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~ Christmas, 2005 ~

Here are two stories pointing to the meaning of Christmas, the celebration of the promised and prophesied Immanuel, "God-with-Us." They are true stories, and probably actually happened.

The mother was leaving with the children to celebrate at the Christmas Eve service at her church. One more time, she pleaded with her husband to join them. "This business about the incarnation of God is beyond reason or belief," he replied.

Alone, the man settled in by the farmhouse window and watched the growing snow blizzard. Several geese caught his attention. They were obviously looking for a place to shelter against the storm. Regardless of what he explained to his wife and children, the man was compassionate and kind hearted, a good father and husband. That extended to the plight of the geese in his yard.

He ventured out into the storm and opened the barn door. In a loud but kindly, inviting voice, he called the geese inside the barn. "Come on! The barn is warm and safe!" The geese, of course, didn't understand him. They became wary of him when he tried to chase them into the barn, not understanding his compassionate intentions. The geese ran in all directions except the barn door.

In his frustration, he yelled, "Why don't you all follow me! Can't you see the place I'm offering you is a safe and comfortable refuge from this storm?"

Then the thought came to him, "If only I could become one of them for just a little while, then I could explain the storm and refuge and maybe they would follow me into the barn once they trusted and believed me."

The man's own words spoke to his soul. He began to understand the Incarnation of Christ. Although a bit late for the Christmas Eve service, his wife and children were delighted to see him join them.
In 1994, the Russian Department of Education invited a couple of Americans to teach biblical ethics at certain schools, prisons, and an orphanage. The hundred or so children at the orphanage responded in this way, as described by the American teachers:

"It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.  No colored paper was available in the city. 

"Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.

"All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately-until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

"Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, 'And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't, because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, "If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?" And Jesus told me, "If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me." So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him---for always.'

"As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.  The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him - FOR ALWAYS. I've learned that it's not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts."

I will end this reflection with some words from Carlo Carretto, from his "Letters from the Desert," (Orbis Books, 2002): 

"After Calvary, peace was no longer to operate on the thin blade of truth or in the court of law, but in the torn heart of a God who had become human for us in Jesus Christ. The era of victimization had ended and with Jesus the reign of the victim was to begin. The true victim, silent and lamb-like, the victim who accepts to be a victim and destroys the thorns of injustice in the fire of his love. 'The Lord loves a happy giver,' Paul was to say. And the victim is the happy giver.

"God will be the happy giver in his Christ. His gift of himself is unconditional. He will pardon all sins forever. He will give life again to the tired bones of the sinner, he will transform a prostitute into a Mary Magdalene and an ordinary pleasure-seeker into a Saint Francis. Life will triumph over death, and spring will find strength and beauty in the dung of the earth itself.

" 'I have overcome the world,' Christ will shout in his sacrifice, and joy will flow again in our anguished heart. Yes, I too must go beyond justice. To triumph over the sickness of victimization I must go beyond it. Like Jesus and in imitation of him, I must wearily climb again the slope of my pain, and throw myself courageously in the descent towards my brothers and sisters, above all towards those whom the short-sightedness of my sick eyes sees as the cause of my evils.

"There is no other solution. There is no true peace and union with Jesus without it. As long as I waste time defending myself I get nothing done and I am not truly Christian; I do not know the depths of the heart of Jesus."

St. Paul wrote, "Think the same way that Christ Jesus thought. Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. He gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

Carretto again: "This is a summary of all the virtues and all the perfections. This feeling of Jesus, this desire to lower himself to obey the Father and save humanity, will forever remain the climax of the love of Christ. This is why truth and justice are not enough and we are invited to go further. The more we 'feel we must' abase ourselves in imitation of Jesus, the more humility will reign in our hearts, and peace flow into our lives. In these lines lies the secret of sanctity."

And in these lines lies the mystery of the Incarnation, the Immanuel, the God-with-Us, the God who chose to walk among us. Ineffable and mysterious Christmas! This we celebrate!

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
~ Education, Research and Advocacy
   in the Christian Faith ~

Spiritual Resource Services  © December 22, 2005

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