pile of junk, for in the eyes of God he was not junk, but a child of his loving Father. 

In the bed next to Gunther was a little boy by the name of Kirk. Kirk had epilepsy, and he was slowly deteriorating and getting ready to die.  His father had been killed in the war, and his mother had died of pneumonia, and little Kirk had no family left to take care of him.  Kirk was very sad, because unlike Gunther, he had known the affections of childhood.  And so late at night, Kirk would tell young Gunther what a mommy and a daddy were like, warm and tender and kind.  The more Gunther listened, the more that Kirk’s mother and father became Gunther’s imaginary mommy and daddy.

One day in November, Kirk said to Gunther:  “By Christmas, I am going to be with mommy and daddy in the Christmas room in heaven,” and little Gunther asked, “What is Christmas?”  And Kirk said:  “You don’t know what Christmas is???”  And Gunther again asked, “What is Christmas?”  Kirk knowingly replied:  “Christmas is so good; it is so wonderful. It is the best time of the year, and I am going home to be with my mommy and daddy by Christmas time.”  “No, no, no, Kirk.  I don’t want you to go.”  Kirk whispered, “I want to go home to be with my mom and dad.” And so Gunther and Kirk softly talked the night away in the darkness… like brothers.

Well, time went by and soon it was Advent, and then soon it was the fourth Sunday of Advent, and on the fourth Sunday of Advent, all the children gathered around the table for Advent devotions.  Pastor Fritz was about to have Kirk light the large Advent candle because Pastor Fritz knew that this was Kirk’s last Christmas with them and he was trying to make the lighting of the candle special for Kirk.  And so Kirk took the little candle in his hand and was ready to light the tall Advent candle, but Kirk went into an epileptic fit.  His hand jerked, the large candle flew, hit the floor and cracked.  Kirk went into a spasmodic fit.  Sister Frederick gently picked up Kirk and took him out of the room and calmed him down.

Meanwhile, the candle was placed back in its place on the table, and all the children began singing a hymn, and everyone was singing ever so loudly when Gunther shouted at the top of his lungs:  ‘EVERYTHING HAS A CRACK IN IT!!!” … Everyone stopped singing and there was silence, a silence so great you could hear it.  …And Gunther broke the silence when he whispered softly to Pastor Fritz:  “Everything has a crack in it.  What is so special about Christmas anyhow?”

Pastor Fritz looked at the children and asked, “Children, Gunther wants to know what is so special about Christmas?  Can you tell him?”  And all these children, the mentally and physically handicapped, began using their minds and thinking.  Monica sang out brightly, “loorya suzanna.  Loorya suzanna.  Loorya suzanna” which means “Gloria hosanna, Gloria hosanna.”  And Manfred, whose mind only thought in numbers, said:  “12/25, 12/25, 12/25” which meant twelfth month, twenty-fifth day.  Pastor Fritz said: “Thank you, Manfred.”  And then Petra, whose body was thirty years old and whose mind was five years young, shouted happily:  “Baby Jesus, Baby Jesus, Baby Jesus born.”  Pastor Fritz said:  “Thank you, Petra.  That helps.”  And then little Leni, an eight year old little blind girl, suddenly beamed as a light turned on in her brain and she said:  “Christmas is special because … because…everything has a crack in it.” Pastor Fritz smiled and spoke, “Yes, that’s right, Leni.  Everything has a crack in it.  And the crack is ever so much bigger than you and I can see.  God is the only one who can see how big that crack really is.  Gunther, everything has a crack in it, big cracks, little cracks.  The reason that God sent Jesus was to show us that God loves everything with a crack in it.  And Jesus helps us to patch up those cracks, so they aren’t so big anymore. And then when you get to the Christmas room in heaven, there won’t be any cracks any more.”  Gunther nodded, as if his young mind understood.

Well, days passed, and it was now Christmas Eve, and it was the time of the telling of the Christmas story by Pastor Fritz. All the children gathered around him.  Pastor Fritz could tell the Christmas story better than anyone else.  He said:  “Tonight, children, would you gather around me for the telling of the Christmas story, and I would like Kirk to sit on my lap for this is Kirk’s last Christmas, and I would like to have Gunther sit on the other side of my lap for this is Gunther’s first Christmas.  So Kirk and Gunther sat on Pastor Fritz’s lap, and he began telling the story of the birth of Christ.

