John Fuller: On today’s Focus on the Family, we’ll help you get in the mood for the upcoming holiday with a few reflections on what makes this time of year so very special.
Sherry: Hi, my name is Sherry. I work in the Legal department at Focus. And my Christmas memory is just from last year. My granddaughter, Shannon, she’s 5-years-old and she loves to play with the nativity scene that sits out on the counter during the Christmas season. And it’s so fun when you’re in the kitchen doing the dishes to listen to Shannon out in the front room playing with Mary and Joseph, talking about taking care of the baby Jesus. And the gingerbread man off the Christmas tree comes and visits, as does the teddy bear on the tricycle. And it’s so fun, and you have to be so careful not to laugh to stop that interaction going on. It’s a great, great Christmas memory.
Jim Daly: John, Christmas is – it is the most special time of the year, isn’t it?
John: I think it is, yeah.
Jim: I think Trent and Troy, it’s just – for them it’s the greatest day of the year and it should be, not just because of the presents that we exchange and the Christmas decorations, but obviously, because it’s the birth of Christ and He is the greatest gift this world has seen. And boy, I hope more and more people begin to better understand that here at Christmas. And to be honest, a lot of us adults get pretty excited at Christmas time, because well, there are so many happy memories and traditions, those get-togethers and of course, the favorite foods that we like…
John: Ooh, yes.
Jim: …to eat. What’s your favorite?
John: Uh I don’t know, pecan pie. Dena brings out pecan pie…
John: …often during the holidays and I really enjoy that.
Jim: I just love that turkey and mashed potatoes. I mean, that – that is a good one.
John: Maybe what’s best is kind of the – the snooze you have to take after eating too much.
Jim: But it’s all good. But we know that for some of you, the holidays can also be really hard. It’s a lonely time. I think researchers have said it’s the loneliest time of the year for many. You may not feel joyful and you’re dealing with some difficult circumstances. If Focus on the Family can help you, please contact us. We’re here and available to pray with you, to provide perhaps a counselor if you need to talk to somebody. And at this time of year, that is often what people need, someone to pray with, someone to talk to about what’s going on in their life. If you’re in that spot, call us.
John: Yeah, our number is 800-A-FAMILY – 800-232-6459 or you can learn more at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: You know, as Christians, we believe the very first Christmas gift was that baby in a manger who was sent to be the sacrifice and Savior for all of us, to die for our sins and rise again, to bring us new life in his kingdom. Eternal life. Unfortunately, that message can get lost in all the lights and decorations, and I guess materialism of Christmas – the fancy packages and shopping, and all the activity that goes on during this busy season. In the next segment, we’ll hear from a man who knows that problem all too well. He’s a believer, but for him, Christmas has become just another holiday. It’s a break. Nothing special. In fact, it’s more of a burden than a blessing. Maybe, just maybe, some of you feel that way as well.
John: Yeah, it’s a dramatic reading called “A Walk One Winter Night.” It’s written by counselor and author Al Andrews, and Al has captured this in a storybook by that same title, A Walk One Winter Night. He’s graciously agreed to read that for us on today’s Focus on the Family.
Al Andrews: It was cold that winter evening as I ambled down my quiet street. I needed a walk to clear my mind of all the clutter and stress of the season. It seems that every year it gets worse, more obligatory parties, irritated drivers and panicky shoppers, long lines everywhere. I remember a time when I was more expectant, when the reason for all the celebrating meant everything to me. But sadly this night, my internal monologue was, “Let’s just get this thing over and get back to normal.” Frankly, my cynicism troubled me and when I’m troubled, I take a walk, even if it’s near midnight, even if it’s cold, even if there are still things to be done.
The hour was late and a light rain was falling. Stray flakes of snow twirled and mingled in. From windows and trees, the lights of the season sparkled through the heavy mist, like stars aching to beam brightly on this dreary dark night. Turning up my collar, I pulled my jacket tighter. That kind of cold finds its way through most any opening.
As I walked, I saw them out of the corner of my eye, Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, displayed in a wooden stable in someone’s front yard. The usual characters were assembled, as well – shepherds, the sheep, camel, the Wise Men three. On the stable’s roof, a precariously perched angel looked on and was tilting slightly to the left. All of them were illuminated by two bright floodlights shining from the grass in front of them. I almost passed them by. They were easy to miss as I’ve grown accustomed to their presence. They are, after all, available everywhere in all sizes – ornament size, mantel size, coffee table size and yard size. They come in a box, easy to assemble.
But that night, and I’m not sure why, something caused me to turn my head, inviting me to linger. I stopped to look at them for a while, as one would stand in front of a Rembrandt painting in a museum. I must admit, it felt somewhat odd and awkward. After all, grownups don’t pause and start at yard manger scenes. But for some reason, that night, that moment, I felt I should be there to witness something, to see.
