December 23, 2018
Everything has a crack in it
Adapted from BRIGHT VALLEY OF LOVE, by Edna Hong
Isaiah 35.1-10 , Joshua 24.15 Romans 6.17
Gunther was born in Germany in 1914. Gunther had severe rickets so his bones were badly curved and misshapen. He could not talk, either. Gunther could only say, “ahwanna, ahwanna, ahwannah,” and roll his head from side to side.
His father was fighting in the world war, and his mother had deserted him, so his grandma took care of little Gunther. Well, not really cared for him. His grandmother was ashamed of Gunther. For many years, Günter’s grandmother kept him in a bare back room so nobody would see him. Gunther wasn’t really sad about being locked in a room--like, if you never saw a cherry tree, you would not miss seeing a cherry tree. The only exciting thing in Günter’s life happened when a tablecloth flew in the breeze on a clothesline next door. On weekly washday, Gunther watched that red and white cloth from his small dirty window. It made him smile.
One day, when Günter’s grandmother was away shopping, neighborhood boys broke into the house intending to rob it. The boys found Gunther lying near his bed. They used the sticks they’d brought for breaking into the house to jab him. When grandma came home, she was infuriated that they had found Gunther. Grandma decided to send him to Bethel, a home for physically deformed children in northern Germany.
Gunther sensed something wrong. For seven years he had been locked safely in his room and had only known his grandma. He panicked and added a new word to his vocabulary: ‘Ah don wanna, ah don wanna, ah don wanna.” His grandma ignored his plea and sent Gunther to Bethel, which means house of God. When Gunther arrived, he couldn’t believe his eyes. On every table was a red-checkered cloth! His heart fluttered with joy. Slowly and quite remarkably, Gunther learned to talk. The staff at the home quickly discovered that Gunther was not mentally handicapped, but only physically challenged.
He shared a room with other boys, which felt wonderful to Gunther, who had never had any friends. Kirk had the bed next to Gunther. Kirk had severe epilepsy, which caused dangerous fits and everyone knew that he would likely die soon. Kirk’s father had been killed in the war, and his mother had died of pneumonia, so Kirk had no family left. Kirk was very sad, because unlike Gunther, Kirk had known the love of his family. Kirk told Gunther what his mom and a dadwere like—they had been warm and tender and kind. Gunther listened to Kirk’s memories, and Kirk’s parents became Günter’s imaginary parents.
Kirk told Gunther, “By Christmas, I am going to be with mommy and daddy in the Christmas room in heaven.”
Little Gunther asked, “What is Christmas?”
Kirk responded: “You don’t know what Christmas is?”
“No--What is Christmas?” Kirk replied: “Well… Christmas is so good; it is wonderful. It is the birthday celebration for Jesus. It’s THE best time of year, and I am going home to be with my mommy and daddy by Christmas.”
“No, Kirk. I don’t want you to go,” said Gunter with halting clarity.
Kirk smiled and whispered, “It’s OK. I want to be with my mom and dad. They are with Jesus. You can come some day, too.”
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the children gathered for Advent devotions.
Pastor Fritz asked Kirk to light the Advent candles; but Kirk went into an epileptic fit.
His whole body jerked, knocking over the Christ candle. The candle cracked as it hit the floor. Nurse Frederick calmed him down and gently carried Kirk to his room.
The children wanted to reassure Kirk, so they began singing loudly. Gunther interrupted at the top of his lungs ‘EVERYTHING HAS A CRACK IN IT!!!”
… There was silence… Gunther repeated softly: “Everything has a crack in it.
I do not know what is so special about Christmas?”
Pastor Fritz asked, “Children, Gunther wants to know: What is so special about Christmas?”
All those mentally and physically handicapped children, most of whom had lost their parents because of the World War or because their family was unable to care for them—tried to find a way to explain beloved Christmas.
How would we explain Christmas to someone who does not know what it is?
Monica, who could not speak cleary, began to sing brightly, “Loorya suzanna. Loorya suzanna. Loorya suzanna…”
Most of those gathered understood what she meant: “Gloria hosanna, Gloria hosanna.” Manfred, whose limited mind only thought in numbers, said: “12/25, 12/25, 12/25.” Most of the children figured out what he meant.
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.”
Then Leni, an eight year old blind girl who was very small for her age, brightened and said: “Christmas is special because … because…everything has a crack in it!”
