Monday, December 27, 2010

My Gift at the Manger

We were on our way to the Christmas morning worship service and I was not in the mood to worship. I could trace the problem to its source. The grumpiness had started on December 22nd, when I first heard a Christmas song on the radio that had the Baby Jesus saying “Ho, ho, ho.”

Bah, humbug.

The racoon who ate the pumpkin pie off my back deck during the Christmas Eve service didn’t help any. Nor did the discovery, later in the evening, that my jar of poultry seasoning was empty. It could have been on my fruitless pilgrimage around town that night, looking for an open grocery store, that I lost the right front hubcap off my new volkswagon.

So, driving to church on Christmas morning, listening to my husband’s idle musings about which of the three curbs I had bumped in the last four days might have dealt the death knell to my hubcap, I was in full grinch form.

“Merry Christmas,” I said (pointedly) to him in the middle of his one-sided discussion of the missing hubcap. Being, as he is, consistently oblivious to subtle hints regarding proper topics of conversation when I am in a funk, he continued the conversation until I told him, without subtle nuances or vague metaphorical references, that I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet “because I am not in the mood to worship and it’s being very hard for me to get myself there.”

During the next few minutes of brooding silence, I dragged my reluctant heart to Jesus, laid my insignificant frustrations at His feet and pried my heartstrings away from the bitterness trying to take root in my spirit.

I came close to tears when I realized, once again, after all these years of basking in the light of His unconditional love, that I still have nothing worthwhile to leave at the manger on Christmas morning.

At church, the pastor told us the true story of the little church in a small town that decided to take a chance and bring real animals to its Christmas Eve service. A local farmer lent them a cow, a sheep and a goat, and the animal rescue facility down the road sent them a donkey.

It seemed to be working. The animals, and the people, were behaving well. Just as on that famous night, all was calm. Until the donkey got too close to the empty baptistry and fell in.

Finding himself trapped in the unfamiliar “stall”, the poor beast flailed and brayed until the pastor gave up on his message and called the care giver from the animal rescue facility. The man came, took off his shoes, got into the tub, covered the donkey’s head with his coat, whispered sweet comfort into his ear, and finally crouched down on all fours so the donkey could use him as a stepstool to climb out.

“It’s a perfect metaphor,” the pastor explained. “That’s why Jesus came.”

My mind wandered now and then. I was still trying to find a worthy gift for the baby in the manger. Maybe the prayer I prayed in church last Sunday. Several people said they were touched by it. Or the Tim Horton’s card I gave to my lonely friend. Or the time I spent talking about the Bible with the sweet young woman who had just become a Christian. Those things would be good gifts for Jesus.

“No.” I heard Him say, distinctly. “The first gift you gave me—that’s all I want.”

A broken and contrite heart.

The only gift a sinner has to offer a holy Saviour.

Yes, Christmas is about giving. But it’s not about our giving. It’s about God’s giving. I knelt at the manger that morning and received His gift—the true peace of Christmas—with a heart open and subdued.

Then I went home to subdue the five grandchildren who were running around our house, high on Christmas candy, and the thirty-pound turkey I’d wrestled into the oven that morning.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Significant Trivia

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Matthew 2:3-6

A bit of shepherd trivia.

Shepherds, in Jesus' day, were considered one of the lowest classes of people. They were so suspect as liars and thieves that their testimonies were not accepted in a court of law. Yet they were the ones to whom the angels first announced the birth of Jesus, and were probably the first to begin spreading the word to others.

Shepherding was the chief industry of the little town of Bethlehem. The animals were raised to be sold in Jerusalem, to pilgrims who needed them for sacrifices in their religious ceremonies. Lambs were killed to atone for the sins of the people who gave them at the temple for sacrifice.

So this little town is where the Lamb of God was "produced"--the lamb whose sacrificial death on the cross was pre-ordained to "take away the sin of the world." (John 1:29)

With the destruction of the Jewish temple in 60 A.D., the practice of animal sacrifice was discontinued, and has not been re-instituted.

I love Christmas!