Tag Archives: Christmas

Mary and Joseph in Al Zataari

*Part 1 of this series is found here.

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. (Read the whole passage here)

 

Sermon

As he walked along the rough and sandy road, Yusuf looked up to see his fiancée. She was sitting in the back of a cart being pulled by a horse. She gave him a gentle smile and then closed her eyes once again to try and sleep. Every time the cart hit a bump in the road, the whole thing bounced and shook. Undoubtedly, Mara was not getting much rest. Rest that she, and the child within her womb, needed.

Mara and Yusuf had joined with the caravan of people walking south to Jordan. Mara was sitting in the cart with few elderly people, some children and another pregnant woman. The two had left everything behind, their home, their jobs, their family, their lives. Yusuf was angry at himself for having to make Mara embark on this long journey while she was pregnant. He had hoped that they could have stayed a little longer in their homes. He wanted the baby to be born in Damascus, but the bombs were dropping and the government troops had ordered everyone out. Anyone who was suspected of being a rebel was being thrown in prison or worse, and people were turning on each other, accusing friends and neighbours of rebellion in order to stay in the government’s good books.

Yusuf had told Mara that he would find them a place to hide out, where she could have the baby safely in Damascus. They would only have to stay a few weeks. But Mara had insisted they leave. She didn’t want their baby to be born into such a dangerous and chaotic world. And so here they were, traveling in winter on a hard and rocky road, from Damascus, Syria to Al Zataari, Jordan so that they could make a new life, one free from bombs and guns and soldiers. Yusuf was not happy about it, but every time Mara gave him that small smile of hers, he was relieved that she had insisted on leaving.

______________________________

Zataari was bustling full of people. There were NGO workers, peacekeepers, kids running around in packs, adults visiting, people working. Zataari was the same distance from Nazareth that Bethlehem was, the home of King David. Yusuf was a coptic Christian, and the family legend was that he was a descendant of King David, not that this was something to advertise back home.

Yusuf and Mara were hoping to find some of Yusuf’s relatives already in Jordan. He  heard that his cousins had already fled Syria. But as he asked around, no one seemed to know his family, it was a long shot in a town of 80,000 refugees. Yusuf was worried that they might have to make camp on the outskirts. He only considered this as his last option, for the threat of thieves and bandits was too great, especially with Mara being almost ready to have her baby.

Finally someone who seemed to be a distant cousin offered Mara and Yusuf a room to themselves…. Well kind of… it was a tattered tent with a faded UNHCR logo on it… it looked like goats and sheep had been living there before they came. Mara and Yusuf would have to make due.

 

Yusuf led Mara to their temporary dwelling and they settled in. Mara didn’t seem mind, she was just grateful to sit somewhere that wasn’t bouncing down a road. Yusuf’s distant cousin had given them some food and blankets and sweaters. Not long after they had sat down to eat, Mara dropped her food and grabbed her belly. Yusuf knew what this meant, the baby was coming.

Throughout the day and well into the night, Yusuf stayed by Mara’s side. Helping her as best he could through the labour. Finally, through gritted teeth, Mara told him,

“The Baby is going to come now”. Yusuf got into position as she gave her final pushes and then all of a sudden into his hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Yusuf gave the baby to Mara, it was cold and there was nothing to wrap the child in. So, Yusuf took one of the sweaters his cousin has given to him and tore it into strips. Some he dipped in water and helped Mara to clean the child and with the rest they wrapped up the baby warm and tight.

Once the baby had been cleaned and fed, Mara and the boy slept. A short time later, while it was still dark, Mara woke up and called for Yusuf to take the baby. She wanted to clean herself up from the birth. She couldn’t quite stand on her own, so Yusuf put the baby down in the nearest convenient place — a long metal bucket or trough full of straw, probably for the goats. Yusuf was so proud of Mara, she had come all this way and now given birth, he was all of a sudden overjoyed that he had not left her when he had found out that she was pregnant, and he was overjoyed that she had made them escape the dangers of home.

