"And Mary brought forth her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manager, because there was no room for them in the inn."
- Luke 2:7
Every Christmas was the same in Hazel Harrison's church.
Oh, she could handle the children dressed up as Mary, Joseph, angels and shepherds. She didn't even mind the cardboard lambs someone had covered with cotton batting.
But that "Baby Bright-Eyes" doll with the fakey cry they used for the Baby Jesus was just too much.
By the time Hazel reached ninth grade, she refused to take part in the "fakey" pageant anymore. Instead, she volunteered to keep the church nursery on the night of the pageant. Everyone else wanted to see it anyway, and she would be praised for her kindness.
That was the year of the storm, when so few people came there was only one baby in the nursery. It was also the year the lights went out in the sanctuary - and on in Hazel's head - just before the pageant began. Fortunately, the baby was sound asleep.
Perfect, she thought. If I creep down the outside aisle I can sneak the baby into the manger, pick up the fakey doll, and get out of there before the ushers find the candles. What a shock "Mary" will have when she pulls back the blanket and sees a real baby. She stifled a mischievous laugh.
Everything went according to plan: sneaking down the aisle, exchanging the doll with the real baby, and finding a seat in the back of the church before the candles arrived and the pageant began. Hazel held her breath - but not for long.
"It's real!" screamed the make-believe Mary. "Him, the baby! He's ... alive!"
That's right, beamed the slightly hidden Hazel, as murmurs of, "A real baby? Imagine that!" buzzed through the dimly lit room. It doesn't matter if everything else is fakey, she said to herself, just as long as Jesus is real.
I've always loved Sonny Salisbury's Christmas story, summarized here. Simple, contrived and predictable perhaps, but in its simplicity there is a profound message: If the baby isn't real, then the Savior isn't real. The Good Shepherd isn't real. Forgiveness and eternal life aren't real - all of that. Others concur:
"I realized Jesus was real when I knew he had forgiven me for something I couldn't forgive myself," someone says.
Another recalls: "Jesus became real to me after my husband died and I finally understood that I wasn't alone, because ‘Jesus would never leave me or forsake me'" (Hebrews 13:5).
Ultimately, no one can convince us the Christmas story is true. This decision is an individual one and, when believed, has to be taken on faith, which the New Testament writer calls, "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). For those who do believe, no persuasion is necessary to convince them that the Christmas story, and the Christmas baby, both are true.
Salisbury also wrote a song to accompany his charming story. Read it, enjoy it and, above all, share it with your children:
"Bathrobed wise men, gifts in hand, mangers full of clean yellow hay;
Sheep and cows and horses lie peacefully; did it really happen that way?
Christmas pageants, greeting cards, paint a pretty picture each year,
While downtown plastic angels sing for cardboard shepherds to hear.
Artificial Christmas trees, imitation garlands of green;
Plaster figures line the coffee table in a make-believe winter scene.
Yuletide legends, stories and tales - no one really knows if they're true;
We don't sing carols at school anymore - a song about a snowman will do.
But Joseph and Mary were real people, and they were tired, dirty and very poor;
And the stable where they stayed was a real stable that had never seen a baby before.
Hey, everybody, I've got really good news, though you might say it's really not new:
The Baby Jesus was a real baby, and he came to earth to rescue you.
Yes, he came to earth to rescue you." - Sonny Salisbury, Word Music, 1983
Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the book As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County's Past. E-mail comments to email@example.com.