For more than a quarter of a century, I have written an original short story each Christmas season in an effort to express the deep and eternal meaning of the incarnation in terms that are accessible to those in the room for a candlelight service. Many of these stories have been published in a volume entitled I Will Hold My Candle and Other Stories for Christmas. Information about purchasing these stories can be found by clicking here. This year, I tried to write a story that would make sense to the entire congregation but use a couple of characters that I’d invented to help my four year old granddaughter deal with some of the joys and concerns of growing up, becoming a big sister, and dealing with things that make us nervous. Our text included the well-known account from Luke 2:1-20. I hope you enjoy it!
To hear the story as told in worship, please use the audio player below.
This is the story of a brave, strong, kind, child whose name was Rain. Like all children, Rain enjoyed many things: she liked fishing, and cooking, and taking walks to look for special things outside. But among Rain’s most favorite things in the whole world were the times when she got to climb into her Grampy’s lap and listen to his stories. They didn’t get to do that often, but whenever they were together, it was something that they shared.
Tonight was a special night, because Grampy had promised to tell Rain one of the most important stories ever – the story about the night that baby Jesus was born.
They had a book with some pictures, and there was a pretend stable with a little manger that was sitting on the table, and Rain looked at these things while Grampy talked about the man whose name was Caesar Augustus who made a rule that everyone had to go on a special trip just to pay some money and sign their names.
Rain interrupted. “But Grampy”, she said, “Why would he do that? That just seems really mean – especially to Joseph and Mary.”
Rain had been with her own momma and daddy when her little sister was born, and she knew that it was hard work being pregnant and helping to take care of someone who was pregnant. She went on to say, “If it was me, I wouldn’t have done it. I’d have just looked at old Caesar and said, ‘Hey, buddy – we’re too busy to travel now. Sorry, Pal.”
Grampy laughed at this, and then said, “Well, sometimes even mommas and daddies have to do things that are hard. But one of the things I’ve learned is that God always sends helpers. No matter where you are, God will always send helpers.”
Rain frowned and said, “Well, it sure doesn’t look like that now. I tell you what, Grampy. I’m going to keep an eye on God.”
“That’s a really good idea,” responded Grampy.
They got to the part of the story where Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, but couldn’t find anywhere to stay for the night. Once again, Rain burst into the story:
“But where are the helpers now, Grampy? Mary is going to need someone – and the only person in the story is a mean old innkeeper who wouldn’t even let them stay!”
Rain had a barn at her house, and it was a real mess – filled with bugs and snakes and bees. She would never ask anyone to sleep there!
Grampy helped Rain to see that maybe not all barns were like her barn, and maybe since the house was already full, a clean, warm, dry barn would be better than nothing.
“And,” Grampy said, “maybe a group of women came out of the house and helped Mary. The story doesn’t say that she was all alone.”
“Well,” Rain said, “If I was there, I would have waited with Mary. I would have helped her.”
Grampy went on with the story, and he got to the place where the shepherds came to visit the little family.
Rain didn’t know much about sheep, but she knew a lot about goats. She looked at her Grampy and her face squinted a little bit, and she said, “Wait – the shepherds came on the night Jesus was born? Weren’t they muddy and dirty from being outside with the animals all the time?”
Grampy smiled and said, “Oh, sweetheart, I’m sure that they were very dirty. But God wanted to include them in this special night.”
Rain thought about it for a while, and she asked a great question. “Did the shepherds come to help with the baby?”
“No,” her Grampy said. “They didn’t really come to help. They came to celebrate the fact that Jesus was born, and to say ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus.’ And maybe, in some way, the shepherds saw that Jesus’ birth was a reminder of the fact that God had promised to send them help in their lives.”
Now, this just sounded foolish to Rain. She had a new baby in her family, and she knew that babies could be great in some ways, but she also knew that mostly, babies are loud, and messy, and not really very helpful to anyone. Ever. So Rain asked her Grampy another very good question. She said, “Grampy, how can a baby ever help anyone?”
Grampy held little Rain very tightly in his arms and said, “Oh, Rain. You will know more about this when you get to be a little older, but any baby – and especially baby Jesus – can always be a reminder of how good life is supposed to be, and what special gifts God gives to each one of us.”