______________________________

As Yusuf pulled Mara to her feet, they heard voices coming near their tent. At first Yusuf thought it might be his cousin coming to check in on them in the early morning, but there were several voices… several men. Yusuf peered out of the tent into the darkness and coming towards him was a group of men with weapons, with sticks and staffs, and rods and slingshots.They were boisterous, loud men… Yusuf’s anxiety grew and his heart began to pound. These men must be a gang of thieves.

“Stay in here” he told Mara and he pulled out one of the few personal items he had brought with him from Damascus, his carpenter’s hammer. He was ready to die for wife-to-be and child.

As the men got closer they quieted themselves, Yusuf was ready to fight. He put himself between the tent and the men, blocking their way. He raised his hammer above his head to signal that he would not allow anyone to come in. But the men stopped and only one came forward.

“Is he here?” the man asked excitedly. “The one the messengers told us about? The Messiah? The child in the manger? We were watching our sheep not to far from here, and were told by messengers – Angels  –  that we would find the great prophet here”. Yusuf’s jaw dropped, along with his hammer, in shock. How could anyone know that Mara had given birth already? Angels? Messiah? He turned and looked back to the tent. Mara was standing at the door, nodding her head and beckoning the young men to come forward. One by one the men came and knelt before the baby, saying prayers of thanksgiving as Mara watched on, looking totally unsurprised that these rough men had arrived. Yusuf’s head was spinning.

Finally, when the men had finished looking at the child, NO when they had finished worshipping the child, Yusuf looked to Mara who was holding a squirming Isa in her arms.

“Angels, Messiah, a baby in a manger! Our son is special isn’t he?”

Mara looked at Yusuf for a long moment. She thought about all that she had been through in the last 9 months. The visit from the angel and surprise pregnancy, the shame of being unmarried followed by Yusuf’s continued willingness to marry her, the time she had with her cousin Eliza while she gave birth to her miracle child in her old age and now the journey to Zataari. Mara was amazed at how her life had been so dramatically changed, how this baby had come into her world and changed everything. This tiny baby that could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless she kept him warm with her own body heat, who could not be fed unless it was she who gave him food, who could not be alive unless she worked to keep him so. This little child had come into her life and nothing was the same as it was.

Yet before tonight, the message from that first Angel had not seemed so real and grand. For certain she had been pregnant, but for her child to be the Messiah… well that was something she could not imagine. Yet the Shepherds had come, they told them of messenger Angels coming to the fields, telling them about the birth of her child, of this tiny little baby boy, so vulnerable to the world, of how he would be their saviour!

Returning to Yusuf’s question, was their son special?

“Come and look into his eyes Yusuf, see for yourself”, Mara finally said.

And together as they looked at this little child, so new to world, wiggling and gurgling like newborns do, they saw skin and hair; ears, eyes and a nose. And yet as they looked longer, they saw something more, something so much more. As they looked into this child’s eyes they could see themselves, they could see everyone that they loved, they could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, they could see the divine, they could see a great passion for all creation, they could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at this little miracle in their arms, Mara and Yusuf saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A miracle bigger than they could hold. A world with God in it.

As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the little family stood at the door of their tent, watching this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced with each other across the sky, Mara could almost hear voices singing from above and she listened to the heavens.

Yusuf whispered to his son,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Amen.

6 Things Pastors Actually do Love about Christmas

It seems odd to be writing a post on Christmas Eve day, and yet as we approach what are likely the biggest services of the year, it is hard not to think about all the stress and all the preparation that has been undertaken over the past few weeks.

As a pastor, Advent and Christmas can be seasons to dread as everything ramps up, as the struggle to keep Christmas from overtaking Advent is a daily chore, as the Christmas parties, visits and extra planning fill all available time slots. Pastors work longer hours in an already busy time of year, pastors are called on to provide extra services and find ourselves at centre of the Christmas rituals of many, rituals that are often full of demands and expectations about the perfect Christmas.

I have written about my frustrations with Christmas and there are other pastors out there blogging and writing about the struggle of trying to provide the most wonderful time of year to a lot of people with high expectations.