 As he told the story, he had paper mache figurines, with angels and shepherds and sheep and wise men.  In the children’s minds, the paper mache angels became real angels, the shepherds became real shepherds, the sheep became real sheep.  In their minds, the scene was truly alive. And when he came to the climax of the story, little Leni, the little blind girl, couldn’t contain herself anymore and she blurted out, “Little Baby Jesus born.” Monica sang at the top of her lungs, “loorya suzanna.  Loorya suzanna.”  Manferd muttered his numbers, “12/25, 12/25, 12/25.”  Together, they all praised God.  Their minds were very small but their hearts were very big inside.

The story was finished and how Gunther loved it. 

Before Gunther knew what was happening, there was another kind of jubilation.  Everyone was jumping and shouting, and everyone knew what it was all about…except Gunther.  The children began to receive their presents.  A doll for Monica.  A teddy bear for Leni.  A toy truck for Manfred.  They were all excited, but it still didn’t dawn on Gunther that there was a present for him.  And when his name was actually read, it still didn’t dawn on Gunther that there was a present for him.  And finally, when the present was placed in his hands, it finally started to dawn on him that indeed there was a present with his name on it. Gunther had never received a present before.  He opened it with big eyes and murmured to himself, “My…my…my…a toy train.”  He fondled the engine, and then the coal car, and then the caboose.  It was beautiful. 

Pastor Fritz said:  “That’s what Christmas is all about Gunther.  God gives a gift to you…with your name on it.  The Christ child was given for you.”  And Gunther was so pleased with his gifts.

In his excitement, he had forgotten Kirk.  He cried out, “Kirk! Kirk!” and ran to their bedroom, and there was Kirk, lying on a pillow in his bed.  Kirk was fondly caressing a beautiful carving of a mother and child.  Kirk fondled this carving of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus as he said:  “She looks just like my mommy,” and both boys were pleased with their Christmas presents.

The next day was Christmas morning, and Gunther and all the children were busy playing with their new toys.  They were having such a good time.  Just before noon, Sister Frederick came into the living room, pulling a wagon.  Kirk was in that wagon, listlessly lying on his large pillow.  She said that Kirk wanted to come and say goodbye to everyone and touch each child.  Little Willie wanted to play “Silent Night” on his new harmonica, but Sister Frederick said, “no,” that Kirk wasn’t up to that.  So Kirk touched each of the children, Monica, Manfred, Leni.  And when Kirk came to young Gunther, their hands touch a little longer.  “Good bye Gunther.”  “Good bye Kirk.  Say hi to mommy and daddy when you see them.”  “I will.”  And Sister Frederick pulled the wagon out of the room.

An hour passed.  Pastor Fritz came back into the room and told everyone that Kirk had died.  Gunther started to cry, to cry tears like had never cried before.  So Pastor Fritz picked up little Gunther to comfort him and held the child closely to his chest.  Gunther struck his face snugly up against Pastor’s Fritz’ warm sweater and put his face right up against Pastor’s ear and whisper:  “Everything has a crack in it.”  Pastor Fritz replied:  “Yes, I know.  That is why Jesus was born…for you…and for Kirk…and for everyone else too.”

And that is the true story of Gunther’s first Christmas.

Everything does have a crack in it.  The big world in which we live; this world of ours has a crack of imperfection right through its core. And your life and mine?  We too have this crack of flawed lives right through our inner core.  How well we know this. And that is why Jesus came to earth…to heal our hearts, to restore our lives, to patch the flaws and cracks found at the very center of whom we are. 

This past week, I telephoned Edna Hong in Northfield, Minnesota, to tell her that I was telling her story of Gunther on Christmas Eve and how much I loved her story.  She was appreciative.  She wanted me to tell you that Gunther died this past year (1999) at Bethel, that he lived a rich and full life, and that he died a happy man.  Amen

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