Thoughts and Stories for Christmas
How can it possibly be time for Christmas preparations ? It seems only yesterday that we were planning our summer holidays and now we are looking forward to Christmas. Or are we? How often, when you mention Christmas to people, do they just groan and moan about how much there is to do - shopping for presents, putting up decorations, preparing food, and so on? .
Christmas has become a chore because we put so much pressure on ourselves, and in the process we have lost the anticipation and wonder of waiting for the arrival of the Christ child. We rush around the shops trying to buy better presents than we did last year and undoubtedly many people put themselves deep into debt because they feel they must keep up with those around them. Have we lost the meaning at the heart of Christmas giving? Maybe, so let me tell you the story of the littlest shepherd
On the night the angels came to tell the shepherds about the birth of the baby king the littlest shepherd was there too. He went with the others to Bethlehem to see the baby, but as they walked he trailed behind them, not because he was tired although his little legs did ache with the effort of keeping up, but because he had no gift to give the baby. The three wise men had their gold, frankincense and myrrh. The other shepherds had gifts of woolen cloaks. But the littlest shepherd had nothing.
When they reached the stable he wanted to hide, but one of the angels gave him a gentle push into the stable. What was he going to do? He reached into the small leather pouch he carried and touched something. It was his little spinning top, but surely that wasn't good enough to give to the baby king? But then he remembered how he often set it spinning to make his little baby brother laugh, so he took it out, put it on the manger's edge and with a flick of his wrist set it spinning. There was a gasp from all round the stable. The three wise men shook their heads. "Not a proper gift," they said.
Joseph, the baby's father, tutted in disapproval. The shepherds agreed. "Take that dirty thing away!" But then the baby reached out his tiny hand and touched the top, which made it spin even faster. "A miracle," thought the littlest shepherd. Then in the silence that fell over the stable, Mary, the baby's mother, spoke. "You have each brought fine gifts fit for a king and we thank you. But see - only the child has brought a gift fit for a child".
As the present-buying stress increases as we get nearer Christmas, let us all remember the story of the littlest shepherd.
Another pressure many people put on themselves at Christmas is to have a perfect house - everything clean, sparkling and perhaps even freshly decorated. Listen to this salutary tale from Russia of Baboushka.
She was an old woman who lived alone and kept herself busy all day cleaning her house. One morning as she was sweeping her steps after a great fall of snow she saw three riders approaching. She knew they had to be kings because they wore crowns of gold and silver, although she did not know what the strange animals were that they rode - larger than horses with an odd hump on their backs.
To cut a long story short, the kings asked to stay with Baboushka and sleep during the day because at night they followed a star which was going to lead them to a newborn king. When it came time for the kings to leave they said to Baboushka "Come with us to see the baby king". But Baboushka shook her head. "I must sweep up first. I cannot leave my house in such a state".
The kings looked sad as they told her they must go without her because they followed a star and did not know how long the star might shine. So Baboushka shooed them out on their way like a mother hen with her chicks. Then she set to and cleaned her house from top to bottom. When she finished she was exhausted so she fell fast asleep. When she awoke snow had fallen and covered the tracks of the three kings. Baboushka thought it must have been a dream, but as the days passed she thought more and more about the baby king and the more she wondered about him the more she wanted to find him.
So, one day she cleaned her house for the last time, locked the door and set off to search for the baby king. Every baby she saw she peered into the cradle asking "Are you the One?" In every cradle and in every child's bed she dropped a little gift - just in case it was Him. She is still looking.
As we prepare for Christmas let us not be so busy with our preparations that we miss the one for whom we are preparing! Remember the words of the final verse of "In the Bleak Mid-winter":
May you be richly blest with love this Christmas.
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