And yet, Christmas still is a time to love. Despite all the extra work and high expectations, there are still are a few surprising things that Pastors do love about Christmas.

1 Getting to tell the real Christmas story.

For roughly 2 months before Christmas proper, the world is full of sweet Christmas carols, sentimental nativity scenes, nostalgic holiday movies that paint an idyllic version of the Christmas story: A gentle Joseph and Mary giving a painless and calm birth in the most sterile and picturesque of barns stalls, with friendly animals and shepherds. Yet, the real Christmas story is full of scandal like teenage moms, and unmarried couples having babies, and homeless immigrants squatting in the same place that animals east, sleep and empty their bowels.

2 Preaching to a full house.

Even if church is full because grandma wants the grandkids in church at least once a year, or that people have come just for Silent Night by candlelight or to see the kids dressed up like shepherds, angels and animals, seeing a full house when looking out from pulpit is just a little satisfying. Knowing that what you are about to preach is going to be heard by such a large crowd reminds us that we haven’t totally faded into obscurity.

3 Finally saying ‘Merry Christmas’ for the 12 days season.

One of my favourite things it to offer a Merry Christmas until January 5th. When you get to greet people with Merry Christmas well after New Years, it is a fun way to catch people off guard and use the opportunity to remind people just when the actual season of Christmas is. It is allows us to plan fun things like 12th night parties, complete with Christmas tree bonfires.

4 Getting a zillion cards.

While Christmas cards themselves can be a little cheesy or corny at times, the fact that many, many people take the time to write kind messages and show they are thinking of you is nice, especially considering that pastors aren’t the only busy and stressed people at Christmas.

5 The music, the decor, the festive spirit.

Sometimes church can be routine or sombre. Some Sundays just feel like the same old same old. It is nice for pastors, too, to sing those familiar carols, see the sanctuary decorated, to enjoy friends and family in this long season of darkness (for us northern hemisphere folks). Even when we try to make everyone observe Advent, when Christmas does finally roll around (Dec. 24th, not November 1st), it is a special time of year to enjoy.

6 Spending time with family.

Pastors have family and traditions too. We open our presents at certain times, cook certain meals, do certain activities with extended family. And once the Christmas Eve and Christmas day services are over with, it is nice to take some time (when usually no one at church is needing your time) to enjoy the Holy-days.

I know that sometimes I can come across like a Christmas grinch to those around me. And I know from colleagues and pastor friends, that Christmas is a super stressful time of year. And yes, there are moments when I, and I am sure others, just want it over with.

Yet, just like anyone else, Christmas is a special season for us. Even with the all the stress and extra work that comes along with being a pastor at Christmas.


Are you a Pastor with strong feelings about Christmas? Have wondered what Christmas is like for your Pastor? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Do Not be Afraid – Christmas will survive Advent

Advent is my favourite season of the church year. 

In fact, I weirdly start longing for Advent sometime in September most years. I get tired of the long season of Green or Ordinary Time. Usually by Thanksgiving (celebrated the 2nd Sunday of October in Canada), I am ready for anything but more parables from the Gospels. I ready to see anything but same-old, same-old green paraments hanging from the chancel furnishings. I am ready for the deep, rich blues of advent to begin. Don’t tell anyone, but by that time of year, I sometimes even long for snow!

As a kid, Advent always bore this mysterious quality for me. The church I grew up in used to hang this huge advent wreath from the 50ft. sanctuary ceiling – like seriously, it was the size of a small kitchen table. And this elderly usher would lower it down using a pulley system during the children’s message so that we could light the appropriate number of candles. The shaky old usher often looked like he was about to let the whole thing go and the wreath would come crashing down on our heads. That was part of the fun for sure.

