Holy Days

Gathered at the Manger

(This was a children’s story for Christmas Eve that I wrote in 2004. I told it in a gorgeous twig manger, constructed by a couple
at Small Church. We used it for the pageant and could not bear to take
it down, so I designed the Christmas Eve service to make the most of
it. The children came and sat with me in the empty manger, on the big
pieces of star-patterned red velvet we had used as capes for the wise
men. It is a total conflation of the gospels, so a warning to all you purists, as if I had written it based on Christmas pageants of my childhood! If you want to borrow it, send me an e-mail.)

It was late at night, and it was dark as could be in little Bethlehem.  They didn’t have any street lights, and there were no cars, with their headlights, to show the way. 

The only light came from the moon and the stars.

On that night long ago, there was a very special star shining.  It came to shine its light on a little stable.  Inside the stable there was a cow, eating straw from the manger.  In a coop there were chickens, clucking and searching for the last bits of feed on the dirt floor.  Up above in the rafters lived a pair of doves, billing and cooing in their cozy nest.  It was cold outside, but inside among the animals it was comfortably warm.

They were just getting sleepy when their master came to the door.  Behind him were a man and a woman and a little donkey.  “Do you think you can make her comfortable here?” he asked the man.

Soon the man and the woman settled on a bed of clean straw, and the little donkey ate some hay.

Then amazing things began to happen.

The woman gave birth to a little baby, and the star shone brighter.

The man wrapped the little baby in a blanket and gave him back to his mother, and the star shone brighter.

The chickens stopped their gathering and settled on their nests.  The cow lowed peacefully, and her warm breath brought more heat to the midnight stable.  The doves cooed a lullaby for the new baby.

And the star shone brighter.

The little donkey curled up close to the manger, where the mother laid her baby, and his body gave warmth, too.

And the star shone brighter.

They all heard a sound of people approaching and looked to the door to see a group of shepherds, grown men and young boys, crowding around, some carrying lambs.

“We came to see the one who will save us, the baby born tonight.  We came because the star is shining here!” they said.

And the star shone brighter.

The shepherds knelt down to gaze at the baby, and the young lambs toddled to the manger.  An old shepherd with a rough, lined face smiled at the same time tears rolled down his cheeks.

And the star shone brighter.

Later three tall men in beautiful robes came to see the baby.  They had traveled a long way, riding on their camels.  “We come to seek the newborn King,” they said, “and we have followed his star to this place.”  They knelt before the manger, and gave the little baby precious gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

And the star shone brighter.

The animals wondered why all the people came.  They wondered why all the people were talking about a king.  All they could see was a little baby.

The baby was Jesus, and he was God’s son.  He didn’t come flying down to Earth like a superhero.  He came just the way we all do—as a little baby.  He was God’s child, and so are you, and you, and you, and so am I.  He came to be born in a humble stable, a place that wasn’t fancy or important—a place where the animals lived.

The shepherds who came to see him were poor and rough, and the Wise Ones were rich and fancy.  It didn’t matter that the people gathered at the manger were different.  All that mattered was that they knew Jesus was special.

Tonight we gather at the manger for the same reason: we know that Jesus is special, and we know that it doesn’t matter to Jesus how different we are.  He loves us all: rich or poor, tall or short, dark skinned or fair skinned, old or young, happy or sad.  Whoever you are, wherever you live, you are one of God’s people.  And when we say that Jesus came to save us, we are saying that he came to show us how much we are loved by God.  Everyone, everywhere, is invited to gather at the manger. 

And when we do, the star shines brighter.

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