by Christina Galeone
During the holidays, many people find participating in traditions a heartwarming experience. For many Christians, some traditions can also lead to a deeper connection to our faith.
One such tradition that many families enjoy involves an empty manger. For each good deed a family member does, that person may place a piece of straw in the manger. By Christmas Eve, it should be filled with straw, so that the figure of the Baby Jesus can be placed in a warm, loving environment.
But how can we gather that straw? To answer that question, we once again reached out to local pastors. And, as in the past, their responses were beautifully overflowing with the Christmas spirit.
1. Pastor Jamie Walton, Cornerstone Church: The pastor of Cornerstone Church, a Baptist church located at 5 East Hartford Ave. in Uxbridge, said that it’s wonderful for young children to learn how Jesus lived and how He taught us to treat others. He noted that Jesus blessed the fringes of society and loved to show us that without God’s grace, we are all sick with sin, lonely and hurting. “He calls His people to bless the poor, love the lonely, serve the sick, and take care of the lowest in society; parents should look to find opportunities in homeless shelters, nursing homes, hospitals and other places that typically house the most hurting in our towns and cities,” suggested Pastor Walton, adding that people are invited to reach out to Cornerstone Church if they would like to participate in such activities offered there.
He added “Parents can also seek out elderly neighbors, or those who seem to be alone, grieving, or sick, and do something for them. Anything that brings a smile to their faces, and lifts their spirits will teach the valuable lesson we learned from Jesus. ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
2. Pastor Howard De Vries, Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church: Pastor De Vries, the pastor of care ministries at Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church – located at 25 Cross Street in Whitinsville – was inspired to think about Romans 5:8, the Bible verse that states that God demonstrated His love for us through Christ dying for us when we were still sinners.
“To do something that shows kindness and love for those we don’t even know – or possibly don’t even like – would be showing the love of Jesus to them,” Pastor De Vries said. He explained “Jesus’ coming was all about love given where it was not deserved. So, to do kindnesses for strangers, neighbors we may never have gotten to know, a visit to those in nursing homes or to the Whitinsville Retirement Home, to some who are shut up in their homes would bring great joy to them and to the ones who visit, and be a wonderful learning experience for children on what it means to give to those who need a blessing.”
3. Pastor Richard Robison, Baptist Church of Grafton: Pastor Robison, who recently became the Interim Pastor at the Baptist Church of Grafton, located at 1 South Street, said that the church observes Advent with an Advent wreath and the traditional lighting of Advent candles. He noted that the church does this to help its members spiritually prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child, and it helps children to understand that although this is a season of gift giving and celebrating with family and friends, it’s also a season of worship.
“In that sense, we can teach our children this is a season of hope,” said Pastor Robison. “We look for little signs – like a ray of sunshine that pierces the gray days and makes them seem brighter. It might be a kindness shared, a thoughtful gesture or a selfless moment. These are our little straws that can be named as we gather and build our manger scenes throughout the weeks of Advent in anticipation of Christmas Eve.”
4. Pastor Cliff Davis, Millbury Federated Church: Pastor Davis, the pastor at the United Methodist church located at 20 Main Street, shared that while he believes in honoring Jesus through community service, he also believes that we can honor Him in other ways. He said that one way is by sincerely worshiping Jesus by glorifying Him through praise. A second way he suggested is by being a peacemaker, even with those who have different political beliefs, since he said that you “know you’re honoring Jesus when you’re working toward reconciliation with, not the elimination of, someone else.” A third way he recommended is by initiating “a family project to read through the Gospel of Luke.” And a fourth is by committing to Christ. He said “Jesus is most honored when you and I admit that we are sinners and need the salvation He brings.”
A final way he suggested gathering those straws is by transforming certain Bible verses into prayers. He mentioned Colossians 1:15-23 as an example. “So, in the New International, or King James Versions, that would look something like this: Verse 15, ‘Jesus, You are the image of the invisible Father, You are the firstborn over all creation,’ he noted. “See what we’ve done? We’ve transposed this verse from sound biblical teaching into a sound personal prayer of honor. We’ve moved it from the chalkboard, so to speak, to our hearts. Now, work through all eight of these verses in that way. Write it out. Afterwards, try the same with Philippians 2:6-11, and Revelation 5:5-14.”
While family and cultural traditions can warm our hearts, faith-filled ones can brighten our souls. Whether or not we choose to literally gather straw, following any of these pastors’ suggestions can help children and adults to prepare to joyfully celebrate Christmas and the Christmas season.