Yet, I also remember the little seen blue stole that the pastor wore for just a few weeks. I remember the haunting verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that we would sing in anticipation of Messiah. I remember hearing the stories of that interesting figure “John the Baptist” and the camel’s hair clothes he wore, and the locusts or giant grass hoppers he ate. I remember the wild sermons he preached, and how the drama of his words seemed to echo in the sanctuary:

       Prepare the way of the Lord
      Make his paths straight

But the exciting images of Advent lessons didn’t end there. The best story of Advent – and one of the best of the whole year – was the story of the Angel coming to Mary. I loved hearing those fist words the angel speaks, I could imagine a young girl just going about her business in her room and suddenly somthing, someone beyond worlds appeared to her:

        Do not be afraid

Of course! Of course, the Angel would say that! Because meeting an angel would be the coolest and most terrifying thing ever!

Advent has the best stories, and they have stuck with me since being a kid. These days as a pastor, I start getting excited weeks ahead of when I have to preach them. I start letting those words of John, those words of the Angel and words of Mary percolate in my mind so that I am ready to preach them when the time comes.

Increasingly the past few years, Christmas has been creeping into Advent. Sure there have always been Christmas parties during advent, and choir/band/orchestra christmas concerts, and Christmas displays in malls. But Christmas seems to more ubiquitous than ever and before Advent even starts.

And maybe I didn’t notice it as much as kid, but it feels like the whole world is joining in the generic Christmas celebration. Almost everyone celebrates Christmas these days, whereas Christmas used to be a mostly churchy thing to do… or at least not a very big deal to non-religious folk.

And who am I to judge? If the secular world needs a cultural celebration to fend off the darkness of winter, to spread joy and cheer, to make an excuse to give and receive gifts, than great! Christians appropriated Christmas from pagan winter solstice traditions, why can’t the secular world borrow Christianity’s holy day in order turn our dark time of year into a celebratory time?

It is even interesting to watch the secular world work out how the commercial and cultural celebration works for it and I am fine with that. This year there was a movement in Canada to keep stores from putting out the Christmas displays until after Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th). Many stores start their Christmas campaign November 1st, right after the halloween campaign has been put to bed with a candy hangover.

Despite my willingness to share Christmas, the people I don’t get are the Christians who start fighting this fictitious “War on Christmas” around November 1st or 12th. Even government officials are capitalizing on this unfounded fear that the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are going to take the Christ out of Christmas. Or that Xmas isn’t a long held Christian short hand. I think we are afraid of losing something and so we hold on more tightly.

The idea that Christians are in any way persecuted in Canada is about as absurd as saying Canadians don’t care about Hockey. But I will leave the persecution bit for another post.

What bothers me about the War on Christmas is that its real opponent seems to be Advent.

Christians seem to forget that Advent even exists. Maybe instead of being offended by Happy Holidays, we should be correcting Merry Christmas with Happy Advent.

Because here is the thing: Christmas needs Advent.

We need Advent.

Christmas without Advent is like giving birth without pregnancy. It is like opening a novel in the middle of the story. It is like skipping the first half of every movie you watch.

It is like Easter without Good Friday, or the story of the Fall in Genesis without the story of Creation and paradise, or the story of the Israelites coming to the promise land without the story of leaving Egypt.

So often we want to make Christmas about idyllic manger scenes with little drummer boys, sheep and donkeys, angels and shepherds, when Christmas is about un-wed mothers, the oppression of Empire, and the slaughter of children.

I think we want to imagine Christmas an unblemished perfect little story, because we are afraid of the darkness.

Advent reminds us Christmas is not about nostalgia and sentimentalism. It isn’t just singing Silent Night while holding a candle on Christmas Eve.

We need Advent because it tells us the whole story. It tells us the deeper story. John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary are not just cool characters in rich narrative. They are powerful symbols and reminders that we are still Advent people.

Advent reminds us that Christmas – that the birth of Messiah – is for a world still waiting in darkness, still waiting for justice, still waiting for healing. Advent tell us that Messiah isn’t just a cute baby born in a barn to poor parents. Advents tells us that Messiah is God’s answer to human darkness. God’s light sent to people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire, people living under the oppression of white privilege in Ferguson and Staten Island, people living in the systemic poverty imposed on the Indigenous people of Canada, women living under the constant threat of sexism, misogyny and sexual violence, people who practice a religion different than the empire’s being forced to celebrate holy-days that the White Christian Empire accuses them of taking away.

