A Christmas Story

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Sunday, December 10, 2017 - 3:45pm

 

 

Martha asked me for a Christmas story. Now, the problem with this request – a very reasonable request, I must say – the problem is, most of the Christmas stories that have been written are not really about Christmas at all. They are love stories (on the Hallmark Channel), or ghost stories (which is what Charles Dickens himself called A Christmas Carol), or some other kind of story that is set at Christmas time, or told at Christmas time.

Or, more likely nowadays, they are stories about reindeer, or Santa Claus, or elves, or snowmen, or trees – or about a dog named Olive who thinks she might be “the other reindeer.”

These stories might be about Christmas in the cultural sense – but they're not about what Christmas means.

Now, A Christmas Carol is a fine story. It's a story about redemption. Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed man by the end of the story, and he has changed for the better. Scrooge knows he must change when he pleads with the last of the spirits,

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

 

Ebenezer Scrooge repents. He changes his mind and heart, and he changes his ways. So that at the very end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge lives an even longer life, and happier;

...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Notice that Dickens doesn't exactly say, that I can see, what it means “to keep Christmas well.” And he doesn't tell the story behind his story, of what the coming of Christ Jesus into the world is about.

There are two Christmas stories I know that do tell us what Christmas is all about. One of those stories, you know by heart. It's the one where the director of a Christmas play cries out in frustration, “Can't anyone tell me what Christmas is about?”

And one of the cast says, “Yes, I can.” And he steps onto the stage, with his blanket, and says, “Lights, please.” And the spotlight comes on. And he recites:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

[Luke 2:8-14, King James Version]

And then Linus walks off the stage, and up to the director, and says, “That's what Christmas is about, Charlie Brown.” And Charlie Brown changes his mind about the meaning of Christmas. His heart is changed. He repents. He experiences redemption.

That's one story.

The other one, I know by heart, because I played one of the key roles in a Christmas play myself years ago. In this story, three children are transported back in time to ancient Israel. They hear Isaiah preach,

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.

They see the shepherds. They hear the angel chorus. They meet the wise men. And then, they meet an old man. He greets them.

Shalom, children.”

One of the kids, a boy whose Christmas isn't going at all the way he wants it to, says, “Hi.”

Oh, such a sad face. What's the matter?”

I'm looking for someone, and I can't find him.”

Ah,” says the old man. “I, too, have been searching for someone, searching most of my life. Many years ago, when I was young, our people were discouraged, without much hope. 'Where is the Messiah?' they would say. 'When will he come?'

One Sabbath, I was in the Temple, searching the scriptures, trying to find some clue when we would see the promised Messiah. All at once, God's presence came into the Temple, and filled it with the glory of God. I cried out, 'Oh, God! When will you send us the Messiah?”

And in the quiet of my heart, God said to me, 'Simeon, you will not die before you see the Christ, the Holy One of God.'

Ever since that day, I've watched in the Temple. Every time a baby was presented to the Lord I thought, 'Maybe this one is the Messiah. Maybe that one. Maybe him, maybe …' So many years! So many babies!

Then one day, as I was in the marketplace, that presence surrounded me again, just as it had that day in the Temple. My heart began to leap in my chest! I thought, 'Could this be the day? Could this be the day I would see God's Promised One?'

I hurried to the Temple, and there I saw, standing in line, Joseph, and Mary, and their baby. It was as if all of Heaven was watching. I took the child in my arms. I looked at him.

'What's his name?' I asked. “Jesus,” the parents said.

Jesus... what a beautiful name. Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, my salvation!”

And Simeon sings:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory for your people Israel.”

I was Simeon in that play, the old man who followed his heart to find the Messiah, the Christ Child, the Savior, his salvation.

That, I say, is the Christmas story worth telling. The story of God's only Son become a baby, the Messiah, to live among us and die for us, “For poor on'ry [ornery] people like you and like I,” as an old song puts it [I Wonder As I Wander] – so that we might have the opportunity, the invitation, and the power, to change our hearts and minds and be redeemed. And then, to live changed lives. As Scrooge did. So can I. So can we all.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! God bless Us, Every One!

