Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Reminder

A year ago the pastor at the church I attend told this story in his Sunday sermon. I was thinking about it today and thought it should be shared. As we reflect on what the true meaning of Christmas is let us remember that it is not about toys, parties, cookies, clothes, vacations, etc. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ. For he did not come to teach us the way, he IS the way.

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics in the public schools. They were also invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. The orphanage had about 100 boys and girls who had been abused, abandoned, and left in the care of the government-run institution.

Near the end of the holiday season the Americans had an opportunity to tell these orphans, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. They 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, the Americans 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 one of the Americans had brought with him. 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, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt they had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as the Americans walked among them to see if they needed any help.

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

Then Misha started to ad-lib. "And when Mary 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?' Jesus told me, 'If you keep Me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave Me.' 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 tears splashed down his young 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 him. Someone who would stay with him - for always!