How Will We Experience Jesus This Christmas?

Christmas 2015

Our Christian Christmas story talks about a young woman, Mary, probably a teenager, pregnant before marriage. The culture and religious beliefs of the time offered only judgment. “She is guilty. Cast her aside. Have her stoned.” And yet, Joseph loves her. God intervenes, and they are married. The emperor’s decree orders Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Homeless, they find shelter in a stable and Jesus is born. This wee babe, vulnerable, fragile, needing our care, comes into the world. Christians believe this child, so full of potential, came as God to live among us.

How will Jesus enter my world this Christmas? All three of my children and their families will gather around the table in our beautiful middle class home. Will Jesus be there?

Maybe Jesus will come in Vanessa, our beloved 26-year-old granddaughter, as each one of us takes special care to ensure nothing is done to increase her anxiety. Even though her mind cannot comprehend all the rules, her cousins will include her in our family games because they love her. I wonder will we experience Jesus in our Vanessa’s vulnerability?

Maybe Jesus will come in the form of my middle son, who easily tells us he’s not a Christian. He’ll remind us of his pain with our society that can treat animals as inanimate products to be exploited.

Factory farms that ignore the blessing of life within animals horrify Dave. Will we see Jesus’ caring in Dave’s commitment to animal rescue?

Maybe Jesus has already come with grandson Chris. We welcomed him home for Christmas almost a month ago. Delight dances in his sister’s eyes every time she greets him. Have we realized that Jesus has come in Chris’ love for all of his family.

Maybe Jesus is a spirit winding itself in and through our blended family. Maybe we’ll greet him on Skype when Tom’s daughter calls and we see and hear our two youngest grandchildren. Will they bring us the  laughter and innocence of the Christ child.

I must remember that Jesus is present in the beggar I see at the corner of Water and Parkhill Streets here in Peterborough or the clerk who gives me a smile and a Merry Christmas at the grocery store. He is present in the grief of my beloved friends as he weeps with them over the death of their son. Yes, Jesus will be born all around me this year as he is every year, if only I make room for him.

I suggest you look for Jesus in both the sparkling eyes and the glistening tears this Christmas. He’s there, I guarantee it. Watch, and listen, for Jesus is truly God with us.

Christmas Blessings to you all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Reluctant Shepherd

This morning, I woke early with “The Reluctant Shepherd” running through my mind. I had intended to tell it at the Fenelon Falls UCW Christmas gathering. Instead I was in Montreal. Today it feels necessary to share the story on my blog. Some of you have bought my Christmas book, Can I Hold Him?, and therefore will have read this story. That’s ok. It’s good to read stories and whole books more than once. I think I will share several of the stories over the next few days. For today, sit back, take a rest, and enjoy the story.

THE RELUCTANT SHEPHERD

reluctant-shepherd

It’s Christmas Eve. The church is packed with strangers, and I’m wearing Dad’s old bathrobe. Mom’s tea towel is fastened on my head with a rope. You guessed it. I’m a shepherd in the Church Christmas Pageant. I scanned the crowd and spied Eddy from my class at school. Why is he here? Oh no, I thought. I’m too old for this and too tall! I turned 13 last summer. How did I get myself into this mess? It’s a long story.

Last September, I was ready to quit coming to church.  It’s not that church is awful or anything. In fact, I kinda like it. At least, I like Mr. Woolacott. He’s my friend Jamie’s

grandpa. He always seems to find time to talk to me on Sunday mornings. He likes to tell stories just like my Papa. I miss my Nana and Papa. We moved here two years ago. Now, my grandparents live three hours away.  We don’t see them very often, so it’s nice to talk with Mr. Woolacott.

Anyway, as I was saying, last September, I decided that I was too old for Sunday School and not old enough to sit through the adult service. I planned to stay home with Dad. He hardly ever goes to church, so why should I?

Then Mr. Green, the chair of property, called and asked to speak to me. That was a surprise. He’d never called me before.

