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Author's Note: Matt Templar's wonderful Christmas story, the description of a Nativity scene in Texas, and pastor's homily this morning inspired this little story. I hope it captures the real meaning of Christmas for everyone who reads it. Jess
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Twice each nice day on his way to and from work, Mike walked past the contemporary architecture of the Lutheran Church sitting on a half block of land. This fifteenth day of December he absently noted a number of men busily piling rough hewn lumber and unloading thin cut stone facing from a truck as he passed by.
The next morning, no one was yet present at the site, but the timber and stone were neatly stacked near a cleared area. Neat workmen, Mike thought as he walked on. That evening on his way home he saw the men busily laying a low stone area the size of a small room. Out of curiosity, he paused to watch for a minute. Several of the men threw up a hand in greeting, to which he replied in like manner before moving on.
Each day, Mike noted the progress made on the structure. How odd, he thought to himself, that they would build such an aged looking, almost primitive structure next to a beautiful church. That evening he watched as two of the men completed thatching the roof, while others scattered hay randomly across the stone floor and filled a manger placed rear center.
"May I ask why you're building something that looks like an old stable here next to the church?" He asked one of the younger men who was standing near the sidewalk appraising their workmanship.
The man smiled. "It's intended to be a stable. We constructed it to hold our new life-sized Nativity figures. On the twentieth we will begin to place the figures in order of their appearance according to the Christmas legend except for the baby, of course, for Christ wasn't born until the twenty-fifth."
"I wondered. You've certainly done a beautiful job, meticulous workmanship. I'll look forward to seeing the figures."
"They're life-sized made in Europe; a gift from one of our members. I think you will find everything as authentic as we can make it. You and your family will be welcome in our church at any time. The Christmas Eve Mass is especially beautiful with all the music. It begins at ten-thirty."
Mike blushed. "I have to admit that I've not been to church since I was a kid and I certainly wouldn't know your service of worship. I have no family, just me, myself, and I."
"Then come and join us in celebrating the joy of Christmas. The service is easy to follow and whoever is sitting next to you will be happy to help should you get lost. Too, you can meet some of us at the coffee hour afterwards, though because of the hour, those with small children will be headed home instead." He held out his hand. "Sorry, I should have introduced myself, I'm Thor Halvorsen."
"Mike Thompson. Thank you for taking time to speak to me."
"Not at all. The others are leaving, so I'd best go before I lose my ride."
The next evening, Mike stopped and stared at the angry looking man in tattered robes, holding a lighted candle lantern, standing before an unstable looking two-storey false front. Mike puzzled for a moment until he noticed the robed man leading a donkey on which rode a weary looking young woman a short distance away. Ah, yes, the inn keeper pointing toward the stable, but where's the rest of the scene he wondered.
The next evening, a flickering candle lighted the interior of the stable. Mary bent heavily over a tiny fire, as if trying to cook a small meal. The expression on Joseph's face was one of love mixed with concern.
Remembering the gracious invitation, on Christmas Eve Mike entered the softly lighted, beautifully decorated sanctuary, taking a few moments to study the Chrismon Tree near the steps to the chancel. The half hour of music from the organ and string quintet filled him with pleasure and peace, happy that he had come. At the end of the recessional the expected benediction and blessing was not given, instead the Pastors asked all to follow them to the manger.
Mike could barely see through the others gathered around the scene, over which hung a brightly lighted star. Only three figures, Joseph, Mary, and, in the manger, the Baby Jesus wrapped in a well-worm blue blanket occupied the space. Proclaiming the coming of the Saviour, and adding that the other visitors would be appearing during the days of Christmas, the senior Pastor then pronounced the blessing.
Mike walked the three blocks homewasrd filled with contentment. Taking time for himself, he sat with a cup of eggnog, the gas logs taking away the chill from his walk. He only wished he had someone to share the joyous day with him, that he had a gift to give in love.
Knowing the tiny coffee shop would be open on Christmas Day, he was walking toward it, anticipating a large piece of apple strudel and a cup of cappuccino, when he stopped in amazement, for the blue blanket wrapping the infant Jesus was missing, the figure now wrapped only in basic swaddling clothes. 'Why would anyone steal that ragged blanket? It is certainly worth nothing in comparison to the figures.' Mike asked himself as he resumed his walk.
Passing a narrow alleyway between a gift shop and the coffee shop, his eye was captured by the fragment of blue sticking out from behind a dumpster. The colour so matched his memory of the blanket that had wrapped the Jesus figure that he walked the few steps to the dumpster and peered behind it. A child curled into a ball huddled in the blanket. Stunned, Mike pondered what he should do. 'Yes, he had wished for someone to be with him, particularly today, and here's someone who can certainly use a little Christmas,' he thought bending down.
A small hand pulled aside one corner of the blanket, tear filled eyes looked into Mike's. "Don't hurt me, mister. I know it was wrong to take this old blanket from the Baby Jesus, but I was so cold and a doll don't need it like I do."
Mike held out his hand. "I'm not mad at you, son. Come with me, and after we take the blanket back to the church, I'll get you something hot to eat and try to find some warm clothes for you. I won't hurt you," Mike smiled, "'cause this is Christmas, a time for good things to happen."
"Don't nothin' good never happen to me," the boy sobbed.
"Then let's make this Christmas different." Mike said. Holding the boy's hand they walked the short distance back to the church. As Mike was trying to replace the blanket around the figure, the young associate pastor came out of the door to the transept.
"May I help you?" The pastor inquired, perturbed at seeing a young man and child bending over the manger.
"Trying to replace the blanket taken from this nativity last night by this young man who was cold and sleeping rough. I just discovered him. I've promised him something warm to eat and some warmer clothing."
"Yes, I remember you. You were at midnight mass last evening. Have you any clothes to fit this young man?"
"I'm afraid not. I thought after we had a bite to eat at the coffee chop, I'd take him home so he can get a hot bath and somewhere to stay until I can get some help for him."
The pastor smiled. "The ladies have a clothing closet in the basement of the parish hall. Let's see if we can find something there in his size."
Still unbelieving his good fortune, Mike and the boy, now known as Danny, left the church with a large bag of clothes and a heavy coat wrapped around Danny. While Danny seemed delighted to be clean, warm, and well fed, it was Mike who was filled with joy beyond belief as he tucked Danny in bed, pulling the comforter up to his chin and handing him the teddy bear that had once been his own sleeping companion.
Each evening they walked together to the church to see the additions to the nativity. First, the shepherds and a few sheep, then a day later three sumptuously garbed wise men and their camels. A few days after the nativity scene was completed, Mike and Danny watched a truck pull up and several men begin to dismantle the scene.
"Rather sad to see it go," a voice sounded just behind Danny. It was the younger pastor. "But hopefully we can repeat it next year. Many have told us how the additions timed according to the Birth of Christ legend has impressed them far more than just a completed scene would have."
Mike gathered Danny to him and a tear trickled down his cheek. "Far more than that, Pastor. It gave Christmas full meaning for me and Danny."