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Unrestrained Joy

Many, many years ago, I read the following story, I do not remember who wrote it or where it came from, I would give credit where credit is due if I knew its author. I do know this, it put a smile on my face then and it still does.

Little Sharon was five years old. She was sure of all the facts of the story. She stated them slowly and solemnly, convinced that every word was a revelation.

She said, “They were so poor they only had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat. And they went a long, long way from home and didn’t get lost. The lady rode on a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with a bunch of animals. But Three Rich Men found them because a star lighted their roof. Shepherds came and you could pet their sheep, but not feed them. Then, the baby was borned! And do you know who he was?” Sharon’s eyes expanded wide, “That baby was God!”

And then, Sharon jumped into the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa, and buried her head under the cushions. Which, of course, is a very proper response to the Good News of the Savior’s birth?

I believe that God gave us children so that the world would never be without unrestrained, unashamed, joyful celebration. And just maybe, it takes children to remind us of the wonder of the events in Bethlehem’s stable.

This baby is called Emmanuel, God with us. He is made of the same stuff that we are made of, but he’s also made of the same stuff that God is. As little Sharon exclaimed, “That baby was God!”

She had no problem with that, or with angels, or shepherds, or wise men. We adults are the ones that clutter up the story with our sophisticated understandings. A virgin birth? An angelic announcement? A guiding star? Astrologers that follow the star for hundreds of miles?

What a struggle it is to return to this story with the innocence and enthusiasm of a child. For many, if there is any enthusiasm left by Christmas Day, it will pass as soon as the VISA and MasterCard bills arrive.

Eugene Peterson wrote, "I am ever and always a stranger to grace. I need this annual visitation to remind me that a virgin conceived and that God is with us."

The other part of the story that bothers us is its simplicity. We live in a day and age of hype, promotion, and Madison Avenue techniques. If God really wanted to get the word out, why’d He choose such a backward time in such a strange land?

Today, He could have really spread the word. Instead of angels and shepherds, He could have had Tucker Carlson, Nora O’Donnell, David Muir, or Lester Holt break the story that in minutes would have circled the globe.

But Henri Nouwen reminds us, "Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something barely noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness. I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world."

The older I get, the more I need to view Christmas through the eyes of a child. In fact, isn’t that the way Jesus said we must approach His kingdom? Through a child’s eyes I am again filled with wonder and awe. When I see this story through the eyes of a child, I once again stand on tiptoe…filled with anticipation as I peek over the banister of God’s mysterious purposes and ways.

Who is this baby? He is Christ the Lord! Perfect man for God…perfect God for man. O, the wonder of it all!

So, as you celebrate this year, don’t be afraid to join little five-year-old Sharon as she leaps and whirls and dives headfirst into the sofa, consumed with unrestrained joy. For, this is as it should be, when we hear the Good News of Great Joy for all people.

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