This post is an excerpt from my book, Scripture to Live By. In that book I accumulated stories from various authors and added a devotion to each story. This is one of my favorites from the book…and not just because my sister Leslie wrote it.
I hope this story “changes” your Christmas for the better.–Arron
Change Through a Manger
By Leslie Wood
Don’t you just love Christmastime? All the decorations, wonderful songs, and poignant movies?
My childhood Christmas memories were filled with happy times with family and friends. I can remember riding on the church bus, caroling to our friends and neighbors. One year, we went to see the “Nutcracker” on Christmas Eve. Another year, we saw the movie Oliver! Cutting down our Christmas tree was always an exciting time, because it marked the beginning of the holiday season. When I became a mom, I had dreams of creating special memories with my own children, although, this particular event can’t really be described as beautiful or special. It was just—well, just bizarre.
It was the Christmas of 2000. We had been living in Stafford, Virginia, for about four years. Our church did not have a building, so we were meeting in a middle school gymnasium. Because we had church in a gym, it was often difficult to create those special, beautiful memories that I remember as a child.
Christmas Eve services offered a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the community and to the church family with the message of Jesus’s birth. In fact, the Christmas Eve service is an easy opportunity to reach out to the community. It takes a lot to mess up a Christmas Eve Service. After all, it’s Christmas—right?
Well, that year we decided we would put a manger up in the front to allow our church people to participate in giving to others less fortunate. Everyone could either bring in non-perishable food items or a monetary gift to put in the manger. We envisioned a deeply meaningful time of sharing and giving—a truly wonderful memory in the making. Oh, it was a memory in the making, all right.
The evening of December 24th arrived.
Earlier that day, we had gone to the Rain Forest Café in Northern Virginia, which had become a tradition in our family. My twins, Connor and Taylor, who were just five at the time, and my daughter Kendall, who was two, were so excited! Not only was it Jesus’s birthday tonight, it also was the night a present could be opened. To add to the fun, we had my aunt and uncle from Florida visiting for the evening. They were on their way to Williamsburg and had decided to come up for our service. So anticipating a wonderful time, we bundled the kids up and headed for the church.
As we walked in, the candles were burning and beautiful music was playing. We found a seat on the last row, because as always, we came in at the last-minute (Did I tell you I have three kids?) My husband, the minister, spoke and prepared our hearts for the time of giving. I wish I had been prepared. I, of course, had forgotten to bring canned goods with me, and only remembered after we sat down that I was supposed to have brought something to put in the manger. My kids, who could sense my concern, leaned over to me and asked, “Mommy, what are we going to put in the manger?” I froze in panic and started digging in my wallet and the bottom of my purse for money, which is where all my loose change always ended up. Wouldn’t you know it? I had no bills with me, only change. If I had stopped to think about it, I probably would have stayed in my seat. Being the minister’s wife, I knew that my absence from participating would be noticed, especially by my children, so we proceeded to make my way to the front.
Most everyone else had already put gifts in the manger, so now it was our turn. Upon approaching the manger, I looked down and realized that the manger had big open slats in the side. Too late. My two-year-old daughter enthusiastically threw her money in, and down and out it went. Before I could warn the other two, their change dropped into the manger, fell out and proceeded to roll across the gym floor. Luckily, the beautiful song being sung drowned out the sounds of coins hitting and rolling across the basketball floor. Before I could grab him, my industrious son, Connor, crawled under the manger, rescued some of the money and said—loudly—“Mommy, I found some!” He then threw it in again and well, you know what happened.
By this time, I wanted to throw myself under the manger with my son, who was once again under the manger trying to rescue the money for Baby Jesus. I looked behind me and the entire front row was on the verge of hysterics. I thought, at the time, that we might have to perform CPR on more than a few of them. To the sounds of hushed laughter and “O Holy Night” I grabbed my kids and quickly walked back to our seats, which as you remember, were on the last row.
I wish that I had been prepared to give my gift. If I had just put three or four dollars in my wallet, there would have been no need to be ashamed or embarrassed about my gift. My intentions were good, but like so many times before, I hadn’t given my best.
I would have preferred not to stop at our seats, but head on out the door and home, but we didn’t. We sat down, grateful for God’s love and his grace . . . and for His manger.
On Re-Gifting…For Your Consideration
by Arron Chambers
6While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, 7a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9“This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
She had been forever changed, so she responded with an act that will be remembered forever.
Now, I feel safe with you , so I feel like it’s OK to confess to you that I re-gifted once. Do you know what that is? It’s when you give a gift to someone that once was given to you. It was a glass candy dish we received for our wedding. It was beautiful, but my wife and I saw no future for that dish in our lives, so when we were guests at a wedding a couple of years later and a few dozen dollars below the poverty line, we decided to look for a gift a little closer to home. So we went to the closet and selected the nice glass bowl and the box that had never been opened.
I still regret re-gifting.
Those people deserved our best—or at least something on sale at Walmart. We spent nothing on them. What does that say about us? What does that say about them?
I wouldn’t re-gift my brother.
I wouldn’t re-gift my mom.
I wouldn’t even re-gift my mother-in-law, nor would I suggest it.
And, I definitely wouldn’t re-gift Jesus.
He deserves the best we have, not some afterthought we find way back in some corner of our closet.
That’s exactly what Mary thought, too.
Not THAT Mary. The other Mary.
We all know that Mary, the mother of our Jesus, was forever changed by the manger, but did you know that there was another Mary who was changed by the manger?
Matthew doesn’t name the woman who gave Jesus an amazing gift at the home of Simon the Leper, but John tells us that her name was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8). This Mary wasn’t there when Jesus inhaled air for the first time, but she was there when Jesus called her brothers name, “Lazarus!” and he began to inhale air for the first time—again. She saw his power, his love, and his tears. She loves him. He saved her brother and he saved her, too.
She wasn’t there to give him a gift at his birth, but she is here—and Jesus is here—and she wants to give him a gift before his death robs her of the opportunity, so she gives him one of the best gifts in the history of gifts.
As Jesus reclined at the table Mary, poured very expensive perfume on Christ’s head. It was worth about a year’s wages, so, by today’s standards, she poured about $30,000 worth of perfume on Christ’s head.
The disciples, led by Judas, were beside themselves, “Why this waste?” they asked.
I bet Judas was a re-gifter.
Judas, and the other disciples, didn’t understand the extravagance of the gift. It appeared to be too much. Surely, Jesus, knowing the number of poor people sitting on street corners and beside wells in Jerusalem, would rebuke this senseless waste of money.
Just the opposite.
Jesus praised her and promised that, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
Why? Jesus praised her because she gave him her best. She did what we all should do. The manger changed everything for us. It’s not a prop. It wasn’t a gimmick. It wasn’t a photo-op to help Jesus’ public image. It was a gift.
God loved us so much that He gave us a gift—his son—wrapped carefully in a manger. And the tag on this gift read, “For the World.”
That’s why Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, gave Jesus her best and wasn’t content to just throw loose change in the manger.
Put this post into action by giving Jesus a great gift. Maybe you need to write a large check to your house of worship. Maybe you need to make a donation of new clothes, supplies, or toys to a family who is in need. Maybe God’s been calling you to do something amazing for him. Maybe God’s calling you to do something that your family, or friends, may consider a “waste,” but you know it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it. Make this a wondrous day by giving your best gift to Jesus, now.
©2014 Arron Chambers