The headline was unmistakable, but Nick Thompson read it again. “Baby Jesus is Missing!” This was followed by a short article and then a photo of the empty manger at the front of St. Luke’s Church.
“I can’t believe it!” Nick exclaimed, causing his wife, Jackie, to look up from her laptop across the kitchen table. “Someone has taken Jesus from St. Luke’s! Who would do such thing? The church has set that manger scene up since before I was born!”
“Shush!” Jackie placed a finger over her mouth in warning. “I don’t want Emma to hear. She loves the creche and can hardly wait to see it every Sunday. I don’t want her to have sad news like that this close to Christmas.”
Fortunately Emma was watching her favorite holiday video with her beloved doll in the next room, and her six-year-old attention span was totally focused on enjoying what was on the television screen.
The same could not be said of the rest of Cloverdale’s residents. At that very moment, Pastor Carter was talking to Sheriff Branson about the case – which currently ranked number one on the officer’s investigations since Mr. Hathaway’s lost cow had been found and returned.
The coffee shop was abuzz with the news as well. Several of the men at the counter offered their suggestions about the situation.
“I bet it’s one of those hoodlums at the high school – probably thinks this is some great prank to play on the all of us,” Jed Tompkins grumbled.
Mr. Hathaway, celebrating the return of his cow with a Waffle Special, shook his head slowly. “Naw, my money is on one of those city folks that come down here on the weekend to ‘get away from it all.’ You know, they just don’t teach good morals any more in town. Why, I hear hardly anybody even goes to church there except on Christmas and Easter – and even then it’s hit and miss.”
“Okay boys,” Doreen the waitress chimed in as she walked over to refill coffee cups, “you all aren’t sounding very Christian yourselves – judging the kids and city people like that. Maybe there’s some other explanation for the disappearance.”
“Yeah, Doreen, you may be right,” added Pete Jefferson, the town’s only attorney. “I wonder if someone has stolen Jesus and is holding him for ransom. That old manger scene has to be an antique!”
But no ransom note ever arrived at St. Luke’s, and Sheriff Branson didn’t have any leads either after several weeks of searching. With Christmas Eve service just hours away, Pastor Carter knew he and his worship team would have to change their plans for the traditional service they usually held. He had the custodian bring in the creche, as was custom, and set it up on the big stage. Then he went to his office to pray for God’s guidance about what he should say to the parishioners.
By the time he jotted down his final notes, the minister heard the pipe organ playing “O Come All Ye Faithful.” He slipped out of his office and turned the corner to the main sanctuary.
“Oh my!” Pastor Carter couldn’t help but exclaim. The church was packed! He hadn’t seen a crowd this big since September 12th, 2001. “Well Lord,” he whispered in prayer. “It appears that people may be here looking for a miracle. I sure hope You’ve got one for them!”
After a few more songs, Pastor Carter walked to the podium. He glanced at the life-size creche, but there was no baby in the manger. After leading the congregation in prayer, he took a final glance at his notes and then lifted his head to begin his message.
But he stopped in mid-sentence. Little Emma Thompson was marching up the center aisle. Pastor Carter scanned the audience for her parents, who’d just caught sight of Emma from their row in the back of the church. Nick scurried up the aisle after her, but by then she was already at the minister’s feet. The crowd giggled and murmured quietly, knowing this was not part of St. Luke’s usual Christmas Eve service.
“Pastor Carter,” Emma called up to him while simultaneously tugging on his robe. “I have something for you.” And holding up her baby doll swaddled in a blanket, she smiled brightly at him.
Pastor Carter looked down at Emma, then at the doll. He tilted his head slightly as recognition slowly sank in. This was no ordinary doll – it was the missing Jesus!
Emma’s dad had reached the stage at that same moment, and he also recognized the decades-old doll. “Emma,” he said rather shakily, “what are you doing with Baby Jesus?”
By this time, the entire church realized what was happening. You could have heard a pin drop when Emma gave her response.
“After the big storm a few weeks ago, I saw Jesus lying on the ground under a pile of leaves. Then after church, I saw him again. Everybody just walked by and didn’t even notice him. So I decided to take him home, clean him up, and give him a warm place to stay before his big day!”
The entire church erupted in a combination of cheers, applause, and tears as Emma, her father and Pastor Carter placed Jesus back at the centerpiece of the Christmas scene where he belonged. For years afterward, the people of Cloverdale recalled that this was a night to remember . . . a Christmas to remember. We pray the same will be said of yours.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
A very Merry Christmas to you and your family – and many blessings in the New Year!
Thought of the Month
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.