“Think about it,” Grampy went on, “This group of shepherds was probably pretty poor, and they were often lonely. Most of the people in their world didn’t pay any attention to shepherds – they didn’t want to be friends with them, they thought that shepherds were not as good as they were… Maybe the shepherds could have felt as though God had forgotten about them, and that God’s promises of help didn’t include them.”
“But then all of a sudden, on that special night, what happened to the shepherds?”
Rain knew the answer to that question! “The angels came, and sang just for them, and then sent them to see baby Jesus.”
Grampy asked Rain, “How do you think that the shepherds felt when the angels were there? Do you think that they thought that God had forgotten about them?”
“Of course not!”, Rain replied. “There were angels, singing in the sky, telling them to go and visit the baby! God did not forget the shepherds.”
“So then listen, Rain, because this is important: before Jesus ever grew up, before Jesus did any miracles, or healed anyone, or forgave anyone… before the baby Jesus even knew how to stand up by himself or say his own name, he was already a reminder to people who felt poor and alone and forgotten. Before Jesus could say anything with his own mouth, God used the baby Jesus to remind people that God keeps his promises and that his help will always find a way to reach us.”
That seemed to get Rain thinking for a little bit, and the room got quiet for a while. Grampy was looking at the lights on the Christmas tree, and then he looked out the window and saw that it was snowing again, and then he started thinking about the fact that pretty soon he would have to get out of that nice soft chair and start to shovel the walks again.
And while Grampy was thinking all of these big and important and grown-up thoughts, Rain was just sitting in his lap, turning the pages in the picture bible they were holding.
After a minute, Rain stopped looking at the pictures and looked at her grandfather. She thought he was very special, but she had an important question for him.
“Grampy,” she said, “do you know how to do miracles?”
“What?” He wasn’t sure that he heard the question right.
“Grampy, you know, like in the Bible stories. Jesus cured people who were sick, and he walked on water, and one time he even fed a giant crowd with only a few loaves of bread and a little bit of fish. Can you do any of those things?”
Now it was Grampy’s turn to be quiet. Finally, after a few moments, he said, “No, Rain, I don’t suppose that I can do any of those things.”
Rain nodded, and held her Grampy’s hand, and said, “That’s all right. I don’t think that I can do any of those things either.”
“Well,” said Grampy, “what do you think we can do?”
Rain said, “Look, I’m not a baby any more, and I can’t do miracles. So I can’t act like the baby Jesus, and I can’t act like the grown up Jesus. So I guess the best way for me to be like Jesus this Christmas is to try to do that reminding thing. You know, you said that this story is about how God always sends helpers. Do you think that you and me could be the helpers? I want to be a helper and a reminder.”
And so that’s what they did. They got up from the chair, and Grampy decided that he did have to go outside and shovel. But Rain came along with him, and she helped. And then they went across the street and shoveled the snow away from two other houses.
When they came inside, it was time to do arts and crafts. Instead of just making projects to hang on her own refrigerator, Rain decided that she would make some special cards for people in the hospital who might be feeling alone at Christmas time. Grampy even helped her put them in some envelopes.
Late that night, Grampy was tucking Rain into bed, and he asked, “Well, Rain… was it a good Christmas?”
She said that it was, but then she added, “But I have a a question.”
“What is it?”
“I know that now, Christmas is over. But I still want to be one of the helpers. I still want to be one of the people who reminds other people that God promises to be with them when they feel sad or alone or hurt.”
Grampy bent down and he kissed the little girl right on both cheeks. It looked like he might have been crying a little bit, but Rain wasn’t sure about that. Then he said, “Rain, that is the best answer ever. If we only do helping for a day or two, then we’re not really acting like Jesus, are we? Let’s try to do it every day, all year through.”
And so, that’s the plan. To work, in whatever way an old man and a little girl can, to be in on the helping thing that God is doing in the world.
There’s room for more of that, you know. Thanks be to the God who not only promises us help, but who sends us into the helping. Amen.
After the story was finished, we lit the candles and sang “Silent Night”, and I shared a meditation entitled “First Coming” written by Madeleine L’Engle.
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he cameto a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!