the pastor's story file
a resource file for pastors/ teachers/speakers
THEME: Christmas Number 26 (Volume 3, Number 2) — December / 1986
A CHRISTMAS REALIST A little boy paid a visit to Santa in the department store and presented him with a list of requests: a bicycle, a train, a bat and ball, a rocket set, and an airplane.
Santa was impressed. He said, "Thanks for the list. I'll check between now and Christmas to see whether or not you've been a good boy."
The little boy reached over to take the list back and said, "Never mind, I'll settle for the bicycle."
GOD STOOPS TO US The depths of shame to which Jesus stooped was thrust quite suddenly upon the consciousness of a missionary held captive by the Chinese Communists. In his book, When Iron Gates Yield, Geoffrey T. Bull writes:
After a meal, and when it was already dark, it was necessary for me to go downstairs to give more hay to the horses. Chien permitted my going and I clambered down the notched tree trunk to the lower floor, which was given over in the usual manner to stabling. Below, it was absolutely pitch black. My boots squelched in the manure and straw on the floor, and the fetid smell of the animals was nauseating. I felt my way among the mules and horses, expecting to be kicked at any moment. What a place, I thought.
Then, as I continued to grope my way in the darkness toward the gray, it suddenly flashed into my mind, 'What's today?' I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Then it came to me, "It's Christmas Eve." I stood still, suddenly still, in that oriental manger. To think that my Saviour was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from Heaven to some wretched eastern stable and, what is more, to think that He came for me. How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts, and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues. God forgive us.
"Love to the uttermost, love to the uttermost,
Love past all measuring His love must be; From Heaven's highest glory to earth's deepest shame,
This is the love of my Saviour to me." Submitted by C. James Pasma, Baptist Church, North Syracuse, New York.
DICKENS ON CHRISTMAS I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round...as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore. :. though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!
Charles Dickens, as reported in Ideals.
MUCH MORE . . . 'Twas much, that man was made like God before. But, that God should be made like man, much more.
John Donne, submitted by C. James Pasma.
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 2 /26.2
A LETTER TO SANTA Dear Santa Claus: You'll probably be surprised to receive this letter from an adult. You may be even more surprised as you read it to find that the writer is neither a maiden aunt nor a disgruntled bachelor. I'm a young mother.
It isn't my intention, Santa, to hurt your feelings. You see, my family has paid tribute to you for many past Christmases: my husband and I, when we were in our childhood, and now our children who are 6, 4 and 1. They still care for you. How much they care has really proved a problem in recent years. It is threatening to happen again this holiday season.
Our children worship you. They speak of you constantly. They watch diligently for your December 25 appearance. Can you tell us, Santa, what you have done to deserve this faithfulness from two generations? Can you promise any future consideration in exchange for past loyalties?
During a family crisis, have you ever told us, "Lo, I am with you always?" Were you ever with us during sorrow to comfort us with this words: "But your sorrow will be turned into joy"? And, Santa, there have been doubtful times. Where were you? We didn't hear from you the calming message, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."
We have come to the conclusion that you have been even less than a friend should be. And we have been short changed. My three children have stood in a windy, cold Main Street just to get a glimpse of your jolly face. They have written heartfelt yearly letters. They have gone to department stores to whisper in your ear. They have worked hard at being good in anticipation of your Christmas Eve visit. Yes, they've done all this — as their father and I did before them.
But there's going to be a change this Christmas. There isn't going to be any Santa Claus worship in our home. We've decided to focus our attention and adoration on another Being — One who has stood by us the other 364 days this past year; One who has comforted us during the sorrowful and doubtful times — and, yes, the times of crisis also.
It's true that your name will probably be mentioned around our house, Santa. Old habits are hard to break abruptly. But Someone Else's name will be mentioned much more often. The children will probably work just as hard at being good, but I hope they will do it for another inducement — one that will last the whole year long — to bring glory to Another's name. That other One has given us so much more — and not just on Christmas Eve!