The symbols of Advent still draw me in just like they did as a kid. Even though I am the one putting on the blue stole, and reading the words of John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary. And even when I get crochety because Christmas music is playing in the malls in the middle of November and my Facebook feed is full of people worried that Christmas might lose Christ because someone wished them Happy Holidays, Advent reels me in.

Because I need Advent too.

I need Advent and its promise of a new world, its hope given to a world that feels hopeless too often and because of those four little lights that push away the darkness in order to make room – to make room for Messiah.

Messiah who is already here, but still on the way.

So do not be afraid.


What does Advent mean to you? How do you observe Advent? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

The Magic of Christmas is Gone – when a child dies

*Note: On December 16th, a 16th month old girl was killed in a car accident in our community. On December 21st, our congregation held the funeral. 

HolyInnocents-Atlanta-monkimage.php_Matthew 2:13–23

Today the magic is over. The real Holiday began on Boxing Day as thousands, even millions of people across Canada spent their time worshiping at the altars of Wal-Mart, Zellers, The Bay, Sears and more.

All that magic at Christmas, is as easily returned as a faulty watch or an unwanted pair of socks. Boxing Day, or Week, or whatever the tag line is, is a sobering reminder about how quickly the world forgets Christmas and moves on to more important things.

And the reality is, being out shopping seems a lot more normal than what we are doing here. In fact, we haven’t done anything in step with the rest of the world for quite a few weeks now.

All throughout December we decorated with blue instead of reds and green. We sang Advent hymns instead of Christmas carols. And on The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, we listened and watched as Christ was born in hotel room and visited by rejoicing Shepherds in the middle of the night. On Christmas morning, we sat down at a different meal, not turkey and mashed potatoes, but bread and wine, body and blood.

And this past week, when all the newspaper flyers and radio stations were telling us that we should be at the stores to get the big deals, we are here. We are here, listening and watching as the Holy Family escapes from real danger, and as all the other children in Bethlehem are massacred. The magic of Christmas is gone indeed.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents does not seem like an appropriate Christmas story. Or at least is isn’t a story that you can buy, wrap up and then return on boxing day. However, it does follow the real Christmas story right in step. Last Sunday, Joseph saved Mary by choosing not to stone her when he found out she was pregnant. During the week, the two traveled a long and rocky road to Bethlehem full of thieves and other perils only to then give birth in the place where animals are kept. And now, as the paranoid King Herod orders the murder of babies under the age of 2, Jesus, Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt. The drummer boy, and the reindeer, and a tree adorned with lights and tinsel are not, and never have been, a part of this story.

Side by side, Boxing week, and this scene in Jesus’ life show us a darker side of the holiday. They show us the side of greed and fear, sides of cruelty and despair. They suck all the Christmas magic out of us, and leave us empty once more. The Joy of Christmas was supposed to last a year, but it has barely stayed with us a few days.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem,  is not an easy story to hear. It is especially poignant this year as we had to burry an infant in our community. Our hearts ache hearing about the death of children, we know, somewhere deep inside of us, that this is unbearably sad. There is no need to compare it to the tragedies of human history that have followed since King Herod gave the order. We know what the slaughter of children was like for that town of Bethlehem, because it has not stopped. Children die each day, all over the world, of hunger, war, disease and poverty. This is not just Bethlehem or Selkirk in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah. Jeremiah speaks of grief for us all:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s words first expressed the grief of his people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. Then people of Bethlehem would have know the book of Jeremiah, and the story of the exile. But now they carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. And we know the stories of exile and the story of the Holy Innocents, but this year they carry new meaning as they are stamped upon our hearts. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The darkness, that the Messiah was supposed to shine light into, appears to have returned.

Yet….

Yet….

