Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

December 29, 2019


Deliver me from another “live” manger scene


            At Christmastime manger scenes are everywhere. The best are what we call “live” manger scenes – the ones with real people and real animals. The only mannequin is the baby Jesus.

            As a pastor I helped arrange many manger scenes and enjoyed them all except one in Pensacola. That one, 37 years ago now, cured me of ever wanting to help with a another live manger scene .

            The entrance to our church was located on a busy thoroughfare. Across the street was an empty lot. Our church leaders decided that would be the perfect location to set up a live manger scene. We would take turns filling the roles of Joseph, Mary and the shepherds – and we would serve coffee and hot chocolate to folks who stopped by. Plenty of parking space was available.

            Several of our guys in the building trades volunteered to build a simple stable. One man knew of a farmer who would loan us a few bales of hay. The youth of our church would be conscripted to serve as Joseph, Mary, shepherds and Wise Men. Other adults volunteered to make coffee, hot chocolate and cookies to serve each night.

            Tommy offered to find some animals. Everything was falling into place. No one, least of all their pastor, suspected trouble was brewing.

            Soon Tommy reported he had no luck finding a donkey but his friend was willing to loan us a calf, a lamb and a goat. So we were in business. No camels or donkeys but we were ok with that.

            Then the fun began. Since we were going to man the manger scene for three nights before Christmas, we needed a place for the animals to stay while they were not on display. Guess where they stayed. Right. In our backyard since the parsonage was nearby. Eager to cooperate, I agreed, clueless about what was about to happen.

            It was a disaster from the first hour. Since it was Christmas, you might expect a sheep and a goat to be friends. But not so. The goat had half-killed the poor little lamb by the second night. Showing mercy to the innocent lamb, I tied up the goat and the lamb at opposite ends of the yard. But having no Boy Scout skills, the rope almost strangled the lamb before I realized what was happening.

            Was that bad enough? No sir, it got worse. The calf got sick and appeared to be dying. How was I to know that to some of the bushes in our backyard were toxic and deadly to cattle?

            I called a veterinarian who was sorry he could not come over; he had a Christmas party to attend with his family. So what can  I do? Perhaps, he said, you could give the calf some castor oil or something to make her throw up. Well, let me tell you, I have a long list  of things I never intend to try again – and giving a calf castor oil is at the top of my list.

            Maybe, I thought, the farmer who owned the calf would know what to do. But guess what. He also was enjoying a Christmas party with his family – while I stayed home nursing his sick calf.

            Well, I had news for the farmer the next morning. “Sir, I hate to call you so early but your calf got sick and died last night,” I told him. Only then did I realize we had not borrowed those sweet animals from a kind Christian man. If he was not a pagan, he was one angry Christian. After scalding me with words he did not learn in Sunday School, he told me he was coming to get his animals.

            When that farmer drove away with his dead calf, his wounded lamb and his buttheaded goat in his truck, I was the happiest preacher in America. And with God and Santa Claus listening, I vowed I would never again tend in my backyard the animals for a live manger scene.

            Every Christmas since then, I look for a lovely, live manger scene in our community. I drive by with a smile on my face, and if they are serving hot chocolate, I stop to enjoy a cup. As I drive on I offer a prayer asking the Lord to bless the dear souls who are keeping the animals in their backyard.

            Then I thank the good Lord for his kindness. For 37 years He has answered my prayer to deliver me from another live manger scene.

            There are, of course, more important prayers one may pray at Christmastime. We may pray, for example, that the Christ who was born at Bethlehem will enter our hearts – to cleanse and save us from our sins. Thankfully, we do not need a manger scene in order to pray prayers stimulated by such wondrous hymns as “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

The great joy of the Lord can become real when, worshiping with other friends in Christ, we rejoice in the truth of Phillips Brooks’ words: “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

            So, my main prayer this Christmas is this: Lord, help me open my heart to you, so wide open that the dear Christ may enter in – and stay within to guide me, bless me and make me a blessing.  + + +