It’s that time of year again. Merry Christmas and ho-ho-ho. The Greatest Story of All – the one about God taking on human form in the birth of a baby – tends to get trampled in the rush to the mall the day after Thanksgiving, and swept away with all the wrappings and ribbons on December 26th. It happens year after year, despite the best of intentions.
But imagine this. Imagine for just one moment what it might be like to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth with unstopped ears. To witness Jesus’ birth with unveiled eyes. To be so amazed and awed by all you’ve heard and seen that you have absolutely no choice but to share the story with all who will listen…
It was the Saturday before the first Sunday in Advent, and fellowship hall was transformed by festive tables dressed in red and topped with nativity sets. A life-size manger scene, front and center, graced the stage, and the rich smell of pancakes, maple syrup, and sausage filled the air. We were at Breakfast in Bethlehem, an Advent program our church puts on every year for young children and their families.
Our eighteen-year-old son, Joel, was to be a shepherd in the nativity play.
The lights dimmed and a storyteller began narrating the familiar tale. Mary and Joseph and a cardboard donkey slowly made their way to the front of the room. As the story unfolded, they knocked at a door next to the stage. No one answered. They knocked again. No one answered. The third time proved a charm. An innkeeper greeted the couple, then slowly shook his head back and forth. No room in the inn. He pointed to the stable, giving them a lantern to light their way.
Mary and Joseph arranged themselves in a tableau in front of an empty manger. Where’s the baby? I wondered, just as a door behind the stable opened and a girl ran out with a swaddled doll, which she hastily handed off to Mary like a football. The audience giggled, only to be hushed by the announcement of shepherds abiding in the fields behind us.
I turned to see my son in full shepherd gear, headpiece and all, looking properly serious and even a little bit afraid as an angel appeared and announced good news for all mankind. Holding a large stuffed lamb in his arms, Joel looked like a shepherd who would take good care of his sheep. He and his dad and three other shepherds wove their way through the assembled audience to the stable, where three of them fell to their knees. Joel and Wally stood off to the side behind Mary and Joseph. I shifted my chair to get a better view.
I had eyes only for him—my son—the one called autistic and mentally challenged. And Joel? Joel had eyes only for the baby Jesus. His face spoke wonder and his body spoke yearning as he stretched to see this gift the angel had foretold. As we sang Silent Night, his right hand rose in worship, pointing heavenward, then slowly lowered to point to the babe in the manger. He looked out at the audience for the first time, his entire body a question mark asking one question.
“Look! Do you see what I see?”
This day Joel heard the Good News with brand-new ears. This day Joel saw Jesus born with his very own eyes. This day Joel yearned with all his heart and soul and mind to point the world toward a savior in a manger.
Now, let me join him in telling you, dear friend, a story…
“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you; you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2: 8-14
Reflection Exercise: Take a few minutes out of this busy season to sit and meditate on Luke 2: 8-14. Re-read the passage above. Imagine that you are a shepherd in the fields. Let yourself breathe in the fresh night air. Reach out and touch one of your sheep. Feel the breeze on your face. Place yourself in that field by opening all of your senses. Suddenly, the sky is filled with light and an angel appears above your head, bringing good news. Read the scripture again to capture the angel’s words, then close your eyes and soak in the good news spoken by the angel. Sit quietly for a few moments. Feel your heart expand. And then, imagine the sky filling with a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God. What do you feel? Allow yourself to experience this awesome experience with new eyes, new ears, new heart. In what new ways can you tell a shepherd’s story of Good News to the world? In what ways does your child with a disability point the world toward Bethlehem?