I Love to Tell the Story

1,985.

That is the number of people who visited our church this weekend during our annual One Starry Night in Bethlehem. It took place over two nights — just five hours in all. Amazing!

This year, my husband and I took a break from our usual roles as the Bethlehem innkeepers who famously had no vacancy for Mary and Joseph. (We did make space for them in our stable though.)

On Friday night when the gates of Bethlehem opened, we quickly adapted to our new roles. I was seated in the scribe tent, helping each family seal their Christmas scroll. And the innkeeper became a tax collector. He questioned weary (and wary) travelers as they entered the city, collecting denarii from each family according to their means.

Taste and See

There is something incredibly special about taking part in this annual event. As you might expect, many of our visitors already know the Christmas story. But for some, it was the first time they learned about the birth of our Savior. And every visitor experiences the story in a new and unique way. They kneed the dough and taste the bread, smell the spices and grind them with a mortar and pestle. Later they will pet the animals, and the see the donkey in the stable beside Mary and Joseph, and the baby. Each person, young and old, visits Bethlehem and brings Jesus home in their heart.

For my part, I helped each family seal their scroll with sealing wax. They were told to take it home with them, and to carefully break the seal on Christmas morning. Together, they can once again recall their visit to Bethlehem as they read aloud the story of Jesus’ birth found in Luke Chapter 2.

After sealing their scrolls, I heard many families agree that they would indeed read the story before exchanging gifts. For one family, it was their fourth visit to Bethlehem, and they look forward to reading their scroll every Christmas morning. In addition to families with children, there were also young couples and seniors too, who came with scrolls. They asked to have them sealed so they, too, could read the story on Christmas morn. What a blessing!

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Although I’ve participated in One Starry Night for five years now, I have never had a scroll of my own. So before we packed up the scribe tent on Saturday night, I sealed one of the few remaining scrolls for myself.

The miracle of Jesus’ birth is a story that never gets old, no matter how many times it is told.

Christmas Memories

I found myself wandering the toy aisles while Christmas shopping last week. I was searching for something called a Tangle Jr. It’s a colorful little twisty plastic chain, perfect for someone who is fidgety and can’t keep their hands still. I finally found them and tossed two into my cart.

I sighed and felt this strange emptiness inside as I watched the other shoppers filling their carts. Unlike the young parents around me, I was there on a very unique mission. I wasn’t Christmas shopping for a child . . . I was shopping for my mother.

Mom and me, Christmas 2017

My brother and I have reached an odd stage in life which many grown children will eventually face. Our mom, now in a nursing home, is slowly losing her memory. She loves having visitors though, and still recognizes my brother. He is an absolute angel! He is retired and is able to visit her at least three days a week, something I am unable to do. He also picks her up and brings her to us for occasional weekend family dinners and holiday gatherings. We will be blessed to have her with us on Christmas Day.

Memories become even more precious when your loved one has Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia. We never know if our next holiday will be our last one with Mom, so we aim to make lots of memories in the moment. These are the days when we treasure her presence, even if she won’t recall the visit after the long drive back to the nursing home.

I remember a Christmas morning about three years ago. Mom was experiencing moderate memory lapses, but still recognized all of us and was able to spend the night. We shared a wonderful Christmas Eve together at church and then at home, and I wanted to make the morning special too.

I awoke before the rest of the family and turned on all the Christmas lights and the gas fireplace. I put on some festive music and heated up some breakfast pastries. Every now and then I tiptoed upstairs and peeked into the guest room. I wanted Mom to see me before she panicked in an unfamiliar place. When she woke up, I helped her into her robe and slippers and led her downstairs. Her childlike delight and reaction when seeing the beautiful Christmas tree and all the presents has filled my heart to this day.

Mom and I sat together while the rest of the family slept in. We enjoyed our coffee and cinnamon rolls in the family room, and watched The Little Drummer Boy on our old VHS player. I was hoping Mom would love that cartoon, and she did. I am sure she watched it a dozen times with me when I was a kid, but that morning it was brand new for her.

Throughout those quiet hours together, she would suddenly look around the room and marvel at the pretty lights and decorations as though noticing them for the first time. She kept saying, “This is so beautiful!” and asking, “Who did all this?” Her reaction alone was memorable for me — so innocent and full of wonder — just like the Christmas mornings I remember growing up.

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:15-19 

Perhaps those memories provide a little glimpse of what heaven will be like for us, with every moment bright, and shining, and full of wonder and amazement. How awesome it will be! 

May your Christmas morning be just like the first Christmas — full of joy, wonder, and precious memories to last a lifetime and beyond.