You may call our family fickle, Santa, but we won't mind. On this December 25, and all through the coming year, we want a Comforter, a Healer, a strengthening King. We don't want a myth any longer.
You see, our Christmas thoughts will revolve around a manger and a tiny Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. We've talked it over. This year we've decided to give tribute, honor, and worship to Someone who really deserves them — to the True Giver — our God and Saviour. Farewell, A Young Mother.
By Ann Lamp, The Greenville News, December, 1972. Submitted by Bruce Rowlison,
Presbyterian Church, Gilroy, California.
The Pastor's Story File (Copyright 1986) (ISSN 0882-3545) (USPS 738-650) is published monthly for $24.95 per year by Saratoga Press, 14200 Victor Place, Saratoga, California 95070. Second-Class Postage paid at Saratoga, California. Postmaster: Send address changes to THE PASTOR'S STORY FILE, c/o Saratoga Press, 14200 Victor Place, Saratoga, California 95070. To foreign countries — subscription rate is $30.95 in US$ or currency of equivalent value. Phone: (408) 867-4211
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 3 /26.3
ANOTHER VIEW OF SANTA No Santa Claus! Thank God, he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
From the conclusion of Francis P. Church's famous editorial, "Is There a Santa
HOME FOR CHRISTMAS Orville and Wilbur Wright had tried repeatedly to fly a heavier-than-air craft. Finally one December day, off the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, they did what man had never done before. They actually flew! Elated, they wired their sister Katherine. "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas."
Hastily she ran down the street, shoved the telegram — the news scoop of the century — at the city editor of the local paper. He read it carefully and smiled, "Well, Well! How nice the boys will be home for Christmas."
Maxwell Droke, as reported in Paul Lee Tan's Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations,
THE MIRACLE OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH The grounds for belief and disbelief are the same today as they were two thousand or ten thousand — years ago. If Joseph had lacked faith to trust God or humility to perceive the holiness of his spouse, he could have disbelieved in the miraculous origin of her Son as Easily as any modern man; and any modern man who believes in God can accept the miracle as easily as Joseph did.
C. S. Lewis, submitted by C. James Pasma, Baptist Church, North Syracuse, New
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR CHRISTMAS
I. Thou shalt not leave Christ out of Christmas, making it 'Xmas' for this is the
sign that thou art lazy-minded, and spiritually listless. To most minds 'X' stands
not for Christ, but for the algebraic unknown.
II. Thou shalt not value thy gifts by their cost, for verily many shall signify love
that is more blessed and beautiful than silver and gold.
III. Thou shalt give thyself with thy gifts. Thy love and thy service shall increase
the value of thy gift a hundredfold, and he that receiveth it shall treasure it.
IV. Thou shalt not let Santa Claus take the place of Jesus Christ. In many homes,
Santa Claus supercedes the Christ Child and Christmas becomes a mere fairy tale.
V. Thou shalt not burden thy servant. The shop girl, the servant and the merchant
should have consideration.
VI. Thou shalt not neglect the church. Its Christmas services are planned to help
spiritualize the Holy Christmas season for thee, thy child and thy household. The
Church represents Jesus Christ, the only true defense against rising evils.
VII. Thou shalt not neglect the needy. Let thy bountiful blessings be shared with the
many who will go hungry and shiver with cold unless thou art generous in their time of
VIII. Thou shalt be as a little child. Christmas is the day of the Christ Child.
Not until thou hast become in spirit even as a little child art thou ready to enter
into the Kingdom of Heaven.
IX. Thou shalt prepare thy soul for Christmas. For verily most of us spend much time
and money getting gifts ready, but few seconds in preparing our souls to meet Christ.
X. Thou shalt give thy heart to Christ. Let thy Christmas list have Christ at the top
and thy heart as the gift for in so doing thou art as the Wise Men of old, and verily
thou shalt find thyself born again on Christmas Day.