Pastor Fritz smiled and said, “Yes, Leni. Everything has a crack in it. And the crack is much bigger than you (or any of us!) can see. God is the only one who can see how big that crack really is. Gunther—Everything has cracks, and sometimes big cracks don’t seem like they can be fixed. God sent Jesus to show us that God loves everything and especially every PERSON—even with cracks in them. Somehow, God heals those cracks, though not necessarily in a way we expect. Jesus helps us patch up those cracks, so they aren’t as big. And Jesus helps us patch up new cracks when they come along. He helps us again and again if we trust in him. And…when you get to heaven, there won’t be any cracks at all.”
Gunther nodded with a glint of understanding.
On Christmas Eve, Pastor Fritz told the children the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Pastor Fritz could tell the Christmas story so you could really see it happening. He said, “I would like Kirk to sit on my lap tonight, for this no doubt is Kirk’s last Christmas, and I would like Gunther to sit on my other side, since this is Günter’s first Christmas.
As Pastor Fritz told the story of Jesus’ birth, he demonstrated with paper maché statues. The figures of mother and baby, angels, shepherds, and sheep became almost real in the children’s imaginations.
When Pastor Fritz came to the high point in the story, Leni, the blind girl, couldn’t contain herself and blurted, “Little Baby Jesus born.”
Monica sang at the top of her lungs, “Loorya suzanna. Loorya suzanna.” Manferd mumbled, “12/25, 12/25, 12/25.”
Together, in shared joy, they all praised God. They could feel God’s love.
Gunther was about to ask to hear the story again, but the other children were all excited about something else. They all knew what it was next… except Gunther.
The children each received presents: a doll for Monica, a teddy bear for Leni, and a toy truck for Manfred. Kirk received a tiny wood crèche with Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus, and then Nurse Frederick lovingly escorted Kirk to bed. Gunther did not realize that there was a present for him, too. Gunther had never received a present. When a gift with his name on it was placed in his lap, he slowly opened the package. With big eyes, he murmured, “My…my…my…toy train.” He fondled the engine, coal car, and caboose.
Pastor Fritz said: “That’s part of what Christmas is about Gunther. God gives a gift to you…with your name on it. Most importantly, God gave the Christ child as a gift for you.” Gunther was elated with his gifts—both the toy train and Jesus, who helped him be a part of God’s own family.
Gunther began to understand that he had a new family who loved him, and that God was the best father ever. Gunther remembered Kirk and ran to their bedroom.
Kirk was caressing the wooden figures of Mary and Jesus. Kirk smiled and said: “She looks just like my mommy.”
On Christmas morning, the children were playing with their new toys and Nurse Frederick pulled Kirk into the big room in a wagon. Kirk was lying uncomfortably on his large pillow.
Nurse Frederick said that Kirk wanted to say goodbye to each of them. Willie wanted to play “Silent Night” on his new harmonica for Kirk, but she said, “No, Kirk isn’t up to that.” Kirk touched each of the children. When Kirk came to Gunther, their hands touched a long while. “Good bye Gunther.”
“Good bye Kirk. Say hi to mommy and daddy when you see them.”
“I will.” Then Nurse Frederick pulled the wagon out of the room.
An hour later, Pastor Fritz told the children that Kirk had died. Gunther cried. Pastor Fritz picked up little Gunther and held him close. Gunther put his face against Pastor’s ear and whispered: “Everything has a crack in it.”
Pastor Fritz replied: “Yes, I know. That is why Jesus was born…for Kirk…and for you, and for everyone. Jesus will be waiting for Kirk. And for me … and you when the time comes. And every day from now on, you will know you are part of God’s family.”
This is the true story of Günter’s first Christmas. He lived a full life, and brought love to many children at Bethel home. Gunther died in 1999 in Bethel, the house of God for handicapped children, where he had become a much loved permanent member of the household.
Everything does have a crack in it. The world has cracks of imperfection right to its core. And your life and mine? Though we don’t like to admit it, all of us have flawed lives and cracks. Our freedom from fear comes from Christ who taught us to walk his understanding of life. Christ becomes the spirit that rules our hearts and therefore, we are no longer prone to see ourselves and the world through a perspective of fragility or fear. Christ’s love for us and all creation dispels fear and gives us a sense of God’s peace which passes all understanding.
Despite, or perhaps because of the difficulties that Kirk and Gunther faced, they understood God’s love for and through them every day. Jesus came to earth: to patch the flaws and cracks -- to heal our hearts, to restore our lives. Jesus came to shape us anew as God would have us be. May we more deeply appreciate that gift.
Have a blessed Christmas and coming new year.
We thank you, Lord Jesus, that you entered our world to heal the many cracks, even in our lives. Amen!