Yet… Jeremiah’s words do not go unheard. The weeping of Rachel and of all the mothers of Israel is not ignored. God speaks to this suffering. God speaks to the people that Jeremiah first wrote to, God speaks to the mothers of Bethlehem and God speaks to us, to all who know tragedy, pain and loss. We hear the words of Jeremiah applied to massacre of the Holy Innocents, and applied to our tragedy. But Jeremiah doesn’t end with tragedy. Matthew only quotes tragedy, but the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem would have know what follows in the book of Jeremiah. And today, we hear this promise again:

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,

and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:

they shall come back from the land of the enemy;

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

your children shall come back to their own country.

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

God has not forgotten the cries of his people, and God’s messiah, Christ has come into the world for a purpose.

The newborn Messiah does not “escape” to Egypt. Instead, the Messiah travels the path of his people. The Messiah goes down the roads that the Israelites have traveled, so that God knows their suffering.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and then back to the promised land.

And just as the exiles of Jeremiah’s day returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the Messiah is also on his way to Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon are just the beginning of the Messiah’s journey. Jesus the Messiah is preparing to take on all the suffering of his people.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is really only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  Make no mistake, the destination of Messiah, from the moment he was laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah has been on his to the land of the dead this whole time.

And surprisingly, this is the hope, this is the promise that the Lord speaks to the people of Israel. This is the promise that is beneath the star, that is born into the stable, that is a little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise that is not just a baby, but a baby who will die. But not just die, but who will rise again. But who will not just rise again, but who will bring us back from the land of the enemy, who will call us to rise from our graves too…

There will be a lot of Christmas promises that are returned and exchanged for something else this week. There will be a lot of greed and darkness, that quickly returns into the world after what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And beyond our shopping malls and box stores, there will still be guns fired, hungry children, disaster, epidemic and suffering.

And it is in to this troubled world that God come to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness and bringing the one Christmas promise that cannot be returned or exchanged.

17 there is hope for your future, 

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

Christ, the Baby Messiah, born in stable, sleeping in a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos of the shopping malls, from the despair of grief and loss, from tombs where we do not belong. And Christ shall bring us back to our home, back to the love God.

This is is the promise of Christ’s coming. This is the hope that the angels proclaimed. This is the Good News of great joy that was given to the Shepherds, and that has been passed on to us this day.

Amen

 

A Story for Christmas – Part 2

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Hall Xmas crop_0_0Marlena thought about how she had wound up here. She, her husband Jim,  and her kids, David and Lizzie, were waking up in a road-side motor inn. They had been snowed in the day before when a storm had hit. They had been driving across the wintery prairies, towards her parent’s house in the next province over. Her parents were getting older and no longer able to make the trip to them for Christmas, so Marlena decided to bring Christmas to her parents. This had caused undue stress. She had been working furiously hard ahead of time. Buying presents, baking goodies, she even had the groceries for Christmas dinner in the middle seat of the van, between her and the kids. Marlena was full of anxiety this Christmas. She wanted everything to be perfect, she wanted everyone to have a wonderful time. So far there had been more grumpy moods and fights than wonderful times.

Last night they had experienced something incredible. The hotel was full of stranded travellers, and Jim and Marlena invited a young couple, Jesse and Miriam, to share their room with them because there were no vacancy. Miriam had been very pregnant and went into labour. She gave birth in the middle of night, to a baby boy, Christopher. The EMTs, led by John Shepherd, had finally made it to the hotel, but baby and mom were fine and recovering well, so they stayed at the hotel instead of braving the snowy roads to the hospital. That had been last night.

By mid-morning, David and Lizzie, Marlena and Jim’s kids, were up and as restless as ever. They were fighting again, Jim was disengaged like he had been all month. The wonder and joy of last night, had faded only to be replaced by the frazzled feeling Marlena had been experiencing all month. She was snapping at her kids ageing they misbehaved, and she had threatened to take away Christmas 3 times this morning, because it was the only thing that got them to behave.

Marlena, Jim, David and Lizzie moped around the hotel all morning, and by lunch they found themselves in the dining rooms, grumpily waiting for the storm to end. As the other hotel guests waited out the storm, they began to congregate in the dinning room too. However, the kitchen staff had long gone home to spend Christmas with their families. There were several tired and hungry travellers munching on chocolate bars and soup crackers from the vending machine. Many kids were running around wild, while parents sat impatiently looking out the window, hoping the storm would let up.

