Some (Christmas) stories are worth re-telling…
By Jacci Roberts
Some stories are worth re-telling. Every year I love to re-watch Rudolph land on the Island of Mis-fit toys as they climb into Santa’s sleigh and save Christmas. And of course I must see How The Grinch Stole Christmas so that I can watch his tiny heart grow two sizes and bust through the frame of that magnifying glass because, after all, “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Who doesn’t love a Christmas story? Here is one of my favorite Christmas stories that I pulled up from an old Global Hope newsletter. It will take you back to Christmas 2003! But I’ll never forget the year…
…the year that some of our children at Ana’s House in Romania received two Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Our local church in Arad had received boxes and handed them out to the children, as did the local Christian school where some of our kids attended. When the inevitable “that’s not fair” arose from those who only received one box, Tata Roni and Mama Rodi just smiled, turned toward their charges and asked, “Who ever promised you everything in life was going to be fair?”
We started talking about what the word fair means, and whether or not life was indeed fair for anyone. We talked about the fact that there were children outside the city, and on the streets, who would probably not receive even one Christmas gift this year. By the end of the conversation the kids had come to a unanimous decision to take their shoeboxes out to the tiny village of Susag, where three of our girls grew up (Rodi, Simona and Sanda), and give them to children who would otherwise not receive a gift this Christmas.
That Saturday we loaded up our yellow van, each child with his box or boxes, and began our two-hour road trip. The village had one main street with a pharmacy, a general store and several other storefronts and homes. The girls pointed in the direction of the house they grew up in, only a few minutes and several huge, muddy potholes off the main road. Never having been to their home before, I noticed that we were driving through a poor village, and were now heading towards the poorest of the poor. We found the house, which was empty, so we walked across a field to sing a few carols to the neighbors, who the girls were excited to see again.
An elderly couple, probably in their seventies, hobbled out to see the unfamiliar sight of 19 children gathered outside their door. As the children began to sing, the old woman’s clear blue eyes, set back in her wrinkled face—weathered by years of hard work and framed with a kerchief that was tied under her chin—began to glisten with tears as the children sang of the baby born in a stable, not unlike the one standing just yards from the house, who came to bring peace, once and for all into her world.
When the songs were finished, the sisters all stepped forward to respectfully kiss the cheeks of their old friend. When the girls fled from an abusive father years before, and were eventually picked up by the child protection services, I knew it was a nearby neighbor’s house that they had fled to, “just across the field,” Rodi had said. It was the neighbor who called for help. I wondered if it was this woman. As she marveled at how the girls had grown, her husband went into the house and returned with homemade wine and sausage. It is tradition in Romania that when carolers come, you serve them. I hated to take any food from this couple but I knew they wouldn’t have it any other way.
We said goodbye and started making our way back toward the main street of the village. As we saw children standing outside their homes, or playing in the street, we stopped the van. One child would step out with their shoebox, approach the other child and offer their gift to them with a Merry Christmas, and a pamphlet with the Christmas story and the prayer of salvation printed on the inside. Faces began to appear in windows and doorways, and heads popped up over fences as the neighborhood came out to witness the unusual affair.
We made our way through the village this way, and arrived at the end of the long road. There stood a two-room mud house, surrounded by mud, and a child playing outside. We stopped the van and started to pile out. It turned out there were three children living in that house, two little boys and a girl. The mother appeared in the doorway, with the baby girl in her arms, to see what all the commotion was about. As I approached the door in my warm winter coat and scarf I immediately noticed that the baby wore hardly any clothing at all. Only a ragged dress and sweater—no diaper and her legs were bare. Strangely, she didn’t seem to mind. Her little legs were covered in purple blotches, but she didn’t seem to feel them. She just laughed and cooed, sharing the excitement with her mother and brothers.
As we drove away from the village that day, we talked about the concept of giving and about how it made the kids feel to bring that kind of joy to other children. I asked them if they would miss their Christmas shoeboxes and they said no, they wouldn’t. Somehow, after giving their shoeboxes away, the children’s perspective on Christmas had been changed—flipped upside down.
Which leads me to my favorite thing about Christmas: the paradoxical nature of this particular part of the grand story. God sends the savior of the world, the Lion of Judah, the Prince of Peace—the one who would crush Satan’s head under his feet—as a tiny, cooing, diapered baby boy. He could have just walked right out of the sky. But he didn’t, this time. Let’s face it; he didn’t have to come at all. But he did.
While Herod the Great slept in his palace, Jesus the King was born in a sheepfold, most likely a cave, in the village of Bethlehem. It was probably not a silent night…at least not for those in the sheepfold. The nativity scene I put out every year doesn’t convey the smells, sounds, and the cold floor of the manger scene where Mary gave birth to the infant King of kings.
And so began a pattern in the life of Christ: a life marked by the unexpected, upside down, and seemingly backward. A Father gives up his only son. The last shall be first. He who loses his life will find it. When you are weak, you are strong. Find rest in a yoke.
Maybe “keeping Christ in Christmas’ means turning cultural traditions upside down—doing them different, doing them better. What if I blessed a stranger with a gift, instead of giving only to my loved ones this year? What would it mean to those around me if I spend Christmas at a local soup kitchen? Or deliver my turkey to a family who has suffered the loss of a job this season? What if I pulled two angels off the Angel Tree instead of one? What if we all gave our shoeboxes away?