December 10, 2017

 

 

Martha asked me for a Christmas story. Now, the problem with this request – a very reasonable request, I must say – the problem is, most of the Christmas stories that have been written are not really about Christmas at all. They are love stories (on the Hallmark Channel), or ghost stories (which is what Charles Dickens himself called A Christmas Carol), or some other kind of story that is set at Christmas time, or told at Christmas time.

Or, more likely nowadays, they are stories about reindeer, or Santa Claus, or elves, or snowmen, or trees – or about a dog named Olive who thinks she might be “the other reindeer.”

These stories might be about Christmas in the cultural sense – but they're not about what Christmas means.

Now, A Christmas Carol is a fine story. It's a story about redemption. Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed man by the end of the story, and he has changed for the better. Scrooge knows he must change when he pleads with the last of the spirits,

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

 

Ebenezer Scrooge repents. He changes his mind and heart, and he changes his ways. So that at the very end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge lives an even longer life, and happier;

...and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Notice that Dickens doesn't exactly say, that I can see, what it means “to keep Christmas well.” And he doesn't tell the story behind his story, of what the coming of Christ Jesus into the world is about.

There are two Christmas stories I know that do tell us what Christmas is all about. One of those stories, you know by heart. It's the one where the director of a Christmas play cries out in frustration, “Can't anyone tell me what Christmas is about?”

And one of the cast says, “Yes, I can.” And he steps onto the stage, with his blanket, and says, “Lights, please.” And the spotlight comes on. And he recites:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

[Luke 2:8-14, King James Version]

And then Linus walks off the stage, and up to the director, and says, “That's what Christmas is about, Charlie Brown.” And Charlie Brown changes his mind about the meaning of Christmas. His heart is changed. He repents. He experiences redemption.

That's one story.

The other one, I know by heart, because I played one of the key roles in a Christmas play myself years ago. In this story, three children are transported back in time to ancient Israel. They hear Isaiah preach,

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.

They see the shepherds. They hear the angel chorus. They meet the wise men. And then, they meet an old man. He greets them.

Shalom, children.”

One of the kids, a boy whose Christmas isn't going at all the way he wants it to, says, “Hi.”

Oh, such a sad face. What's the matter?”

I'm looking for someone, and I can't find him.”

Ah,” says the old man. “I, too, have been searching for someone, searching most of my life. Many years ago, when I was young, our people were discouraged, without much hope. 'Where is the Messiah?' they would say. 'When will he come?'

One Sabbath, I was in the Temple, searching the scriptures, trying to find some clue when we would see the promised Messiah. All at once, God's presence came into the Temple, and filled it with the glory of God. I cried out, 'Oh, God! When will you send us the Messiah?”

And in the quiet of my heart, God said to me, 'Simeon, you will not die before you see the Christ, the Holy One of God.'

Ever since that day, I've watched in the Temple. Every time a baby was presented to the Lord I thought, 'Maybe this one is the Messiah. Maybe that one. Maybe him, maybe …' So many years! So many babies!

Then one day, as I was in the marketplace, that presence surrounded me again, just as it had that day in the Temple. My heart began to leap in my chest! I thought, 'Could this be the day? Could this be the day I would see God's Promised One?'

I hurried to the Temple, and there I saw, standing in line, Joseph, and Mary, and their baby. It was as if all of Heaven was watching. I took the child in my arms. I looked at him.

'What's his name?' I asked. “Jesus,” the parents said.

Jesus... what a beautiful name. Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, my salvation!”

And Simeon sings:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory for your people Israel.”

I was Simeon in that play, the old man who followed his heart to find the Messiah, the Christ Child, the Savior, his salvation.

That, I say, is the Christmas story worth telling. The story of God's only Son become a baby, the Messiah, to live among us and die for us, “For poor on'ry [ornery] people like you and like I,” as an old song puts it [I Wonder As I Wander] – so that we might have the opportunity, the invitation, and the power, to change our hearts and minds and be redeemed. And then, to live changed lives. As Scrooge did. So can I. So can we all.

May that be truly said of us, and all of us! God bless Us, Every One!

December 10, 2017

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