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Christmas: ‘The gift of love with skin on it’

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Several years ago, I read a story of a journalist who was interviewing a group of children about their understanding of the Nativity scene. One child was asked what she thought about the true meaning of the baby Jesus lying in the manger. Her response was one for the ages. Her reply was,“Baby Jesus was God’s gift of love with skin on it.”

Such wisdom and truth from the mind of child can put us adults to shame as we contemplate this season of the year we call Christmas.

Maybe Lawrence S. Wittner has a point in his article, “Worshiping Materialism at Christmas,” where he writes, “Ironically, by not opposing the corporate cultivation of untrammeled greed among Americans, the churches have left the doors open to the triumph of America’s new religion — not liberal secularism, but shopping.”

I would add to Wittner’s words, “ for more stuff.”

I would like to share with you a story whose origin I do not know. It is a story I always return to at every Christmas season and reminds me of the true meaning of why we celebrate Christ’s birth. It also reminds me as to how far we, as a society, have drifted from its true meaning.

There lived in northern Maine a man and his wife and children. The wife was a devout Christian. The husband would have little to do with religious faith or the silly idea of the incarnation that God would come to earth as a human being in order to save humankind.

It was Christmas Eve. A brutal winter storm was brewing as the wife and kids braved the cold, got into the family car and headed down the road to the small country church for the Christmas Eve service. The husband had no interest in such a service and threw another log on the fireplace as he sat back to enjoy a quiet evening at home.

The husband, half dozing, was suddenly startled by a thumping sound on the large living room window. Getting up to see what the source of the sound was, he was shocked to discover a flock of birds, apparently seeing the warm glow of the fire, seeking to escape the bitter cold of the storm.

Being a lover of nature, his immediate thought was what he could do to help save these creatures.

His mind ran to the small barn near the house and the light in the barn. He thought, “If I go out and open the doors to the barn and turn on the light, maybe the birds will see the light and go there for shelter.”

He did so, but to no avail. The birds continued to fly toward the glow and warmth of the fireplace, breaking their wings, falling into the snow, injured and dying.

The husband then thought, “Maybe if I take some breadcrumbs and spread them in a path, that would lead them to the barn and the light they would follow the trail of breadcrumbs and find safety and shelter from the storm.”

This he did and again, to no avail. The birds kept flying into the clear glass window seeking to save themselves from the bitter winter storm.

Finally, he concluded there was nothing he could do. So, he slumped back in his easy chair saddened that he was helpless to save these beautiful creatures of nature.

Then a thought flooded his mind, “If only, for a few moments, I could become a bird and speak the language that birds speak, I could lead them to safety and save them.”

Suddenly, from a distance down the road, the bells of the little country church began to ring out, “Joy to the World.”

Yes, for a few moments in the history of humankind, God became one of us, spoke the language we speak. God became love with skin on it. And as we thrust ourselves against the windows of our own efforts to save ourselves, Christ speaks our language — a language of love, compassion and forgiveness.

To truly celebrate His coming this Christmas season, let us feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give and receive forgiveness, welcome the foreigner into our neighborhood and share what we have even if it means we will have to do without.

In so doing, we are speaking Christ’s language with our actions as we honor His coming to be one with us as the “Prince of Peace.”

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.