Ministerial Musings: A "Different" Christmas Story

I recall a Christmas story about a seminary professor who, as he reached the end of the fall semester, was exhausted. He was not in the Christmas spirit. Not at all. Having graded one too many mediocre exams — exams that only proved his students paid little attention to his lectures on Reformation theology — he needed a break. Having a month off between semesters was not enough, but it would have to do.

It was Christmas Eve. The professor turned his grades in to the registrar’s office and made the long trek to his sister’s house for Christmas where his younger sibling, her husband, and their three-year-old daughter waited for him. Maybe a cup of cheer and some smoked salmon would get him in the Yuletide mood. Anything was better than another day on campus.

He drove for hours through torrential snow and sleet. It was the worst weather he’d seen in years. He could have waited till morning (and probably should have), but he wanted to see the only family he had and to relax. He wanted to wake up just one Christmas morning and have no demands waiting for him, which included the two hour drive he wanted to take.

He eventually arrived at his sister’s house, which was illuminated with thousands of white lights. A green wreath hung on the red door. It opened onto the smiling faces of his sister and brother-in-law. A fire burned softly in the living room. The voice of Bing Crosby coming from the Bose stereo confirmed that it was Christmas. He breathed deep the smell of pumpkin pie and apple cider.

He was no sooner in the door when his niece came running down the stairs and vaulted into his arms. “Merry Christmas, sweetie,” he said.

“Merry Christmas,” said little Katie as she squeezed her uncle’s neck. He placed her on the ground and was invited into the kitchen for a drink, but his niece kept tugging on his snow-covered jacket sleeve. “Come here, Uncle David,” she said, “I have to show you the most amazin’ thing!” Katie pulled and pulled with all her weight coaxing her uncle to follow.

He couldn’t resist. This was one demand he didn’t mind obliging. The little girl took her uncle by the hand and led him into the dark living room, illuminated only by firelight.

In the middle of the room on the coffee table a delicate, crystal nativity scene reflected the light from the fire. The entire cast was present: Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angel, and even the Magi, which, the professor thought to himself, should not be there for another twelve days.

Katie stood in front of the crèche wide-eyed. The professor knelt down so he could be at her height. He looked attentively from the girl, to the manger, and back to the girl. She pointed at the baby in the middle of the sacred scene. “Look!” she whispered excitedly.

“Wow!” David said. “Do you know what that is?” he asked his niece.

“Yup,” she said. “Breakable!”

It was then that the spirit and the true significance of this night filled the professor’s heart. Breakable. Breakable indeed! Is that not why God chose to come to us in the Christ, in the form of a helpless baby who would grow into a man who would be crucified on a tortuous cross for our salvation?

We are all breakable — and the point of the Incarnation is that God chose to be breakable, too.

Merry Christmas!

John Tamilio III, Ph.D. is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer. He lives in Lakewood, Ohio with his wife, Susan, and their three children.

John III Tamilio

John Tamilio III is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, an accomplished guitarist, and a nationally published author. His first book of poetry, Blind Painting, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Letters in 2003. He and his wife, Susan, live in Lakewood, Ohio with their children: Sarah, “Jay” (John IV), and Thomas.

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Volume 7, Issue 25, Posted 11:50 PM, 12.13.2011