What is your favorite Christmas story?
Many of you will probably list Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas (‘T was the Night Before Christmas) or Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Once upon a time, an even better story came to pass.
If you routinely follow my blog, you know I like to recommend books, mostly children’s books and books that celebrate a particular season.
This month my top pick is Chapter 2 of the book of Luke. It’s the perfect story. It has a perfect arc. Its main character is flawless. According to Max Lucado, “The manger is the message!”
My father read this story aloud to our family every Christmas Eve. Because I heard it so often, I know most of it by heart. I carry it in my heart. Thank you, Daddy, for your wisdom and your witness.
And it came to pass in those days . . . .
In Jan Karon’s novel Shepherds Abiding, Father Tim recalls learning this same story from his mother:
“’And there were in that same country . . . ,’” said his mother.
“Very good, dear. And where were they abiding?”
“’In the field!’”
“And what were they doing?”
“’Keeping watch o’er their flock by night!’”
“Yes!” said his mother, pleased. He liked pleasing his mother, for he loved her more than anything, even more than Peggy. He also liked saying “o’er” instead of “over.”
His mother had spent hours teaching him the story of Christ’s birth, and the images she instilled in him had been vivid and thrilling, like a kind of movie cast with a score of animals—the great camels plowing over the desert sands, the donkey on which the Virgin Mary probably rode with Joseph walking beside her, the sheep and cows and horses in the hay-scented stable. . . .
And then, to top it all off, there was the heavenly host.
When as a child he heard the passages from Luke read aloud, he had also, on two separate occasions, heard the proclamation delivered by a multitude of voices. Though Scripture said nothing about the proclamation being sung, he was convinced otherwise—in truth, the music had come to him in the region of his heart as well as his mind, and the sound of the great chorale had been beautiful beyond all imagining.
Of course, he wouldn’t have told anyone that he’s heard—as if in his own sky, above his own house—Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. . . .
Father Tim and I were fortunate to have had parents to show us the Way. If you haven’t had a father or a mother to instill within you the importance of this story, take a moment this month to read it for yourself. Google it. YouTube it. Find out why it’s so awesome.
In Janet L. Christensen’s new children’s book Cairo’s Christmas Journey (illustrated by Irene Renon), angels also appear before a young cricket. They invite him to travel to Bethlehem to play a song for the Christ child. As a small creature he doubts he can make such an arduous journey; but with the help of a tortoise, a butterfly, and a fox, he reaches the stable in Bethlehem and plays a beautiful lullaby for the tiny King.
The characters in Cairo’s Christmas Journey all work together to honor the King and to serve Him and each other, much like the characters in Luke’s gospel. Mary answers God’s call, Joseph offers support, the innkeeper provides shelter, the animals share their beds, the angels sing, the star guides the way, the shepherds spread the good news, and perhaps a cricket chirps a lullaby. Everyone plays an important role.
As we journey toward the manger this year, we may be tired from a year of uncertainties. Like Cairo, we may doubt our abilities to make the journey. Like Mary, we may wonder why God has called us to play a role in His plan. However, with the faith of a tiny mustard seed (or a cricket), we can reach our destination and join with the heavenly host singing, “Glory to the God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Many, many books have been written about this Christmas season; but nothing, absolutely nothing, can compare to the story of the Christ child who came to earth one brightly lit night in Bethlehem. This story transcends genre, category, and age level. Yes, the manger is the message we all need to hear and the hope we can all hold in our hearts.
I pray you all find peace this Christmas season.
“Peace on earth will come to stay when we live Christmas every day.”—Helen Steiner Rice
“I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play, and wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men!”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Romans 15:13; Isaiah 40:3-5