From the Diocese of Athabasca, Canada, as printed in The Evangel, published by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Saratoga, California.
CHRISTMAS ALL YEAR A good conscience is a continual Christmas. Benjamin Franklin
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 4 /26.4
A CHILD'S UNDERSTANDING OF CHRISTMAS This past Christmas my 4-year-old had made up his own version of the second verse of "Away In A Manger." Most people sing "The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes ..." But my son misunderstood and was singing: "The catalog knowing, the baby awakes ..." With the commercialism and all the catalogs that appear at Christmas time, I didn't think that his paraphrase was so far off, for some!
Daniel Myers, Peace Lutheran Church, McCook, Nebraska.
THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT — MODERN VERSION It was the Christmas season a few years ago and Lou, the barber of the writer, showed the stuff of heroism. Though he is well past 50, he is in excellent physical shape because of year-round surfing and innumerable vitamin pills.
Lou had been Christmas shopping in downtown Los Angeles, hoping to buy a lovely wristwatch for his wife, but he found nothing which was both elegant and inexpensive. After shopping around for an hour or so, he turned homeward about 6:00 p.m. As he was walking past a darkly lit alley, he heard a woman scream. The other people ignored the cries, but Lou didn't. He looked down the alley and beneath the dim light of a single bulb made out the figure of a woman sitting on the ground; the man beside her was waving his arms excitedly. A dark figure raced away from the scene toward Spring Street.
Lou figured it was robbery, with the thief trying to escape. He reasoned he could run toward Spring Street, and maybe intercept the culprit. Sure enough, the suspect dashed past him as he got to the corner. The two men ran for several blocks, dodging pedestrians and traffic, but no one responded to his cries for help. He lost his quarry somewhere on Broadway. Lou continued to search among the crowd, and was about to give up when he spotted the man at the ticket window of a movie theater. Lou got the attention of a passing patrol car, and a few minutes later a platoon of police netted the theater and found the robber. A search of the person yielded $500 in currency and a .38 caliber revolver.
Lou and the police returned to the scene of the crime, where the victims were telling their story to other police. The woman, crying uncontrollably, was bleeding from a head wound. The man, her husband, was lamenting the wickedness of our time. It turned out they were jewelry merchants who had finished a day's work, stopped at a local bar for a cocktail, and then entered the alley to get in their car with the cash proceeds of the day. The robber seized it.
Having told their story and identified the thief, the group headed down to headquarters to book the man, and go through hours of questioning and reporting. They finished at 11:00 p.m. when the couple left in their Cadillac limousine. But the process was not without its brighter side. The jeweler told Lou that if he came by the next day there would be something for him.
When Lou arrived four days later, the jeweler told him to pick out anything he liked. Lou told him about the watch he wanted. Trays of watches were spread on the counter, and Lou chose an inexpensive model. This the jeweler could afford to give. Silently, the jeweler returned the other watches to the case, smiled, and said, "Good, I'll give it to you wholesale." Lou turned on his heel, and left.
From a report in The Los Angeles Times, December 14, 1975 by attorney Sidney Troxell. Submitted by Milton Weisshaar, Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church, Montrose, California. [Editorial note: The only problem I have with this story is how a downtown jeweler in L.A. could only take in $500.00 for receipts during the Christmas season — and still be able to drive a Cadillac limousine. JSH]
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 5 /26.5
PICKING THE CHRISTMAS TREE It was a crisp, sunny afternoon in late November, and we were searching for a tree at the Christmas tree farm. We always relish the task, as members of the family comb the farm for the perfect tree. (Not too tall, not too thin, just the right shape, and, of course, a straight trunk!) As we were looking, we came upon the Marshes, dear friends of ours from church. I remarked, "This place is filled with beautiful trees! It is going to be hard to pick one!"
Jeanine Marsh replied, "Not for me. I never look for perfect trees! I'm looking for a tree that needs me! Then I'll make it beautiful!"
