In one of my former parishes, we used to invite a "Theologian in Residence" to live among us for eight days. I especially remember our time with Gerhard Frost. Our congregation was rapidly growing, but we also were experiencing a growing number of inactive members. The Council was struggling to find a solution for what they saw as a lot of dead weight.
Dr. Frost told us a true story about a visit he had made to a congregation in California the previous December. He was staying in the home of a young family. They had one son. He loved to listen to the adult conversations, and one night begged to stay up longer than usual.
"I want to show Dr. Frost the Christmas crऐche I have made." "Okay," replied the parents, "You can show Dr. Frost what you have made, and then you must go to bed."
The five-year-old quickly fetched a grocery bag filled with figures he had made. He pulled out a baby in a manger, and said, "This is the baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem." He then pulled out a figure of Mary. "This is Mary, Jesus' mother, and she took care of Jesus." Then, "This is Joseph, who took care of both Mary and Jesus."
He then placed three shepherds and a lamb. "They came from the fields during the night to worship the baby Jesus." The boy reached in his bag and retrieved three more figures on camels. "These are the three Wise Men. They came from the east and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."
The parents were a bit nervous when their son reached into his bag and pulled out five more figures and placed them around the manger scene. "Who are these people?" asked Dr. Frost. The boy thought for a while and then answered, "These are the cowboys, and they are asking, 'What the heck is going on around here?'"
Our job, said Gerhard Frost, is not to ask how to discipline those who do not worship with us. Our task is to so celebrate Christmas that the cowboys begin asking, "What the heck is going on around here?" Merry Christmas!
Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.