Once upon a time, Lesley was a member of a small church in the suburbs. Every year toward the end of Advent the members of this church would create a living nativity. About a week before Christmas when most people were busy getting ready for the holiday, this congregation would conscript a few members to begin the preparations for the living nativity. Out on the front lawn of the church, the volunteers would slap together a few boards in the shape of a stable. Costumes would be created out of old sheets and bathrobes, so that children from the congregation could be dressed up as Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels and wise guys. Then the children would be arranged in the make-shift stable so that people passing by in their cars would be reminded of what took place in Bethlehem on the first Christmas. The church was located at a fairly busy intersection and year after year, Lesley would marvel at the fact that the Living Nativity had never caused an accident, as drivers strained to see a motley band of children pushing and shoving each other inside what only remotely resembled a stable.
The Living Nativity was the brainchild of Deedee the dreaded church organist. Deedee was a rather severe woman, who always wanted everything to be done just so. Deedee worked hard to plan various grand events that she felt would benefit the congregation. But somehow, Deedee’s grand plans were always beyond the capabilities of the volunteers she usually managed to conscript. Over the years, people in the congregation learned to hide whenever they saw Deedee coming toward them with her clipboard. If Deedee managed to corner you and your name was put onto her clipboard, you were sunk. Once your name was on the list, you were one of Deedee volunteers.
Deedee’ s conscripts never really knew what it was they had volunteered for until they arrived for the first rehearsal. By then it was too late, because Deedee had never been known to let a volunteer slip through her hands. Deedee the dreaded church organist was a hard taskmaster. There was only one thing that Deedee disliked more than uncooperative volunteers and that was children. Deedee was convinced that children went out of their way to mess up her grand plans. But Deedee had to tolerate children in her living nativity, because try as she might, even the dreaded Deedee couldn’t convince any of the adults in the congregation to dress up like angels, shepherds, and wise folk, and stand outside in the cold, in a dilapidated stable. Adults were only too pleased to offer up their children as sacrifices to the dreaded Deedee in order to avoid the cold stable themselves.
Although Lesley was a member of this church, she did not live in the suburbs. She lived on a small farm. The farm where Lesley lived was not anything like the farms most of you may be imagining. Lesley and her friends on the farm were city people, playing at farming. They had a few sheep, a few cows, some chickens and horses. They weren’t real farmers they were what real farmers derided as mere hobby farmers. Every year when Deedee would approach Lesley with her clipboard, Lesley was always more than a little relieved that the dreaded Deedee didn’t want her to dress up and stand in the stable. Because you see, Lesley didn’t have any children that she could offer up as sacrifices in her place to Deedee. Fortunately, all that Deedee required of Lesley were a few bales of hay from her farm. Deedee thought the hay bales added a touch of reality to the stable. Even though Lesley was never quite sure that they actually baled any hay in the Middle East in the first century, every year she would deliver the hay and place the bales exactly where Deedee wanted them.
One year the children got together and decided that they wanted to add a little something, something to Deedee’s Living Nativity. So, the children asked Lesley if she would bring a few of her animals to liven things up in the stable. Lesley wasn’t too crazy about the idea because she knew how important it was to Deedee that everyone stood perfectly still without talking and none of her animals were very good at playing statues. But the children begged Lesley and if the truth be told, she had always felt sorry for the kids who had fallen victim to Deedee’s grand plans. So, when the children begged her to bring some of her animals, even though she knew that it was a bad idea, she couldn’t bring herself to say no.
Knowing that DEEDEE had very high standards, Lesley decided to take Martha, the tamest of her sheep and Sally her donkey. Martha was an unusual sheep. When Lesley was out in the fields, Martha was right there by her side. So, Lesley thought that she might have half a chance of keeping Martha quiet in the stable. Sally that was another story all together. Sally was not the type of donkey to be standing still, but she was the only donkey on the farm. So, Lesley loaded Sally and Martha and several bales of hay onto her truck and headed off to the suburbs.
When Lesley got to the church the children were all busy getting into their elaborate costumes, under the direction of the dreaded Deedee. But Deedee didn’t look very happy. You see, every year it was the same story. Deedee would spend hours working on the costumes. She would lay everything out carefully, and every year when the children arrived there was chaos. Deedee was just beginning to lose her temper when Lesley arrived. Lesley unloaded the hay bales and as the children were taking their places in the stable, she went back to the truck to unload Sally and Martha. As she led the animals to the stable a little boy dressed as a king ran up to Lesley, who couldn’t believe her eyes. Dressed in royal regalia was none other than Jeremy. Jeremy was the absolute worst child in the world. Jeremy, or “The Germ” as he was not so affectionately known by all those who came into contact with him; the Germ was always getting into trouble. The Germ took one look at the donkey and decided that as he was all dressed up like a wise guy, he should be riding Sally into the stable.