It struck me at that moment that when it comes to picking disciples, God is just the same. Thoughts of Peter and John, and yes, even the sorry likes of me, made me realize that God doesn't seek perfection in deciding who can carry out his work. He's looking instead for folks who need him! And when we realize this, then God can make something beautiful of our lives!
Todd Jones, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina.
GOOD NEWS The message of the angels to the shepherds was that there was Good News! We like good news. We certainly don't like bad news. A father came home from a very rugged day at work and said to his wife, "I've had a bad day. Please! If you have any bad news tonight, keep it to yourself." To which she replied, "O.K. No bad news. Now for the Good News. Remember our four children? Well, three of them didn't break an arm today."
Adapted from a sermon in The Giant Book of Sunday Sermons (Voicings
Publications, Pleasantville, New Jersey, 1984), page 508.
SYMBOLS OF THE GREATER GIFT At a Christmas celebration in a nursing home, I asked the folks to tell us about their favorite Christmas experience. The group seemed to light up. Spontaneously one by one they told their Christmas story. Each was different except in one respect. Every experience was taken from their childhood. They did not remember Christmas as a parent, but as a child.
Then I turned the question on myself. I, too, returned to my childhood. The first, and perhaps most memorable, experience I recalled took place when I was seven years old. Early Christmas Eve, my mother took my brother and me out for a treat. It was her way to get us out of our fifth floor apartment in the Bronx while my father prepared the evening festivity.
As we climbed the stairs back to the apartment, the shrill sound of a whistle filled the hallway. What was that, and where did it come from? Our pace quickened and a second burst of the whistle could be heard. We dashed into the apartment. There was father playing engineer with the biggest Lionel train ever made. It was so magnificent, so unexpected, so wonderful.
Some fifty years later, I still have the train set and cherish it as much as any material gift ever received from my now sainted parents. The train is a warm reminder of the greater gift my parents gave me. This gift has nothing to do with any material advantages, or even with any piece of sage advice. Unconditional love was their gift. I never doubted their care for me, and from such grace sprang my own capacity to truth.
It was only years later that I fully understood the gift my parents made me had its source in God's gift of the Child to us all. The sound of the whistle and the song of the angels have become one and the same. They are both the signal of God's Love.
Andrew Wyermann, Advent Invitations (Creative Communications for the Parish, St.
Louis, MO, 1986), page 28.
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 6 /26.6
THE ARREARS OF KINDLINESS ... I sometimes think we expect too much of Christmas Day. We try to crowd into it the long arrears of kindliness and humanity of the whole year.
David Grayson, as quoted in The New Speaker's Treasury of Wit and Wisdom by
Herbert Prochnow (Harper, 1958).
VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF THE NATIVITY As soon as the tree is trimmed, the next Christmas event in our home is getting out the nativity scene. The pieces come from at least three different sets. They include a 3-legged donkey and a one-horned cow. (I'm not sure if that is from Luke or Matthew's version.) Fortunately, all of them are either plastic or wood. I say fortunately, because they have constantly occupied one little boy's waking hours.
Of course, this little boy's parents have been deliberate in teaching him each character's proper name and each animal's proper sound. But his favorite thing is just trying to fit too many pieces into the too small stable.
Just when I was sure that boy wonder finally understood that camels go on the left with the wise men and the sheep on the right with the shepherds — you know what he did? He put one of the sheep in the manger and stood up baby Jesus by the wall with the other people.
Well, you can be sure my seminary training was not wasted. I immediately returned the sheep to the shepherds (on the right side, of course) and put baby Jesus back into the manger.
Then my son, lacking proper theological training, again put baby Jesus with the other people characters and returned the baby sheep to the manger! There would be no changing his mind about this. I was forced to look at this nativity scene with a sheep in the manger! It was ridiculous. But I must admit that he knows something about the scene that his theologian father missed.