I folded my arms and I looked, obedient to this mysterious nudge. She wore blue. Mary always wears blue – a neatly pressed clean blue garment. Her face, porcelain and untouchable, had a fixed expression: pleasant and peaceful. With her fragile hands folded in prayer, she gazed down adoringly at her child. She was perfect, this Mary – pristine, with moisture glistening on her smooth ceramic shawl.
Joseph wore brown. Joseph always wears brown. Brown is a fitting color for a character relegated to the background, for someone who never gets top billing. His eyes appeared vacant and his beard was neatly trimmed. He was there, as he always is, on the edges. He can’t seem to find his place. Everyone has something distinctive – wings, crowns, gifts, halos, a shepherd’s crook, but all he has is brown.
Then there was the baby Jesus, His tiny arms extended, the star attraction. A halo encircled His little head, reaching from ear to ear, a clean white fabric wrapped around Him – “swaddled” I suppose is the appropriate Christmas word to use. He smiled an unearthly smile. He’s always happy, this manger Jesus. It looked like He’d never slept and never cried. It didn’t appear that He wanted to be held, nursed or cuddled either.
I won’t take the time to describe the others, but you know them well. You probably even know where each is positioned in the stable. The shepherds go there, the camels and sheep over there, the Wise Men, there, there and there. I imagine you, too, are accustomed to their presence.
I remain standing, trying to stay warm. Looking at them through the gauzy mist, I pondered. I simply couldn’t relate to them in any way. They seemed remote and untouchable, just like this season had become for me. With considerable guilt, I wondered, “Why don’t I like these people?” After this abrupt and irreverent thought came to me, I half expected the ground underneath to open up and swallow me whole or a bolt of lightning to descent with a flash and a snap, leaving a little pile of smoldering ashes that used to be me. I closed my eyes and waited for the end. Thankfully, neither the heavens nor the ground opened, so I continued my gaze.
John: That’s Al Andrews, reading from his book, A Walk One Winter Night, and we’ll share more of that story in just a few moments. Please contact us about getting a copy of the book, and when you’re in touch, we can tell you about a CD or a download of this program so you can listen again. You might want to tuck this kind of broadcast into someone’s stocking at this Christmas time. Learn more at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459.
Ashley: My name is Ashley and I work here on the radio broadcast here at Focus on the Family. And I remember a Christmas back in 1996; it was my first Christmas away from home and I was working for a large entertainment corporation in downtown Hollywood, actually. We were showing a movie and then we also had a live-action Christmas-themed show that we were showing beforehand. We had all kinds of singers and dancers, and it was wonderful. Christmas day we had a big potluck, and we had more food than anybody could stand to eat – turkeys and all kinds of things. So, we decided to plate up some of that extra food and take it out to the streets of Hollywood.
We plated up about five, and we encountered a gentleman who said he’d already eaten that day. So he said, “Ya know if you have more, I’ll take you around.” We went back in and got the rest of the food and brought it out. And the man showed us around all of the different allies and alcoves of Hollywood. There was one gentleman, I remember he was wrapped up in a sleeping bag and it was almost like a cocoon. He just peered out and he was able to receive that food. It was an amazing time. I just get chills thinking about it even now.
After we had delivered all the food we decided to go back to the parking lot behind the theater, and we just felt like something needed to be said. Something – it was a magical night and we wanted to wrap it up in the right way. So we ended up, this mixed group of people, singing “Silent Night.” It was just beautiful. And I think the most amazing part was that, that night we got to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those – those folks that needed it so desperately.
John: You’re listening to Focus on the Family, where we’re sharing some special reflections about this Christmas season. I’m John Fuller in the studio with Jim Daly.
Jim: That last comment came from Ashley, one of our very own producers here at Focus. And I think it’s great how people will serve others like that at Christmastime, hopefully throughout the year. That’s a good way to train our kids, too, John, that this season isn’t just about what we can get. And you know, Jean and I battle with that a bit, even with our own kids, to make sure they understand Christmas is about giving, not just receiving. And there’s a – a real blessing when we can learn how to give like that.
We’re gonna return now to a story we started earlier in today’s program. It’s a dramatic reading, as I said before, by Al Andrews, called “A Walk One Winter Night.” To recap, in this story, the narrator has grown weary of Christmas. He’s become cynical and frustrated by the holiday craziness and he really doesn’t care anymore about the meaning of Christmas. So he takes a walk and comes across a nativity set in someone’s yard and it’s all very familiar, maybe too familiar and perhaps unreal to him. But then as we’ll hear, a kind of dream-like visionary thing happens and God speaks right into this man’s heart.