Lesley explained that the donkey belonged to Mary and wise guys ride camels. She warned the Germ that as she didn’t have a camel in the truck, he had better just back off. But the Germ decided that if he couldn’t ride into the stable, then a sheep made a better gift than some silly old frankincense.
One thing Lesley had learned over the years was that it was better not to cross the Germ because once he had his mind set on something nothing could shake him loose. Besides Deedee was about to lose control of the entire group. So, Lesley handed Martha’s lead-rope to Jeremy and held on to the donkey herself. Deedee did her best to get her motley settled into the stable and then she aimed lots of floodlights at them. And lo there appeared: a Living Nativity.
Lesley was sure that this was the year that the stable scene would cause an accident out on the road as drivers became fixated upon bath-robed shepherds waving their crooks at paper-crowned wise guys, as angels with cock-eyed halos jostled with adolescent Mary for a look at a cabbage-patch Jesus, leaving an out-of-place Joseph to scratch his head and wonder. Lesley tried to keep herself hidden behind a few bales of hay. Sally the donkey was thrilled by the attention that the angels were giving her, and she just stood there happily munching on all the hay the angels offered up to her.
Martha however, was not very happy at all. This once docile sheep was going wild. She just couldn’t keep still. No matter how hard he tried, the Germ just couldn’t keep Martha quiet. The more fuss that Martha made, the more the various shepherds, angels and wise guys jostled one another around in the stable. All of this activity was too much for Deedee who kept shushing everyone. But the more Deedee shushed, the more the various shepherds, angels and wise folk jostled each other, and the wilder Martha became. When several of the shepherd’s began to use their home-made shepherd’s crooks to keep the angels and wise guys in line, Lesley worried that Deedee was going to lose her clipboard. Sure enough, by the time that Mary and Joseph got into the act, Deedee had had enough. She ordered Lesley to, “Get that sheep out of there!”
Lesley was convinced that Jeremy the Germ was the problem. After all Martha was the tamest most docile of sheep. The Germ must have been getting to her somehow. Thinking that she could kill two birds with one stone, she told the Germ to take Martha back to the truck and stay with her. Peace was restored to the stable. The children stood quietly as Sally munched away on the hay. Apart from the odd jostle from the shepherds or giggle from an angel, all was well in the stable. Deedee didn’t even seem to mind that we were one wise guy short. But then the dreaded Deedee and Jeremy the Germ, they had a long history of abruptly parting company.
So, there they were, standing in the cold, reminding all the passers-by of what had happened in a stable in Bethlehem on that very first Christmas. When suddenly the Germ appeared. He was in such a state that his crown had slipped down over his eyes. The Germ shouted for Lesley to come quickly. Something was terribly wrong with Martha. Lesley handed Sally’s lead-rope to the nearest angel and quickly followed the Germ back to her truck. There she found Martha in a terrible state of distress.
It seems that Lesley had miscalculated some dates and Martha was about to give birth. Lesley told Jeremy what was happening, and he tossed off his crown and began to make a bed of hay for Martha. Then he got out of his royal robes and rolled up his sleeves. The two of them set about helping Martha deliver the most beautiful little lamb.
As Lesley was showing Jeremy how to rub down the newborn lamb, she looked up and she saw that angels and shepherds surrounded them. Mary and Joseph along with some wise guys had joined them. Even the dreaded Deedee was there. She was holding on to Sally’s lead-rope and DeeDee doing something that very few people had never seen Deedee do before. The dreaded Deedee was smiling! Jeremy finished rubbing down the newborn lamb and looked around at Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and his fellow wise guys. When the Germ saw Deedee smiling, he looked up at me, smiled his own toothless grin and the Germ said, “Unto us a lamb is born”.
The Germ was so right, for on that cold December night, they all met the LOVE which is always being born in our midst. LOVE comes to us in the most unlikely of places. So be prepared to greet LOVE, so that you too can celebrate LOVE’s presence wherever and whenever LOVE comes.
Inevitably, whenever I tell this story, there is someone, a lot like the Germ, who asks, “Did this really happen.” To which I usually respond with words which I learned from the teachings of New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg, “I don’t know if it actually happened this way. But I do know that this absolutely true.” “For unto us a child is born.” A child is born not just 2000 odd years ago, but also every year, and most especially in this very challenging year. For in every child who comes to us, we meet a child who is the CHRIST-child. May the HOLY ONE who IS LOVE continue to live and move in, with, through, and beyond you and yours during these challenging times. Shalom, dear ones. Shalom.