What We Hear at Christmas…

Pastor Will Healy

Will Healy

Somewhere I heard about a church that had a tradition at Christmastime.  It seems the women of the congregation would invite a group of children from a nearby special education class–kids with cerebral palsy—invite them over to the church for a Christmas party every year.  And since they came as guests, the children of the church (the “healthy” children of the church, that is) would put on a pageant for them, after which the handicapped kids were served cookies and refreshments.  One of the men of the congregation would even dress up as Santa Claus and give these unfortunate children their Christmas presents.

Well, after several years of this heartwarming project, wouldn’t you know, one of the teachers in the special needs class came up with the bright idea that perhaps her students could return the favor and share their own Christmas pageant.  And so, against their better judgment, (since we’re supposed to be helping and giving at Christmas, after all) the brave women of the church agreed to give it a try.

It was a cold, bitter, sleeting day the day the cerebral palsy class performed their very first Christmas pageant at St. Thomas Church.  Here were Mary and Joseph–one little black boy and one little white girl–in their wheel chairs.  The angel couldn’t keep her arms from flying in the air, while the shepherds came on crutches.  The Wise Men took forever to get from the back of the parish hall to the manger, their arms waving wildly all the way, pulling their wheelchairs as they came.  It was almost impossible to understand the narrator because of her speech impediment, but everyone knew the story anyway.  No one tried to help anyone else, and no one felt embarrassed.  It was quiet at first, and then laughter and a few tears.  The simple truth from the manger could not be denied…

What makes that story speak to me is that some of us have cerebral palsy and some of us do not; some of us are children and some of us are adults; some of us are black and some of us are white; some of us are poor and some of us are rich.  What we have in common is that we’re all human beings, of course, peculiarly separate while peculiarly united, both at the same time.  But one thing is certain–we are all vulnerable, all more fragile than we care to admit, not unlike a baby–and in that “manger-kind-of-insight” our vulnerability becomes a sign of God’s presence—our tears with smiles become the outward and visible sign of some inward and spiritual grace there at the manger.  It’s why we keep coming back, back to hear the baby’s cry one more time…

There’s name for that baby, of course.  His name is Emmanuel, and it means “the God who is with us.”  In other words, here’s a God who is made out of the same stuff we are and who is made out of the same stuff God is and who will not let either of us go.  Isn’t that something?

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