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A New Understanding of Christmas
by Judy Doyle 
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She was only seven years old. Her red hair cascaded over her shoulders and her bangs almost covered her eyes. Sitting cross-legged in the living room of their apartment, Mary squinted her eyes as she read her Bible. She’d been reading for three years, but she didn’t always understand the words.

“Mom, why do I have to read the Bible. The words are so hard and I don’t understand what it means?” Eyebrows raised and tongue sticking out the side of her mouth, Mary knew she was supposed to read the Bible. It’s what her Sunday school teacher told her. “I just don’t get it!”

“Okay, Mary. I’ll be there a minute. Let me get these cookies in the oven,” her mom replied. The rattle of cookie trays was heard for a few minutes. Shortly, Mary heard her mother enter the room.

“Okay, what’s the problem,” she asked. She lowered herself to the floor beside Mary. She pulled Mary close and kissed the top of her head.

“Well, just listen.” They sat on the floor together looking at the Bible. Pointing with her index finger, Mary read with deliberation, ‘Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David's family will someday be king.’” She glanced up into her mom’s eyes and said, “Remember when they cut down that tree a couple of years ago?” Her mom nodded. “Remember after they cut the tree down, a small tree began to grow? ’Member, Mom? Is this kinda like that?” Her mom nodded. “So who is it from David’s family that will be king?”

“Let’s think about that,” her mother answered. “It is the second Sunday of Advent at church, right?” She glanced at Mary. Mary’s red-haired head bobbed up and down as she agreed with her mom. “And Advent comes just before Christmas, right?” Same response. “And what happens after Advent?”

“Christmas!” Mary shouted. “And I get to open presents,” her arms thrust in the air in excitement.

Her mother ruffled her daughter’s red hair. “But whose birthday will we be celebrating?”

“Oh yeah, Jesus.” The celebration was short-lived as Mary began to understand what the scripture was saying. She placed her hands on each side of her mother’s face and declared, “You mean Jesus is the king the Bible’s talking about?”

“Yep, that’s what I mean,” she pushed herself up from the floor, and added. “Let me get the cookies out of the oven and then we’ll continue to talk about what the Bible is saying.”

“Can I help frost the cookies?” Mary danced around her mom. Her excitement about Christmas and cookies couldn’t be contained.

“Yes, but they need to cool first,” was the reply. “Oh, they smell so good,” Mary announced. Glancing toward her mother, she reached for one of the cookies. “May I have one? Just one?” She tilted her head, eyes filled with expectation.

“Okay, just one. But be careful,” her mother warned. “They’re still hot.”

“Mmmm. They’re yummy,” Mary’s eyes were closed as she nibbled on the delicious, unfrosted cookie.

“But only one, Mary,” she smiled as she sensed Mary was about to ask for another one. She finished putting the cookies on the rack to cool.

“Okay, ready to go on with the story, Mary?”

Mary was already in the living room reading.

“I think I get this next part.” Mary read, “‘The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD. His greatest joy will be to obey the LORD.’ That means God’s going to be with him, the king, Jesus and help him understand everything, right? And Jesus will do everything God tells him?”

Mary’s mom smiled. She realized her daughter was beginning to understand.

“But, Mom, listen to this, ‘This king won't judge by appearances or listen to rumors. The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice.’ If that’s true, why do the kids at school make fun of Sally and Willie?”

Her mother’s eyes knitted together in a frown. She didn’t know who Sally and Willie were, much less that in Mary’s eyes they weren’t being treated fairly. She pulled Mary onto her lap. “Honey, tell me about Sally and Willie.”

“They smell and no one wants to be around them. No one wants to play with them. A lot of the kids make fun of them.” Sadness filled Mary’s eyes. “I saw Sally crying one day and ask her what was wrong. The other kids started teasing me, too.” She laid her head on her mother’s chest and was deep in thought.

“Mary, this scripture is telling us that Jesus has compassion on the poor and needy. Do you know what compassion means?”

“I think so. It means he feels sorry for them?”

“Yes, Jesus feels sorry for them. But he wants us to help them.”

Mary sat up and looked deep into her mother’s eyes, “You mean, like when we take food to church for the food pantries, hats and mittens and,”

“Yes, Mary, that’s what Jesus wants us to do. But not everyone understands that. Some people don’t want to help others.”

“That makes me sad,” Mary’s lower lip stuck out in a huge pout. She slipped off her mom’s lap and reread that portion of scripture over and over. Mary’s mom busied herself in the kitchen.

A few minutes later Mary was tugging on her mom’s sweatshirt. With a sparkle in her eyes she said, “Mom, can we take those cookies to Sally and Willie? And some hats and gloves, too?”

“Of course, we can do that.”

Later that night Mary’s mom wrote in her journal: Dear God, she is such a exceptional child. She’s so bright, so caring. Mary is so observant. I know she won’t understand everything and I know she will be disappointed when she learns that not everyone is treated fairly, but help her to understand that you expect us, your children, to treat others with fairness and equality. Forgive me for the times that I’ve been judgmental, and insensitive. In the words of communion prayer, We confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church, we have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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