Our first nativity was over 25 years ago when I sent my very obliging husband all over the city collecting various animals I had located to be part of the Christmas play.
Eventually, he had stowed in the back of a borrowed station wagon two baby goats, a managery of chickens, guinea pigs, and several rabbits, which either noisily bleated as they poked their heads out of the car windows or snuffled about in the front seat as he drove carefully home.
My task was to collect a sheep I had found from one of the neighbouring hobby farms and which I, being a sheep farmer's daughter, thought would be fine to walk down the road back to our home. Sheep, though, are not especially clever and think only about eating, which I discovered as I struggled to drag it home. Once safely installed in the nativity scene, it remains in my memory as the sheep who in the middle of the play decided to urinate all over "Mary's feet", causing everyone to burst into hilarious laughter. Poor "Mary' (who happened to be my younger sister) was not amused.
Not deterred by such events, we put on another Christmas service the following year, which included the FULL nativity – as in a choir, children dancing, barn animals, camels, turkeys, chickens, alpaca's, dogs, and a donkey.
Before the evening, I remember all the organisation and busyness with the musicians, the people playing the Christmas characters rehearsing their parts and getting their costumes organised. Amongst it all, we had three young children suffering the end stages of chickenpox.
This particular year we had a live donkey and had organised to have Mary and Joseph enter through the audience. My brother-in-law played Joseph, and "Mary' dutifully rode upon her donkey. Unknown to me the donkey decided it didn't want to go where Joseph was leading it, and down the back of the audience, poor Mary was being whirled round and round at an uncomfortable speed on the back of this wayward donkey, as Joseph attempted to bring him under control. This resulted in Mary half losing her costume and being quite dishevelled in appearance as she finally made her way through the enthralled crowd.
To top it all off, as Philip, my husband, shared his Christmas message and proceeded to give an opportunity for people to invite Jesus into their lives, the alpaca, one of the main stable animals right in front of the audience, decided it was an ideal time to get amorous with its mate. This "excitement" seemed to trigger the turkeys, chickens, and donkeys into a symphony of squawks, clucking, and braying, which overrode Philip's evangelistic endeavours.
Not to be deterred, Philip kept preaching above the noise and chaos happening behind him. As a result, even with all the laugher and amused giggles, people's hearts were touched by his message of God's love and forgiveness. That night regardless of all the activity and noise, people met Jesus in the simplicity of the truth that we don't have to be lonely, sick, broken, guilty, or a sinner anymore. Jesus came to set us free.
Sometimes it takes someone or something to stand up above all the chaos and point out to us the truth and what life is really all about. Much like Philip did on that, and many other Christmas Eve's like it. For when our life is over, only one thing will matter: Did we get to know Jesus the Son of God, and did we love Him and others?
All the Christmas presents we buy, the long hours we work, the degrees we study for, the meals we prepare, the perfect holidays we take, and the houses we buy and build won't matter. What will matter is whether we spent time getting to know Jesus, who for each one of us made an effort and sacrifice to come on that very first Christmas day.
This Christmas time, enjoy all the season brings. Celebrate as much as possible and make memories with your friends and family. But don't let Christmas go by without searching out and looking for Jesus; listen for him, that you might hear him call you aside. Let this Christmas be the one in which you listen to Him tell you of His love, forgiveness, and the good things He has planned for you.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". (John 3:16)
"This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they've done to our relationship with God." (1 John 4:9-11)
Prayer: Jesus, please forgive me for my mistakes, where I have allowed the noise of the world around me to shut you out and have let other people or things take precedent in knowing you. This Christmas, I want to hear and know you more. In Jesus Name Amen.