Christmas has descended on the land once again, and on behalf of all the staff, faculty and other ministers of our parish, I wish you and those you love a very Merry Christmas!  I pray that all your Christmas dreams will come true.

On Christmas, we hear the beautiful story of the birth of the Messiah.  For many centuries, the Hebrew people were waiting for the Messiah – or Savior – to come to them and usher in a new era.  They believed this new era would be one of glorious peace and joy, and they believed the Messiah would be a powerful, loving, and wise king.

Nobody expected that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in a stable, but that is indeed what happened.  We read how Joseph and Mary had come from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem to enroll their names on the order of the emperor.  While they were in Bethlehem, Mary had her baby whom she named Jesus.  Because there were no rooms in the local inns, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus found themselves in a stable.

When Jesus was born, we hear how an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds who were watching their flocks by night.  When a bright light began to shine, the shepherds became very frightened.  The angel, however, told them not to fear.  He said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 10-12).

After the angel gave this message to the shepherds, suddenly the whole sky was filled with a multitude of angels who praised God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2: 13-14).

Many Catholic Christians like to remember this amazing event by creating manger scenes in their homes.  Usually, they put Jesus in the middle of the stable and have Mary and Joseph on either side of the manger looking at Jesus.  Then, they put animals in various parts of the scene.  That, of course, is what most people do, but that is not what a little boy named Stephen did in the following story.

The story takes place at Grandma Pauline’s house.  It was some weeks before Christmas, and she was beginning to decorate the house for Christmas.  This year, she had her four-year old grandson Stephen visiting, and she decided to let Stephen help her decorate.

At Pauline’s house, she had two sets of nativity figures.  One set was very delicate and made out of porcelain, and other was made out of teakwood.  Pauline took the porcelain one to set up in the dining room, and she gave Stephen the teakwood set to put on a low table in the living room.

The set that Stephen had to work with included Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the manger, an angel, two shepherds, two little sheep, three wise men, and three camels.  The only direction that Grandma Pauline gave Stephen was to set them up any way he wanted.

Grandma Pauline busied herself with setting up the porcelain figures in the dining room, surrounding the scene with green garlands and red ribbon bows.  She then took some boxes of snowmen and other novelties of the season to continue decorating other rooms.

Grandma Pauline decided to check in on Stephen to see how he was doing with his project.  When she glanced into the living room, Stephen’s arrangement stopped her in her tracks.

Stephen had placed baby Jesus and the manger in the center, but then he had crowed all the rest of the figures – even the camels – around the manger in a tight circle. The only figures that he had not placed were the two small sheep.

Grandma Pauline wondered what Stephen would do with the little sheep, for there was no room for them in the circle.  Apparently, Stephen was pondering this dilemma also, for he stood there clapping the two wooden sheep together.

Then, Grandma Pauline imagined little Stephen remembering what it was like for a little boy trying to see a parade when so many adults were blocking the view, because she watched as Stephen squeezed one sheep between a shepherd’s legs and the other between a camel and Mary.  Stephen stood back and admired his work.  Now, all in the Christmas scene could see what they had come to see – the baby Jesus.

Grandma Pauline could not help but think to herself that Stephen had made an important discovery, that of focus.  For him, the Christmas scene was totally about seeing the baby Jesus, and he made sure Jesus was the center of attention for the people, angels, and even animals.

We can all learn a lesson from little Stephen, for too should keep our focus on Jesus.  After all, as Christians, he is the one we follow.  He should be the center of our lives, the king of our hearts.

Unfortunately, sometimes the things of this world distract us.  We are bombarded with stimuli from every direction – newspapers and magazines, computers and television, billboards and fliers, and all the people who we encounter every day.  It is a good reminder, therefore, to take some time this Christmas and every day, to stop, be silent, and remember that Jesus is the center of our lives.  Tell him we remember that.  That will be our Christmas present to him today and every day.

And that is the good news I have for you on this Christmas, 2017.

                                                                                                                                               

Story source:  Pauline Youd, “The Focus,” in Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

(Eds.), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas, Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, Inc., 2007, pp. 31-32.