“Mary’s Boy Child”

Long time ago in Bethlehem,
So the Holy Bible say,
Mary’s boy child, Jesus Christ,
Was born on Christmas Day.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
Them see a bright new shining star,
Them hear a choir sing,
The music seemed to come from afar.

Now Joseph and his wife Mary,
Come to Bethlehem that night,
Them find no place to born she child,
Not a single room was in sight.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

By and by they find a little nook
In a stable all forlorn,
And in a manger cold and dark,
Mary’s little boy was born.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

Trumpets sound and angels sing,
Listen to what they say,
That man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

~ Jester Hairston
arranged by Frank Gallagher

In wondering what to write today, I was listening to Charlotte Church’s Christmas CD Dream a Dream, and the above song began to play. And God put the pieces in place for me. I knew what to write.

Christmas is the holiday we spend with my dad’s side of the family. We used to see them more often when I was little–we would see them in the summer as well as at Christmas. Now, it’s primarily at Christmas. This year we will be going to Michigan to be with my grandmother and my dad’s two sisters. Grandma is getting too old to travel, so we make sure we go visit her (rather than making her come see us if she wants to see us!). As she grows older, tiredness has settled into her body, making it harder for her to do the things she has always loved to do when the family is around. Gradually she stopped doing things: cooking for the family meals is left to my aunt, now; buying gifts for us “kids” is my mother’s job now. But one thing that Grandma still does is make cookies. Chocolate Chip cookies.

Being at Grandma’s house has always meant having cookies. I can picture the two of us at bedtime one night when I was staying alone with her at her apartment: in our pj’s and eating a cookie apiece with a cold glass of milk before bedtime. This November, at her apartment, I raided her box of cookies again, tasting the taste that will forever be associated in my mind with her and her home. And even though she makes other cookies, even though she keeps other cookies on hand (Danish butter cookies–yum!), nothing compares with her chocolate chip cookies.

We have tried to duplicate them at our house. We use no other recipe. They’re Dad’s favorite cookie, and he loves it when we make them. But somehow they never match Grandma’s cookies. And it’s not just Dad remembering “the good old days,” either: one look at Grandma’s cookies, one taste, and I realize just how good they are and how unique. Mom has tried to make them match Grandma’s cookies, people have raved about the cookies coming from that recipe; blue ribbons have been won with it (well, at least one). The cookies we make from the recipe are not bad–in fact, they’re pretty good; but no one makes Grandma’s cookies quite like Grandma does. They’re almost crunchy, but not quite. They’re almost chewy, but not really. They’re thick and have the right proportion of chocolate chips in them–just enough to be wonderful. They’re small enough to dunk in a glass of milk without having to break them, but big enough to eat in more than one bite. And they beg you to eat more! An unseen conversation goes on in my brain when I open the box to get one out:
me: I think I’ll have a cookie.
brain: With milk?
me: Naw. I’m not really hungry; I’m not going to make a big production out of it. I’ll have milk and another one later, maybe.
I take out a cookie and eat it.
brain: Wow! That’s good.
me: Hmmm. It was better than I expected. I think I’m going to have one more.
brain: Great idea! With a glass of milk this time, ok?
me: Ok!
And there I am standing with a glass of milk and a couple more cookies, having made a big production of it after all!

Yes, they’re that good.

So what does this have to do with Christmas? What does this have to do with the song “Mary’s Boy Child” (that contains such bad grammar–yes, I’m aware of the grammatical errors, and the slight factual error, too)? That’s what I was asking myself this morning. And that’s the missing piece that fell into place for me. Uniqueness. The Christmas story is unique. No religion in the world can boast a God who gives Himself to His creation in the way Jesus Christ has given Himself. No other person in history has the power to change lives as He does. No other story in the world gives such hope and such peace, warming cold hearts the world over.

Oh, the story has often been imitated: in fact, Dickens, one of my favorite authors, models his themes off of the themes in the Christmas story. But no sacrifice nor generosity in any story can completely match the real Christmas story. It is unique. It is hard and real–cold, bare facts of a factual story. It is soft and gentle–warm, pleasant thoughts of God’s love to the world. It is thick with suspense and has just enough mystery in it to make it wonderful.  It is concise enough to read in a night (unlike my blog posts!), yet it’s big enough to spend an entire lifetime pondering. And I find that I keep coming back for more. More than I ever expect each year–I wonder if there’s anything I can possibly get out of it this year as Christmas approaches, and each year I see it in a new way. It’s just as good as I remembered. No, better! Like Grandma’s cookies.

And like Grandma’s cookies, it’s not really satisfying to think about eating them or to read about how good they are. Only the real thing satisfies. Other re-tellings and comment may help us see the story in a new light, but they are not the story. There is no substitute for reading the words–God’s words, His telling of what happened from His point of view–and hearing the way He connects it with the hopes and fears and questions I bring with me to the reading of the story.

May you find yourself devouring more of His word this Christmas than you expected to. May you sample again the “real thing” and find it more satisfying than you remembered.

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