HOUSES OF WORSHIP
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them
Christmas contains both joy and pain. The joy seems to always have something to do with childhood. Everyone has a childhood and, even if Christmas did not produce everything our childhood longings desired, there was at least the simplicity of anticipation that something good was coming. The pain comes from growing up and away from such childhood. We often spend our adult years shopping for children or grandchildren, in part as an effort to get back to the joy of childhood.
I reach back for that Christmas morning when our youngest child’s eyes caught me as I turned over in bed. She was just tall enough to look at me at the edge of the mattress. She was barely two and daily discovering the ability to use language.
The Christmas Eve pageant was still looming in her mind. She had heard her father say at the end of the bath-robed drama that “tonight is the eve of Jesus’ birth.” My wife and I had made sure there were cookies and milk next to the tree and a carrot for Rudolf. Our two-year-old, Amanda, would awaken and discover only cookie crumbs and a partially eaten carrot. Santa and company had made their visit.
But her eyes were full of questions. I was to discover that she had already visited the Christmas tree and she had witnessed the remains of Santa’s visit. Then came the question, “Daddy, where is baby Jesus?”
I am a minister. I am supposed to be able to answer religious sounding questions. The cookies were gone. The nibbled-on carrots were evidence that Santa and Rudolf had been to the house. What was I to say about the advertised arrival of baby Jesus? Before I could collect my thoughts, her eyes and little mouth asked another question, “He is up at the church?”
Perhaps, I spend my living and my life trying to answer Amanda’s Christmas questions. All of those who seek to follow the child of Bethlehem are seeking to live into Amanda’s questions.
Years later, another child answered a Christmas question. Christmas came on Sunday that year. I was serving a large, predominantly young adult congregation. I knew how tempting it was going to be to let Santa Claus win the battle of Christmas morning. I bribed my people to get them to church.
I told them we would have doughnuts and coffee. I told them to bring the kids with their pajamas on, if need be. I told them I would not “preach” but would tell a Christmas story. I asked them to witness to their children that it was the birthday of Jesus and not just the dawn of the arrival of a jolly old elf.
Christmas miracles happen because my congregation came. The church was full. I donned a make-shift outfit and became the innkeeper in the Christmas story. I was telling the story from his point of view. I had already spoken of the many tales I had heard from people who were trying to get into my inn on that busy night.
I had long since bolted my door and refused to respond to the constant knocks. It was late. Most of my residents were sleeping, when I heard a solitary knock at the door. For some reason I went, perhaps to let some cool air into the stuffy surroundings. There they were, a shabby looking couple. She was leaning over the neck of a tired looking burro. The man holding the rein then offered the wildest story I had heard all evening,
“Sir, could you please let us have a room? My wife’s about to have a baby.”
Then I looked out at my very attentive congregation and said, “was I supposed to believe such a crazy story?” Before I could finish my prepared line, Teddy, who was four years old and whose mother later told me had been standing on his toes at the edge of the pew with his eyes trained on the scene shouted, “yes!”
There was silence at first. You know that kind of silence that can only be felt by a group of people in church who do not quite know what to do. Then there was a solitary laugh, and then the place erupted in Christmas joy.
Teddy had stolen the show and told the story. Today in a world of crumbling towers and threats of bio-terrorism and war, there comes a shout, “Yes, believe!”
I am older now, but Amanda’s questions and Teddy’s answer give me hope and joy. The story then and the story now are the same, “and a little child shall lead them.”
Dr. Jody Seymour
Jody Seymour retired after serving Davidson United Methodist Church as Senior Pastor for 13 years and being a pastor for forty-six years in the Western North Carolina Conference. He is the author of six books and resides just outside of Davidson with his wife, Betsy.