John: Well, let’s go ahead and hear part two of “A Walk One Winter Night,” as narrated by Al Andrews on today’s Focus on the Family.
Al: And then something happened, something I frankly don’t expect you to believe. I heard a noise coming from Mary’s direction. It startled me. “Who’s that?” I said. Though her figure didn’t move, a soft voice pleaded, “This is not me,” she cried. “This is not real.” And her voice broke. “Please listen to me. My garment, it isn’t this clean and it’s not this brilliant shade of blue. It’s a blue faded by the dust of a long journey to Bethlehem. It smells of my sweat and of the mule whose back I rode upon. My blue is stained with red, the blood of birth. It’s soiled by the dung of a stable floor and my face, my real face is blemished. I’m a teenage girl.”
“My brow is furrowed from worry, worry about this Baby, about tomorrow. What will Herod do? Will he find us? And my eyes – my eyes are red from tears of pain. I’m so lonely and afraid. This is my first baby and my mother is not here with me. This is not who I am,” she said again. “I’m real. Please let me be real.” And her voice trailed off. Her words, both gentle and moving reached down inside of me so deeply, I could barely breathe.
And while I was catching my breath I heard a deeper voice. “You are wrong about me, too.” It was coming from Joseph’s direction. “This is not me. This is not real. Please listen to me,” he said firmly. I started to take a step backwards, but his voice riveted me in place. “Listen,” he repeated, “really listen. I am not the quiet simple character you make me out to be. My eyes are not vacant. Hours ago they were full of fire when I grabbed the innkeeper’s tunic with a tight grip and said, ‘Don’t you tell me there is not some room somewhere!’ And he found a place for us.”
“I’m a man with a purpose, to travel where I was told to go and to lead my family safely there and we made it. And now that we are here, I’m still on guard, for we are in danger.” Joseph continued, “Yes, I wear brown, but it is for stealth. I blend in with my surroundings and from my vantage point, my eyes scan every opening in this place for anyone who is out to do us harm and no one will get by me. Let them try. I am the keeper of this Light and I will keep Him safe. You are wrong about me. This is not who I am. I am real. Please let me be real.” His words soaked into me like the evening’s mist. I felt admonished and awakened to something that was true.
And then I heard a cry. I look at Jesus in the wooden manger as He was thrashing about in the hay. He had soiled Himself and He looked uncomfortable. His cloth was twisted in His arms and legs. He grimaced from the prickly straw. His face was red and His cry grew louder, the cry of a hungry infant. His toothless mouth opened and He arched His back. He cried so hard, He ran out of breath and for a moment it was quiet. But I knew it was the quiet before He drew another breath and then He wailed so loudly I expected the lights in the nearby houses to turn on and the neighbors to come running out.
I wondered if He, too, would speak, but He didn’t need to. Somehow His words were in me and I spoke for Him. “This is not Me. This is not real. Please listen to Me. The reason I came, the reason I was sent was to be real, to feel everything you felt, to know everything you need, because I needed it, too. To hurt like you hurt, cry like you’ve cried, laugh like you’ve laughed, skin my knee like you’ve skinned your knee and have My heart broken like your heart has been broken. I came so that one day or one winter night, when you come face to face with your defeat, your moment of absolute need, you can come to Me and say, ‘You know this, too. Be with me and lead me through it,’ and I will. This is not me. I am real. Please let Me be real.”
Then there was silence, a long stillness that hushed the wind and pushed away the noises of the night. In the quiet, I was being given room, room to feel and consider what I’d just seen and heard. And out of the silence the truth appeared like stars revealed by the parting clouds. Maybe the figures before me weren’t real, because I had made them that way, so they would be predictable and safe, easy to ignore and boxed up after Christmas, out of sight and out of mind. Maybe if Jesus wasn’t real, He would be tame and small. Maybe I had rendered Him untouchable because I was afraid of His touch. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I know this isn’t You. I can see it now. You’re not who I’ve seen You to be, untouchable, perfect – something I made, rather than Someone who made me. You are real. You are true; You are here.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said again, as my eyes brimmed with tears. The sorrow nudged me to kneel next to a shepherd on the wet grass in front of something so real, so very real I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it. And as I knelt, I became a part of the story and the story became a part of me. And I felt His gentle pardon. Suddenly, everything expanded – the scene, this night, my heart and I felt real. After a while I stood and remained there, quietly looking at them as they gazed back at me. And I realized something: I liked these people now and I think they like me.
Shivering, I wondered if Jesus was cold, too, so I laid my scarf over His hands and His feet, the same hands and feet I would one day see again. I tucked Him in as best I could. “Good night,” I said to Him. “Sleep well; You’ve traveled far.” I stayed beside Him for a few minutes, just as I once stayed beside my own newborn sons as they drifted into sleep.
