Local Pastors Recount Tales of Christmas Past
Rev. Rob McCord, Oaklandon Christian Church
In November 2000, my wife Renee and I, with our infant daughter and 3 year-old son, returned to our native Indiana from the east coast. I had just graduated from seminary. With all our earthly belongings packed in our moving truck, we decided to settle in the big city. No contacts or friends, no job, and no clue what God had in store.
By Christmas we were forlorn. (Indianapolis is much colder than Virginia Beach!) I had not yet found work. And worst of all, we had no money for Christmas gifts.
That was the Christmas we learned to receive, even though we had nothing to give. To receive without being able to give has a way of uncomfortably draining us of our stubborn human pride. It’s not pleasant, but it’s such a necessary lesson. Christmas teaches that God gives us His best gift in Jesus and there’s nothing we can give back to deserve it.
It was also the Christmas on which we will always look back as the season God sustained us when we were at our weakest and most desperate. We had faith that He would guide us and take care of us, but not knowing how or when can drive you crazy. That’s when you keep your heart right and your head on straight, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Work came, so did friends. And soon we were blessed to live in a lovely home, raise our family, and serve a wonderful church. But even today we look back at Christmas of 2000 and remember. It keeps us humble, and so very grateful.
Rob McCord is senior minister of Oaklandon Christian Church, soon to become Outlook Christian Church on Mt. Comfort Road just south of McCordville (www.outlookchurch.org).
Rev. Dave McClean, Holy Cross Lutheran Church
I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, the real home of the Colts (and yes, I became a Colts fan again), and the home of “Berger Cookies!” My Dad introduced me to Berger Cookies. It was our “special treat” from the downtown market. We’d stop there for a cookie and a Coke on days when I’d go to work with him. These cookies are a two inch sugar cookie topped with a half inch of the best chocolate fudge ever to be put on a cookie!
My Christmas story takes place when I was 9 years old; my father was diagnosed with cancer and entered the hospital at the end of October. In those days, not only were cancer treatments in their early stages, but children were not allowed in hospitals. The cancer had taken Dad’s vocal chords, so we couldn’t even talk to him on the phone. Our expectations started to build as the doctors were going to allow us to go and visit Dad on Christmas Day! I just wanted to tell him that I loved him! To see him! To hug him! We knew Dad was sick, but Mom didn’t let on at the time that he was dying.
It was a real surprise when my Uncle Donald arrived. He was a missionary in Japan at the time, and he left his family there and flew to be with us that Christmas. In previous years, the special Christmas treat was talking with Uncle Donald and Aunt Ruth on the telephone. . . all the way to Japan , on the other side of the world! That Christmas, Uncle Donald was here with us! When Christmas Day finally arrived, the doctor called; Dad had taken a turn for the worse, and he didn’t think it would be a good idea for us to “get Dad too excited.” It was years later, when I was in my 30’s that my Uncle gave to me a precious note from that Christmas. Scribbled on a hospital napkin were the words I wished for years that I could have heard, “Tell my children that I love them.”
Usually, our whole extended family got together for Christmas and it was always a great time, but not that year. I remember crying most of the way since we couldn’t see Dad, and Mom and Uncle Donald were not going to be with us. When we got to my aunt’s house, everyone did their best to cheer us up, but I was heart-broken. I still remember the unexpected joy that hit me when I opened this strangely disguised package from my aunt, because inside was a whole package of Berger Cookies!
The story doesn’t end there because this year we are hosting a foreign exchange student from South Korea. He loves cookies! Wouldn’t you know, my brother, who lives in Baltimore, wrote to say he knows what he’s getting him for Christmas. . . Berger Cookies! Nothing could be better!
Rev. Randy Spleth, Geist Christian Church
In the fall of 1997, Geist Christian Church moved into a new worship home. After worshiping for 12 years in a multi-purpose room, we built a 500-seat sanctuary. The first Christmas in a new home is special, and, like any new home, our sanctuary required new decorations. A 15-foot Christmas tree was purchased and sacred ornaments made. A new Advent wreath was needed as was an appropriately sized crèche. With the new nativity came the opportunity for a new tradition about baby Jesus.
American nativities show baby Jesus in the crèche at the beginning of the season. Some cultures wait, placing Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve. We embraced this new tradition as a way to build anticipation. Each Sunday, I’d point out to our children that baby Jesus wasn’t in the manger but promised, “You’ll see him there on Christmas Eve.”
It was our intent to place Jesus in the manger prior to the Christmas Eve service. As families arrived, parents could point out to eager children that baby Jesus had also arrived. In the business of preparing for worship, I forgot to put baby Jesus in the manger.
I noticed my mistake as I called children forward to hear a Christmas story. As I finished the story, I had a conversation with the children, but I was really talking to my staff. I offered that a kindergarten student was going to help me place the baby in the manger just before singing Silent Night. I said, “He’s been waiting in my office,” and then added emphatically, “Mrs. Goode will get him!” At which point, the students were dismissed and something resembling “Where’s Waldo” took place in my study.
My associate pastor, my administrative assistant and Mrs. Goode, began to ransack my office. Every drawer was opened and the closet emptied without luck. Someone found a full-sized baby doll which was twice as large as Mary and Joseph. The doll was almost enlisted, but at the last moment, baby Jesus was found, waiting patiently in a cabinet. Mrs. Goode and a kindergartener placed the baby in the manger, and a new tradition was born. It is now a very special moment in our worship service.
Our Christmas season cannot begin without remembering this story, and in preparation, the staff keeps the baby Jesus away from me! This year, Geist Christian Church has a second campus and a second crèche. Two babies are in waiting. Both will be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve, providing of course, that they can be found.
Rev. John Sattler, Holy Cross Lutheran Church
My most memorable Christmas was our first Christmas together as husband and wife. My wife, Meg, and I both just assumed that the traditions that we had each grown up with would be the traditions that we would establish in our new home. I just assumed that everybody celebrated Christmas like we did. I soon discovered that other families celebrate Christmas differently!
We had to negotiate which traditions would “win.” We had to decide such things as whether we used a real tree or artificial, big bulbs or little ones, white lights or colored, garland or popcorn, when we open presents, and what foods we eat. We had to learn to compromise on everything. But what we learned about compromise that first Christmas became integral to the success of our marriage.
Today we have merged our traditions into a new set of traditions so that our children can take them into their marriage and start the negotiating process with their spouse!