It’s funny to me, how Christmas is the story of the God who chose to come to our messy earth and be born in a less than desirable stable, and yet we often get so caught up in creating the perfect celebration, the perfect day…which we usually end up realizing is impossible (or we live in denial).
I learned that lesson in a very real way last year. Do you remember how it rained at just the wrong time for our event? Just a few of us sat under umbrellas, trying to keep our food dry, and enjoy each other’s company. The whole thing was quite laughable.
This year, I went in with the thought that since we had a pole barn, no matter what happened or who came; it had to be better than last year because we wouldn’t get drenched. And, it was so much better!!
We had about 70 people there. Half of us were “regulars,” and half of us were visitors. And, you know how a BIG family gathering feels…just a bit chaotic. That is exactly how our Ragtag Christmas felt, like a big ( and maybe a little chaotic) family gathering.
We had a yummy dinner of Roast Beef and Ham and Mashed Potatoes and Christmas cookies and some other fabulous side dishes and desserts, and we followed that up with a time of worship. We talked about how so many things can distract us from the baby in the manger, but that the story keeps calling us and inviting us just like the angels invited the shepherds. However, the angels only invited the shepherds, they didn’t command them to go. The shepherds could have stayed with their sheep. They could have been like Herod and hated the Baby King. They could have been like the innkeeper who was too busy to make room for Jesus. Just like the shepherds, we are invited to peer into the manger and see the face of Jesus, to see how much he loves us.
As a reminder that it is Good News that Jesus brings, we wanted to take a lighter approach to the candlelight service. So, everyone received a cupcake with a birthday candle to light. We sang Happy Birthday to Jesus, and everyone pictured Jesus’ face and the love in his eyes and said their own silent prayer before they blew out their candle.
It felt more like a birthday party than a candlelight service, but it was beautiful in its own way. And, I was honored that Jesus was right there with us…in our organized chaos.
After that, it was time to pass out stockings. Every single person who wanted a stocking went home with a stocking filled with things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair products, soap/bodywash, deodorant, dish soap, paper towels, and/or toilet paper, along with just one or two fun things.
We also had an envelope with a gift card in it for each adult. You should have seen the excitement and joy on people’s faces! Since then I had a woman, one of our “regulars,” tell me that she and her husband used their gift card to Johnny’s (a local, sit-down restaurant) to go on the first date they had been on in four years. They were so appreciative!
Side note: this same woman came to our Ragtag Christmas gathering terribly sick with an infection. She never got out of the car, but I went over to speak to her. I told her she should have stayed home. She said, barely moving her mouth because her throat hurt so badly, “I didn’t want to miss it! I am fine. I can sit right here in the car and not miss anything and not share my germs with anyone.” She visited the ER that night, received some antibiotics, and she’s all better now.
Maybe the best part of our Ragtag Christmas celebration was organized by our friend Cassie. She is also a “regular,” and she called me the morning of Christmas Eve to say that she had a garbage bag full of stuffed animals and a few other wrapped presents that she would like to contribute to our event. The stuffed animals were the biggest hit. Starting with the youngest child, she had each child come up and grab (without looking into the bag) a stuffed animal. You should have seen the look on each child’s face!
It was a truly special Christmas Eve, and we are so thankful for all of the people who contributed. Mostly, we are thankful for God with us (even in the chaos)!
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
John 1: 14, The Message