One of my favorite Christmas stories features a family who knows nothing about Christmas. It's called "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." Barbara Robinson writes:
The Herdmans were the worst kids in the whole history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars, even the girls, and talked dirty and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker's old broken down tool house.
They stole lunches, got in fights, never really bathed, and were general trouble makers. The only place that was "safe" from the Herdmans was church. Having never been to church, they didn't know the story of Jesus' birth. The only reason why they showed up to church one Sunday -- and subsequently ended up playing Mary, Joseph, the wise men, and the angel in the church Christmas pageant -- was that they had heard there was free food. They were not what you'd call model citizens or Christians. And the townspeople didn't want to have anything to do with them.
Yet, the Herdmans were the very type of people to whom Christ Jesus reached out -- the people on the fringe of society.
- Jesus declared himself as the Messiah first to a Samaritan woman. Not only did the Jews consider her inferior because she was a woman, but also because she was a Samaritan who was of mixed blood. (John 4:7-29)
- Jesus reached out to the lepers and healed them. Lepers, people who had a skin disease, were ostracized from society. Considered unclean, they had to stay at least 6 feet away from others and ring a bell warning others of their presence. They were outcasts. (Luke 17:12-19)
- Jesus reached out and touched the eyes of the blind man, enabling him to see. (John 9:1-7)
Jesus simply did not condemn others: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). He saved people by loving them. Rather than condemn the woman "taken in adultery" and allow her to be stoned, according to the law, Jesus saved the woman. His words, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11), changed her life. Where other people saw sinners, Jesus saw the children of God -- the men and women as God created them. As a result, these people flocked to him.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him. And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners? When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Mark 2:15-17)
The sinners' lives were changed. In their humility, they were touched by Jesus' love and forever transformed. How sad it was that there were those who let their pride, ego, criticism, and fear prevent them from feeling the healing touch of the Christ that provides freedom to all. How sad that there are those who miss the message of the Christ. How important then that we open our hearts to be touched by the Christ and not let pride, fear, or self-righteousness make us blind and insensitive. Only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be touched by the Christ can we reach out with the Christly touch to help and heal others.
It's important to look at how we treat others who are different -- the homeless man standing on the street corner, the promiscuous high school girl, the self-righteous individual in church, the gossipy relative, the guys who constantly cuss and walk around with low-slung pants, the sibling who always has to have his or her way, the mentally or physically disabled. Do we reach out to see them as God's children and heal them, or do we judge and categorize them, stay away from them, and thank God that we are not like them? If we think that we cannot love them, then we are missing the message of the Christ. Yet, the Christ is what Christmas is all about.
When the shepherds learned of the Christ from the "angel of the Lord," they were eager to see and acknowledge the "Savior." Indeed, "they came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger." Then they shared the angel message of "good tidings of great joy" with everyone. The message was for "all people." (Read the account -- Luke 2:8-20.) When Simeon, who was told he would not die "before he had seen the Lord's Christ," saw the baby Jesus, he affirmed, "For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel." (Read the story -- Luke 2:25-32.)
One of the beautiful things about the angel message was that it was not exclusive; it was inclusive. Simeon echoed this. And Jesus' teachings, practice, and life reveal the all-inclusive nature of Love. Love knows no boundaries.
Jesus knew he was the light, showing all of us the way to eternal life. Jesus declared:
- I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
- I am the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
- I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)
And John tells us:
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)
While Jesus' ministry was to the Jews, he was the "light of the world," demonstrating that life is indeed "everlasting." Such a light is attractive, powerful, and healing. The star that shone so brightly and led the wise men to find Jesus is symbolic of the "light of life." The wise men knew how important this light was, as evidenced by the journey they made and the gifts they gave. They also were willing to listen to God warning them not to go back to Herod, who planned and attempted to kill the baby Jesus, who he thought was a threat to his kingship.
It seems that there are many Herod thoughts around that would like to kill the spirit of the Christ, the spirit of Christmas. These thoughts might include being upset with a family member, feeling stressed by the Christmas shopping that isn't done yet, worrying about money, feeling burdened by work, getting caught up in gossip, or being challenged by those who taunt us to believe God doesn't exist, or that our concept of God is wrong, or that terrorism reigns supreme and is just around the corner.
Well, we can either allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by such Herod thoughts, or we can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the Christ. We can continue to follow Jesus. Among his other teachings, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount explains how to follow him (Matt. 5-7). The apostle Paul described the underlying theme of Jesus' teachings when he wrote, "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Everything that Jesus taught centered around loving God, loving our neighbors (everyone), and loving ourselves as God made us. In his mountain-top sermon, Jesus shared with us:
- the Beatitudes -- the way to be humble, for the humble are blessed;
- the way to treat others with the Golden Rule;
- the way to pray in sincerity and quietude, beginning with "Our Father," not my Father;
- how to seek "the kingdom of God" rather than to worry about food, clothing, helter, money;
- the importance of not judging;
- how to keep the spirit of the commandments and not just go through the motions;
- what it means to have faith;
- his expectations of us: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48).
Jesus' message of love gives light to our path. If we truly understand the meaning of Christmas, then we will enjoy following in Jesus' footsteps. We will do what he asks of us. We will put God first in our lives and live a life of love, which includes everyone. Jesus did say, "Ye are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14). He didn't keep the light to himself. He didn't think that he was the only one capable of expressing the light of life. He expected us also to live a life glorifying God and to share our light. Jesus expected a lot of us. He declared, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father" (John 14:12). Are we doing the works that Jesus did? Are we doing greater works?
We certainly have our work cut out for us. But it's glorious work, enriching work, and often hard, difficult, and "alone" work to understand, demonstrate, and share the gift of eternal life. But there's a "secret" that will make our work easier. The angel who told Mary that she was going to carry Jesus, revealed to her an empowering, spiritual fact: "For with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). What an amazing sense of freedom, humility, and security that gives us! If we let God take charge of our lives, nothing is impossible. Turning our lives over to God may sometimes be difficult, but it's worth it! It takes a great deal of humility. It's what Christmas is all about.
The Herdmans must have felt very humble on Christmas Eve as they experienced just a little bit of what it might have felt like to be at the manger where Jesus was. The tears were real that ran down Imogene Herdman's face as she, playing "Mary," cradled the doll. Gladys Herdman, who played the "Angel," felt and communicated the thrill and the joy of bearing the good news of Jesus' birth. The "Wise Men," Leroy, Ollie, and Claude Herdman, gave the baby Jesus their welfare ham. While it may have looked silly, the ham was a gift far more precious, sincere, and generous than any other "more appropriate" gift could have been. And everyone from the town, who was sitting in the audience expecting this Christmas pageant to be the "worst" because the Herdmans were in it, felt something "different" -- something that they had not felt before, and they said it was the "best" pageant ever.
Are we willing to be like the Herdmans and give away our "ham"? Are we willing to see the Christmas story for the first time? Willing to see Jesus' life differently? Are we willing to give our best to church, to our friends, to our families, to God, and to feel the power of the Christ? Willing to be like the wise men and acknowledge the light, search for the light, value the light, and protect the light? Willing to be like the shepherds who hurried to find the Savior and then shared the good news with others? Are we willing to be like Jesus and give our lives to God?
Our prayer at Christmas might naturally be: may we be willing to have our lives touched by the transforming power of the Christ so that we can touch the lives of others with love -- especially the lives of the "outcasts" -- and so follow the path Jesus laid out for us. May our Christmas be full of Christly love.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 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.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.
26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.
27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,
28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.