“Kevin,” he said, “the Harper’s have bought the church a digital projector. Would you be willing to run the power-point during the church service, please? You won’t be the only one. We plan on having several people take turns. I’ll be drawing up a schedule. Now that you’re a teenager, I thought you might be willing to stay in church for the whole service.”

I was pleased to be asked, but nervous about it, too. “Ummm,” I said, “I dunno.” I didn’t want to tell him I had decided to quit coming to church altogether.

“I’d like you to think about it, Kevin, and pray about it,” he said. “Talk it over with your parents as well.  It is a big commitment. Our committee thinks you’re old enough to take on the responsibility. Tell me on Sunday what you decide, okay?”

“Okay,” I stammered. “I’ll talk it over with my parents. See you on Sunday.”

That was last September, and I’ve been running the projector ever since.  There are other people on the list, but I like doing it, so I do it most of the time. I like being considered a grown-up. I feel as if I’m making an adult a contribution to our church family. Besides, I like sitting at the back in the sound booth with Mr. Woolacott. I was sure this job would keep me safe from being in this stupid pageant. After all, I’m never in Sunday School.

Two weeks ago, Mrs. Rintoule, the Sunday School Superintendant, came and talked with me while I was putting the projector away.

“Kevin,” she said, “I need your help. We’re don’t have enough older children for the Christmas pageant. I know you no longer come to Sunday school, but we need a shepherd, one who can take care of the other two shepherds, the Kingley twins, Sam and Shelley.  They turned three last week.”

“But Mrs. Rintoule” I started, “I already have a job, I’ll be running…”

She interrupted, “Greta Franklin said she’ll run the projector for you. I really need you, Kevin. Please.”

“What about Jamie? Can’t he lead the twins down the aisle?”

“I’ve already asked Jamie to be Joseph.”

What could I say? I like Mrs. Rintoule. She’s fun.

So here I am, with a twin on each side, walking down the church aisle and listening to the people sing, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night.” Sam’s yanking on my hand. “What is it?” I whisper, just as the Christmas carol finishes.

“Look,” he yells and points with his pudgy hand, “There’s a big star.”

The whole congregation laughed. I can feel the heat creeping up my neck. I wish I was someplace else, anywhere else but here in this overcrowded church. I stare at the screen.

A huge star is pulsating. How did Mrs. Franklin get it to do that, I wonder?

The angel Gabriel, little Susan Filbert, shouts, “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. You will find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Hey, I thought. She did that very well. That was a big speech and she’s only seven. Now, it’s my turn.

Shelley is yanking on my robe. She’s crying. I lean down to find out what’s wrong. “There’s too many people. It’s dark in here.” She sobs.

I pick her up and say with as much enthusiasm as I can muster, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place which the Lord has made known to us.” My voice sounds like thunder in the silence. We run right up to the front of the church. Well, Sam runs. I just walk fast because Shelley’s heavy, and besides, Mom’s never let me run in the sanctuary when I was a kid.

When we get to Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus, Sam sits down right in front of the manger.  I set Shelley down beside him, and then kneel.

The baby Jesus wrinkles up her little face and starts to cry. No, she wails… at the top of her lungs. She’s Jamie’s little sister, Melissa, born just a month ago. That’s the neat thing about being born close to Christmas. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a boy or a girl. All you need to be Jesus is to be a baby. Anyway, Melissa is yelling so loudly that no one can hear the narrator talk about the kings.

I look at Ashley, our ten-year-old Mary, and whisper. “Pick up baby Jesus.”

“Oh no,” Ashley whispers back. “Mrs. Rintoule said I was just to sit here and look peaceful and beautiful.

Behind me, the chuckles ripple across the church.

I turn to Jamie, who didn’t want to be Joseph any more than I wanted to be a shepherd, and whisper a little louder. “She’s your sister. Pick her up.”

