Last weekend I was babysitting a family with three small children. The boys, ages seven and five, asked me for stories of Christmas. I told them the story my family reads every Christmas Eve of Snubbynose, the little rabbit who spies on Santa Claus and gets locked in a closet. Upon finishing the story, the boys said, “No, not that kind of story—a story from your life about Christmas.” So I got thinking about Christmases past, and all the stories accumulated over the years. I realized that one of my favorite Christmas stories takes place in July of 2012 while I was living and studying in Jerusalem.
The scene is modern day Bethlehem. It looks like this:
July 2, 2012 My classmates, professors, and I are visiting Bethlehem for the day on a field trip. We visit the Church of the Nativity and the church where St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin. In addition to our academic and pilgrim endeavors, we have some time for souvenir shopping. (And falafel sampling, as evidenced by the above photo.) The olive wood carvings of the Nativity are some of the most popular souvenirs (for obvious reasons).
My friend Nate is among those purchasing these beautiful carvings. Our professor gives the signal for us to board the bus as Nate is paying for his nativity, so he tries to hurry the transaction. And as always, when you’re in a hurry, things take much longer than they would otherwise. After repeated attempts, the vendor’s cash register still won’t accept Nate’s card. Nate scours his pockets for enough cash to complete the transaction, flustered because the rest of the class is counting off and ready to leave. The professors get miffed if you’re late for the pre-departure count off. (Sometimes they leave even you behind.) Not finding enough shekels in his pockets, Nate gives up, cancels the purchase, and runs to meet up with the rest of the class on the corner where we’ve been waiting to walk to the bus together.
As we leave the main square of Bethlehem to walk to the parking garage where our bus is waiting, we hear shouts from our classmates in the other group. “Nate! Nate!” One of our classmates runs to catch up with us holding a white plastic bag which she hands to Nate. Breathless and smiling, she gives him the bag and watches as he opens it. Inside is the olive wood nativity he thought he could never have. Our classmates in the other group watched Nate’s misfortune, and in true Christmas spirit, pooled their money to buy his nativity for him.
Sitting next to Nate on the bus ride home to Jerusalem that day, I felt the warm gratitude and peaceful joy he experienced because of our friends’ Christlike gift to him. As I listened to him recount the story I’d just witnessed, I could tell that he felt loved. Those who loved him had done something for him that he could not do for himself. And that is the true spirit of Christmas because it is the true spirit of Christ—being filled with gratitude and peace, feeling loved, and knowing that our Savior did something miraculous for us that we could not do for ourselves.
Merry Christmas, everyone! May your lives be infused with the true depth of Christmas joy.