It was when Marlena’s stomach began to growl, that she remembered she had brought groceries for their Christmas trip with her! Before she had really thought it through, she stood up and announced to the whole dinning room,

“I have groceries going to waste in my room. I am going to cook Christmas dinner, you are welcome to eat with us”.

Marlena was shocked with herself. The whole room had gone silent and all she was getting in return was shocked looks from the sullen crowd… after what felt like hours, but was only a few awkward seconds, a voice from the back of the room said, “I will help, I have some food with me too”. And then all of a sudden 8 more people volunteered and off they went to front desk to get permission to use the kitchen. The hotel clerk wasn’t sure about the idea at first, but realizing that he may have a riot of hungry snowed in travellers on his hands, he agreed to allow them use of the kitchen.

The group cooked and baked all afternoon, the hotel’s stranded guests changed from being a group of weary people, to a group with purpose. They were going to make something of this day now, and they were going to do it together.

In a few hours, the dinning room had been transformed into a grand dinning hall. All the tables had been moved into one big table with over 100 chairs. There was homemade wreaths on the walls, and even one of the front lobby shrubs had been made into a Christmas tree, complete with toilet roll angel on top.

The hotel guests were all gathered around the table. David and Lizzie were sitting with Jesse, Miriam and baby Christopher. They were mesmerized by the new born, and they hovered around Miriam wanting to get a closer peak, or to let the newborn baby grab at their fingers.  Jim was floating around the room with a huge grin on his face, he had taken on the role of head waiter and was directing his group of volunteers as to where to place each dish that came out of the kitchen. All around the table, people were laughing, some were singing Christmas carols, others were telling stories of Christmases past. Even the front desk clerk had joined the table and was right in to the celebration.

Finally when the table was covered in food and everyone was ready to eat, Marlena stood up to commence the meal. She thought about praying, but she wasn’t sure if everyone would appreciate that, so instead she made a short speech.

“You never know what to expect from life, all your plans for the holidays can be thrown out the window by a little snow. But at least we won’t starve tonight and at least we won’t be kept from celebrating Christmas. So without further ado, let us..”

“Excuse me” said a voice from somewhere in the crowd. “But where I come from, its customary to read from the Christmas Gospel on Christmas Eve, so if you would permit me”. It was a little old man, and he was wearing a black shirt with a little white square at the front of the collar. Marlena nodded absently and sat down.

It was an old priest who had spoken and he pulled a bible out of his coat pocket and began to read.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

As Marlena listened to the poetic words of the Christmas story as told by John, she looked around the room. As she looked at unfamiliar faces, young and old, singles, couples and families, the familiar words took on new meaning. This Christmas was far from perfect. There was a feast on the table, but it was hardly the traditional Christmas meal. It had almost every kind of food you could imagine from turkey to pizza to curry. Gathered around the table was a group of complete strangers, not the usual family. But there was a Christmas miracle baby, and his parents, there was an inn with no more rooms. There had been guardian angels protecting the travellers, and even an Shepherd come to see the new baby. Marlena could sense that this rag tag group, was together for something bigger than they could imagine. All of them were stuck in a hotel on the side of the road during the holidays. This Christmas was far from perfect, yet it had become something special.

As Marlena saw her kids happy for the first time in weeks, her husband smiling and engaging the world around him, she felt at peace. No… this Christmas was not the perfect one she had imagined and worked so hard for, but neither were they the perfect family, perfect people needed to make Christmas perfect. Christmas was about God becoming flesh and joining with the imperfect. As she scanned the intent faces also listening to the Christmas Gospel, she realized that it was for these imperfect people and it was for imperfect her, that Christ the Lord was born in a manger. And Christ was here in the flesh, in the faces of those sitting around the table with her, family, friends, but mostly strangers, young and old.

The old priest read the last verse of the Gospel reading,

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us”.

When he finished, Marlena, along with many others around the table couldn’t help but say:

Amen.

For Part 1, see here: A Story For Christmas – Part 1