Then a low, regal voice came from one of the Wise Men. He whispered as if he was aware that Jesus was sleeping, “We, like you, were drawn to this place and have journeyed far to come here to see what you have seen. And what you have seen is what this world has been waiting for.” And from a shepherd standing behind Joseph I heard another quiet voice, “Once you hear the angels sing, you will never be the same. If you listen carefully, they’re always singing.”
And then there was quiet; no more voices, no more movement, no more surprises. I sensed it was time to go. I started to walk back to my house; the cold wind and a few flakes of snow urged me along. My pace was slow and thoughtful. This walk had become a journey I didn’t want to end. Something had returned to me and I yearned for it to remain. When I reached the corner of the street, I thought I heard singing and turned for one last look. In the distance I saw a warm glow coming from a small wooden stable in a yard down the street, sheltering something inside that was older than the stars and bigger than our whole wide world. And it was real.
Jim: Ah, I mean, that tells the story right there. Christmas became real at that point and I hope Christmas through these stories that we’re sharing is becoming a little more real for you today. You’re listening to Focus on the Family. I’m Jim Daly. John, do you have that special Christmas memory that sticks out for you?
John: Well, I think going through the years, there are probably a number of things, Jim, but the most poignant of those is most likely just a few years back. We took a family Christmas trip to Peru. We went and volunteered at an orphanage with a couple of other families and spent time lovin’ on the kids there at the orphanage and giving them gifts. And it was not primitive conditions, but it wasn’t the nicest. And Zane, our youngest, was only 6 at the time and he kind of struggled, because the hygiene practices there were a little bit different and he had a hard time with that and you can’t drink tap water and some things like that. And I think for him it was just a really interesting time to be around a bunch of children who have no family, who don’t have anything close to what he has in terms of stuff and presents. And we distributed some Christmas gifts and he and I – he was getting’ tired, so he and I moseyed back to our hotel room.
And along the way I could see his wheels were turning and one of the things he was – he was kind of processing was, you know, “I’m adopted; I – I can kind of understand these kids a little bit,” but he knew that his life was far different. And along the way, as we walked hand in and back to the room, he just looked at me and he said, “Dad, thanks for adopting me into your family.” And I just was totally blown away by that, brought to tears, because it was the first expression of – of his understanding that adoption is family and it’s – it’s forever. And – and it’s a gift.
And so, I think that has to go down as the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever had, as he just looked at me and said, “Thanks for adopting me…”
Jim: He caught it.
John: “…in your family.” Yeah.
Jim: Yeah. And you know, for so many of us, our heavenly Father does that, too. Through Christmas, through His gift to us in His Son, Jesus Christ. And for us to say, “Thank You, Lord. Thank You for adopting me into your family.” That’s what Zane was really saying in at a different level, wasn’t he?
John: Yeah, I think that’s a great parallel, Jim. We all are adopted into the family of Christ when we believe.
Jim: And it is true. We hear from so many people who are like that man in the story by Al Andrews. They’re struggling and they’re hurting at this time of year, lonely, whatever it might be. They feel lost and they’re separated from God. They need our help. Your financial support to Focus on the Family enables us to offer that hope to the hopeless.
And many people wouldn’t know this, John, but you know, through our research, about 190,000 people accepted Christ or rededicated their life to the Lord in the last 12 months. I don’t think many think of Focus in that kind of evangelistic fashion – 190,000 people! And perhaps that is the most impactful number to me, that as a ministry, we’ve been able to reintroduce or introduce people to Christ in that way.
That’s what this time of year is all about. If you can help support the ministry so we can continue to do that, if your heart beats to reach the lost with the message of the Good News of the Gospel, help us do that today. Support the ministry here at Focus on the Family. And together we can tell that story.
John: It really is a privilege to partner with you in that way and you can donate when you call 800-A-FAMILY – 800-232-6459 – or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And when you make a generous donation of any amount, as our way of saying thank you, we’ll send a complimentary copy of Al Andrews’ book, A Walk One Winter Night, which is a charming storybook for all ages. And as you’ve just heard, it really has a profound message.
Plus, we have a lot more holiday content for you in our Christmas Stories podcast. You’ll find encouragement and practical tips for the season in this special edition Christmas Stories podcast. Learn more about that at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And coming up next time, we’re gonna hear from Bible teacher Ray Vander Laan as he describes how you can live out your faith in today’s culture.
Ray Vander Laan: God chose his people, first of all, not to tell the world who He was, but to show the world who He was.
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John: That’s next time on Focus on the Family. Thanks for joining us, and when you get in touch, please let us know you listen on AM 790 and FM 100.3 KURM. I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, join us next time as we help you and your family thrive in Christ.