After all, mangers are for animals — not for people. And people like Jesus are for standing with the people. As as for that little sheep in the manger . . . well, when he gets older he'll probably quote what some other Baptist preacher had to say: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Submitted by Charles Julian, River Avenue Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
THE BABY GREW UP The Christmas story is the story of a baby. That is a part of its inexhaustible pull on the mind and the heart of humanity. But it is also a liability. For a great many people become so entranced with the beautiful story of a baby in a manger that they miss the chief point of the story, and hence do not feel the compulsion it lays on life. We can become so charmed with the story of a baby that we grow sentimental about it; it does not ask that we do anything about it; it does not demand any vital change in our way of thinking and living.
But the main point of the story is that the baby grew up! He grew up to become the sternest challenge to a world of hard power that had ever been made. He was no sentimentalist; He was a terrible realist! Everything opposed to love and unity in our world, He declared flatly, is doomed and damned — for the reason that at the center of the universe is a God of loving purpose to all people.
The great question for us is this: Is our Christmas still only a story about a baby, or is it more, a deathless story about a Person into whom the baby grew, who can redeem the world from its sins, and who calls us into partnership with His great and mighty purposes?
From a Christmas devotional book, A sprig of Holly by Halford Luccock.
Submitted by Janet Macgregor, Irvington, New Jersey.
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent Page 7 /26.7
THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
'Tis the day after Christmas, and out in the den Daddy is watching pro football again. The children are throwing and breaking their toys, And Mother is up to her ears in the noise.
The melting snow drips through a hole in the roof.
Boy, one of those reindeer sure had a sharp hoof.
Ribbons and wrappings are spread all around —
We hope, when they're cleared, our lost child will be found!
Santa long since disappeared in the fog.
The turkey is tasteless, the eggnog won't nog.
The holly and ivy, the tinsel and lights
No longer bring warm glows on cold, darkened nights.
Children who last week were helpful and sweet Have mouths that are sassy and rooms less than neat. Those people with faces that smiled forth like elves Are now once again just their grouchy old selves.
Then carols of joy and hope filled the air, But now they are muffled by hard rock's loud blare. The cold winds, which now make Aunt Josephine freeze, Were not even noticed on Yule shopping sprees.
Why is it each year we are let down so hard?
Is there something 'bout Christmas that we disregard?
The babe in the manger became a great man
Who died and then rose again — that was God's plan.
His birth and his death — banners God has unfurled
To make men aware that he loves all the world.
If we know that Christ loves us and always is near,
Then Christmas will come every day of the year.
Adapted from a poem in Pulpit Helps, author unknown, submitted by Steve Schoepf, First Baptist Church, Storden, Minnesota.
The Pastor's Story File / December, 1986 Christmas/Advent
Page 8 /26.8
ALL IN A BARN ON A WINTER NIGHT
The vagabond mother of Christ And the vagabond men of wisdom, All in a barn on a winter night, And a baby there in swaddling cloth on hay. Why does the story never wear out?
A baby slung in a feedbox
Back in a barn, in a Bethlehem slum.
A baby's first cry mixed with the crunch
Of a mule's teeth on Bethlehem Christmas corn.
Baby fists, softer than snowflakes in Norway.
Carl Sanburg, in Sunday Sermons, November/December, 1985, Volume 15, Number 6. Page 19.
A CHRISTMAS REFLECTION
The air rests cool upon the brow.
The streets are hushed and in the quiet lanes no life stirs now.
Overhead, the bare limbs creak, naked victims of the winter wind, barren and bleak.
Stark shadows on the wintry sky
cry dark foreboding of harsh days ahead ere spring creeps nigh
Along the road the houses bank
like wary legions in deep sleep curled, lying in rank.
fingers of light forerun the morn;
I stand, and know that on such a night my Lord was born. Alleluia!
From The Evangel, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Saratoga, California, Roy Strassburger, Pastor.