Jamie’s eyes are huge. His face is white. No, it has a greenish tinge. He swallows and stares at his hands. I’m not sure whether he’s afraid of his sister or the crowd, or he has the flu. It doesn’t matter. “God,” I pray, “make somebody do something. Make Melissa stop crying.

Into my mind marches the thought, Pick her up. So, I do. I put her on my shoulder and begin patting her back.  That’s what I’ve seen Jamie’s mother do. “Sh, Sh, Sh, it’s okay,” I say to her very softly. I sit back on my heels and then roll over onto my bum, so I can rock back and forth. I begin to sing the only thing I can think of, “Silent night, Holy night…”Actually, I’m a pretty good singer. At least, that’s what my mom says.

I’m all the way to “in heavenly peace,” before Melissa stops yelling. Sam reaches up and helps me pat. Three-year-old Shelley stands up and gives Melissa a kiss and then joins me with “Weep in hebbenwe pea.”

I start to hum, and then I realize that the kings are at the front, and the narrator has stopped talking.  All eyes are on Melissa and me. I hear the choir humming, too. Oh no! My microphone is still on.

Melissa squirms, so I lift her down from my shoulder and cuddle her close to my chest. Her hands are so tiny. She feels so warm and soft and alive. I look at her and say, “Jesus, long ago, you were just like this. Wow!”

“Joy to the world” comes blasting out of the organ, and everyone stands, even me. I hold the baby Jesus and sing to her, at the top of my lungs.  “Joy to the world, the Lord

has come.”  My smile is so big it feels as if it stretches right around the church. Joy, yes, Joy, Jesus is born. I look over at Mrs. Rintoule. “Thank you,” I mouth. “I’m glad you asked me to be a shepherd.”

It’s all over, and Jamie’s mom comes for Melissa. “No,” I say. “We’re fine. You take care of Jamie. I think he’s going to throw up.”

Sure enough, the words aren’t out of my mouth two seconds when I hear him. What a mess! I shift Melissa back to my shoulder. I can’t help, I crow to myself.  I’m busy with the baby Jesus.

There’s Mr. Woolacott heading my way.

“Merry Christmas,” I say to him.

“Merry Christmas, Kevin. Thank you for being a shepherd. They needed you. Baby Jesus needed you. You took care of them all. And you sing beautifully. You made the Christmas story real for me. I’m glad you’re my friend.”

 

*****

 

 

 

Christmas Comes Whether or Not we Want It. Thank You, God.

Sometimes it's a long journey.
Sometimes it’s a long journey.

A few years ago I read a book called “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham. The story gave me lots of laughter as I sat comfortable in my warm home feeling as if my world was all in order. This morning as I write this reflection, I’m riding with my dearest friends down the snow-filled streets of Montreal. We’re on our way to the store to buy a pair of jeans for their son Jason. Jason died last week and this is one of the last ways they can express their love for him. This year I am sorely tempted to “skip” Christmas.

Yet, I am truly grateful for the knowledge and the faith that Christmas cannot be skipped. Our traditional Christmas story tells us that Jesus was born into a world much like ours. Life was tough for Mary and Joseph. They were essentially homeless the night Jesus was born, and living under Roman rule. Ahead for them were heavier taxes and Herod’s massacre. Yet still Jesus was born.

God came into the world as a baby full of potential and love. God comes into the world every day, every minute with each baby born, bringing the possibilities of peace and love. Jesus taught us how to live in love and justice. Jesus brought an understanding of God as unconditional healing forgiving love. To live the way of Jesus can bring transformation for each one of us and for the world.

This year, I am truly grateful that Christmas, the true Christmas will come regardless of the pain that surrounds me, that surrounds us. This year I can trust that God’s light has come and will bring joy into the darkness of this world.

May the peace and joy of our loving God touch each of your hearts this Christmas. May God enable you to see the beauty of God’s creation, and feel the love of friends, family and strangers. Even in the midst of deepest darkest, you can experience the joy of knowing you are not alone because Jesus weeps with you.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)