Many years ago on the first Friday night in December, several members of our congregation stood on the front steps of our old downtown church hanging Christmas wreaths on the massive wooden doors that lead into the sanctuary. Just as the last wreath was being hung, the faint sound of bells rang in the distance. We stopped our work to watch runners with bells tied to their laces pass by as they headed down the boulevard. The annual “Jingle Bell Run,” the signal of the official Christmas season in our city, had commenced.
As we the church prepared for Jesus, the world passed by.
The following year we stood on the front steps and caroled as the runners passed our way. Much to our surprise and delight, many of the participants came around after the race to say thank you, saying they had not heard Christmas carols in years. We knew the time had come for the return of “Silent Night,” our long-abandoned telling of the Christmas story.
For the next year we prepared to share Jesus with our city. The original plans for the crèche were found in the archives. A gentleman who participated in the live nativity as a child stepped forward to take on the building project. Men gave up watching football the day after Thanksgiving, to construct a humbly majestic stable for Christ’s coming.
Palmetto leaves harvested from a nearby plantation were fastened to the roof by teenage boys. Towering above the roofline, a stand was erected for an angel to keep watch over the manger while a star was suspended in the heavens to cast a warm glow below.
The first Friday night in December came again for the official opening of the Christmas season, but this year the sights and sounds were quite different.
Above the jingling bells, the sweet sound of away in a manger was heard through the streets. Lambs bleating and a donkey braying pierced through the night. Mary and Joseph stood in awe of their newborn son, as Wise Men delivered gifts to their king.
After more than fifteen years, the most memorable year remains the year a little girl taught us the gospel message in just one sentence spoken from her heart.
As the last chorus of "Silent Night" brought another year to a close, the children were invited to come to the manger. The youngest children quickly ran past the livestock to draw near to baby Jesus. A precious young girl with eyes that sparkled in the soft starlight climbed in Mary’s lap and asked if she could tell Jesus a secret.
Mary looked in those adoring eyes and said, “Yes, my child. Jesus came for you.”
The trusting child leaned forward lifting the wrap from Jesus’ face. She gently kissed his forehead and whispered, “I love you, too, Jesus.”
Did you hear the little girl’s words as we did that night?
Not, I love you, but I love you, too.
Out of the mouth of a child came the gospel message that God loved us first and sent His love to us through His son in the manger that silent night so long ago.
May God’s light shine brighter than the brightest lights of your city.
May God’s still small voice be heard above the horns and sirens.
May God’s love pierce your heart with the peace you are seeking.
I pray you respond with the wonder of a child, “I love you, too, Jesus. I love you, too.”
Merry Christmas from my heart to yours,