It’s kind of funny how my mind works sometimes. Here I was struggling with writing these Ponderings about something relating to Christmas and my mind goes into hyper-drive. I got to thinking about all the babies who grace our church sanctuary on Sundays; about the art of parenting; and how blessed we are to be able to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. I call it “A Saving Christmas”, based on John 1:1-14. “So…. here it goes.
Whenever a baby is born, one of the first challenges that the parents have is to decide what to name the child. In times gone past, picking out a name wasn’t usually that big of a deal. Often children were named after one of the parents or some other family member or friend. But nowadays, instead of doing that, instead of giving their babies somewhat traditional names, many parents are trying to be much more creative.
One trend in recent years is for parents to name their children after products that they like. For instance, right now in the United States there are more than 500 boys and more than 700 girls who are named Harley. In most cases the kids are given that name because the parents like Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Parents are also naming their kids after their favorite kinds of cars. And so, at last count there were 353 baby girls named Lexus and 55 boys named Chevy.
And still other parents name their children after their favorite beverage. So, there’s a little girl named Shasta, for the pop by that name, and another little girl was named Pepsi. But perhaps the oddest name of all that I came across is ESPN. Two little boys, one in Michigan and the other in Texas, are named ESPN, in honor of the cable TV sports channel.
As we read the Gospels, though, we find that God didn’t leave it up to Mary and Joseph to pick out the name for their baby. Maybe that’s because God didn’t want us to end up with a Savior named “Bubba” or “Exxon”. No, God told Mary and Joseph that their child was to be given the name Jesus – a name that means “God saves.” But why did God insist on that name for the child? If Jesus means “God saves,” what is it that God is saving us from? A clergy colleague once told me the following story.
“Quite a few years ago when I lived in Pennsylvania, in Westmoreland County, I had a Christmas party open house at my home. It was an opportunity for church members to stop by and get a little something to eat and drink. I set it up so that people could come anytime from 3 until 7, and on that Saturday about 40 or 50 people stopped by. And everyone seemed to have a good time, but the real excitement didn’t happen until the party was almost over. You see, around 6:30 that evening, the only guests who were still at my house were about 8 of the 6th and 7th graders. Everyone else had come and gone by that time. But those kids had gone out in my back yard to play for a while. But all of a sudden, one of them came bursting into my house and yelled, ‘Pastor Ed, you’ve got to come quick! There’s a cat stuck up a tree!’
“So, I put on my coat and went out to see what they were talking about. And sure enough, there was a cat, probably a stray, that had somehow gotten himself up on top of a 30-foot-high maple tree. My guess was that he had climbed up one tree and had jumped over to that maple tree, but that tree where he landed didn’t have too many branches on it, and so the cat knew he was stuck.
“So, the kids asked me what we should do to save the cat. A couple of the young people had already run over to the tree and tried to shake it, to see if that would motivate the cat to move. But all that did was make the cat all the more want to hang on for dear life where he was. Another pair of kids had taken a coat and had stretched it out and were holding onto it like firemen do, to catch the cat in case he fell.
“Now, I had never had much experience with cats up in trees before, but I told one of the kids to run into the house and get some of the shrimp I was serving, and we set it at the base of the tree to see if that would entice the cat to come down. But that didn’t work either.
“Eventually it was getting on past 7:00, the time the party was supposed to be over, and I was starting to get tired from hosting the event all day. But when I suggested that the kids just go home, and that the cat would figure things out for himself, the kids all gave me these horrified looks, and pleaded with me that I had to do something to save the cat.
“Well, first off, we called the non-emergency number at the police station. But there wasn’t any answer. Then we called the non-emergency number at the firehall, but they were all busy running a bingo game at the time and said they couldn’t be bothered. And so reluctantly I dialed 911 and explained the predicament to the dispatcher. I’m not sure if you can hear someone roll their eyes, but that’s what I think I heard the 911 dispatcher doing as I told her the whole sad story.
“At one point, the 911 person asked if it was my cat that was up in the tree. I said no, that for all I knew it was a stray. So, by that point the dispatcher probably thought that I had been having a little too much eggnog. But eventually the 911 operator contacted the local fire department, and fifteen minutes later a couple of firemen appeared on the scene with a long pole with a hook on the end. And after working at it for several minutes, they hooked on to the tree where the cat was, pulled the tree over a bit, and finally the cat walked gingerly down the pole and raced off down the alley.”
Now, you might be thinking to yourself: “That’s a very fascinating story, Pastor Buddy, just like all your stories are. But what exactly does that cat have to do with the Christmas story?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
You see, that cat couldn’t save himself. He had somehow gotten up into that tree by himself, but there was no way that he was going to get back down by himself. And that’s how it is with us as well. At times we sin, and in different ways we manage to get ourselves into all kinds of fixes during the course of our lives.
And then, even when we want to make things right, by ourselves, we can’t do it. We find that we’re stuck with the mess that we’ve created for ourselves.
But the good news of Christmas Day is summed up with that verse that we heard in the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” In other words, God doesn’t just stand there, far off, and wait for us to get our act together and to climb down out of our trees by ourselves. No, the good news of Christmas Day is that God came to us in the person of Jesus to do for us what we could have never done for ourselves. The good news of Christmas Day is that God came to us in the person of Jesus to rescue us, to save us.
In your life, do you ever find yourself up a tree? In your life, do you ever find yourself in the midst of a problem that you’ve made for yourself, and you aren’t quite sure where to turn? Well, turn to Jesus. Because it’s Jesus, and Jesus alone, who can save us. That’s what the Christmas story is all about.
His Peace and Blessings to all of you, as you continue to believe, have hope, and do the work of the Lord.
God bless you, your families, and our church, always!
And Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!
As Always, In His Grip …Shalom Aleichem (Peace Be Unto You) …Until the Nets Are Full,
Your Most Obedient and Humble Servant,