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We’ve all read and heard these Bible verses about the shepherds before, taught by pastors and Sunday School teachers at Christmas time. We can even hear these verses on TV each year if we watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Charlie Brown spends the show as so many people do today, looking in all the wrong places for the true meaning of Christmas. He thinks that maybe it’s putting on a Christmas play, or finding just the right tree to decorate. But the other kids all argue over the details of the play, and call him “stupid” for the scrawny little tree he buys. In the end, his friend Linus tells Charlie brown the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the Bible verses about the shepherds, and about Jesus’ birth.
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Many years ago I went to see a theatrical production called Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical about the life of Jesus with an Appalachian, country-western twist. It was based on Clarence Jordan’s paraphrase of the New Testament, by the same name. It tries to tell the story of Jesus as if he has been born in Georgia in the 1950’s. The lyrics and music were written and composed by the late Harry Chapin. I wish I could play one of the songs for you, for it is both gripping and haunting.
It begins with Herod’s men singing:
All through the ages, the wise men and sages,
have said there are dirty deeds that simply must be done.
To keep society going, and the benefits flowing,
there’s the simple necessity of hurting someone.
It means strength and agility, taking responsibility,
it’s the core of what leadership’s really about.
When the red blood starts coming, just think of it as plumbing, if you’ve got a problem you must flush it out.
Then the narrator comes in and tells this story: Herod had seen to it that on Sunday morning a bomb got tossed into the nursery of a church where Jesus was supposed to be. Fortunately, Joe had taken Jesus to Mexico, so the plan failed to get him. But the explosion did kill 14 innocent infants and toddlers. It was a horrible sight that morning. The doctor couldn’t even convince one mother that her child was dead. And then the mother sings her song:
Rock a by sweet baby, Mama is here
Hush a by sweet angel, there’s nothing to fear
Close your eyes sweet darling, all through the night
Mama will hold you safe ‘til the morning light.
Jackie Chan movie. This man is very innovative in the way that he makes fight scenes. Instead of just using normal karate chops and the like, he will use common every day items and create unbelievable fight scenes with them. In one scene, he fights off dozens of men with a common every day step ladder. I suppose some would be unimpressed with his action scenes. But when I saw that, I couldn’t believe how he orchestrated the action. In a sense, that’s what’s so amazing about God! But a hundred times more! He creates salvation through the birth of a boy - something that we see every day. He decides to save the world and bring life - through all things - an instrument of death - a cross! You would expect God - a powerful God - to use power to save the world. You would expect God to try and impress us with powerful miracles to convert us. But instead, He uses weakness! He uses the staff of His Word! With this simple tool - words - God converts us! He gets us to put our hands over our mouths - crawl on our knees before Him - and turn in fear to HIM for forgiveness. When we see God take us out of this sinful world and plant us into HIS kingdom - it brings us out of our dens of self righteousness and into the light of his SON! That’s exciting! If that doesn’t at least bring some joy to your heart - you’d best pinch yourself - because you must be dead!
IT CAME WITHOUT PACKAGES, BOXES, OR BAGS
"Fa-who-for-ay; da-who-dor-ay; welcome, Christmas,
come this way; Fa-who-for-ay; da-who-dor-ay;
welcome, Christmas, Christmas day."
They continue, singing,
"Christmas day is in our grasp
so long as we have hands to clasp."
The Grinch can hardly believe his ears.
He begins to get furious, but then something happens.
He suddenly puzzles how Christmas came.
"It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes, or bags."
Suddenly the Grinch realizes that Christmas
is about more than presents, or decorations,
or a feast.
He has a thought he’...
This story never held much attraction for me until I saw it recreated a number of years ago on a television mini-series entitled, “Jesus of Nazareth.” The whole series, I thought, was a particularly authentic portrayal of the life of Jesus, but seeing the account of the slaughter of the innocents acted out on the screen was especially gripping and moving. The worried look on the face of Herod when he thought his rule as king would soon be over. His ordering of the massacre in a desperate attempt to secure his position. The calmness of life in a small Judean village, the rumble of hoofbeats from the approaching soldiers, the screams of mothers running for cover with their children, the soldiers spearing and stabbing infants as they carried out their orders, mothers left weeping in...
Have you seen the movie Antwone Fisher? It’s the true story of a young man abandoned at birth by his mother and then raised in abusive orphanages, foster homes, and reform schools. Denzel Washington adapted the story into a movie that was released a few years ago. After his 18th birthday, Antwone Fisher joins the navy where his anger towards life brims to the surface. After several fights, he is ordered to undergo counseling. Psychologist Jerome Davenport (Denzel Washington) encourages Antwone to find his family to begin healing. After several phone calls he reaches one aunt and uncle in Cleveland, who escort him to a dilapidated apartment complex where his estranged mother lives. A suspicious and aloof woman answers the door. Upon realizing that Antwone is the child she gave up at birth, she retreats to another room and sits down on a soiled and worn couch and cries silently.
Antwone asks for some explanation as to why she never came to rescue him or why she never sought him out. She cannot answer. She simply stares ahead, not daring to look at him, tears rolling down her expressionless face. He gently kisses her on the cheek as if to say, "I forgive you," and walks away devastated and feeling helpless and alone. His mother remains on the couch and stares at nothing, making no effort to respond. A despondent Antwone Fisher leaves the apartment with his questions unanswered and rides back to his aunt’s house with his uncle.
As he exits the car, his slow gait betrays the loneliness of a man with no hope of a meaningful connection to anyone. As Antwone enters the front door, however, his world changes. He is met with a chorus of cheers from 50 plus relatives, all waiting to meet Antwone for the first time. There are children, couples, cousins, uncles, and family friends, all smothering him with hugs, slaps on the back, and beaming smiles. One cousin tells him his name is Edward and says, "I’m named after your dad," and an older aunt squeezes his cheeks. Antwone takes it all in, overwhelmed.
The hallway stairs are filled with kids holding up signs with his name scribbled next to crayola-sketched smiley faces and rainbows. He is then led into the next room where a grand feast is spread across a long table. The table is overflowing with chicken, mashed potatoes, pancakes, fruit salad, and every other possible dish. The room is prepared for a party. For the first time in his life, he is being adored. For the first time, he belongs.
As the clamor quiets, an elderly woman sitting behind the table knocks to get Antwone’s atte...