“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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:17-19)
For as many years as I can remember Saint Petersburg has an annual Snowfest the first weekend in December. North Straub Park and surrounding streets downtown are taken over by the Santa parade, vendors are there to sell their wares, there is a craft tent for children, face painting, musicians… Santa and his sleigh and elves to take pictures of children and the jolly old elf. There is usually a bouncy toy or two, a ramp set up and snow brought in for children to slide on saucers down the ramp. This year there is a “glice skating rink”. Whatever glice is, kids can skate in their socks. A Christmas tree is decorated and lit, Flags and decorations are on the lampposts. Along the periphery of the park there are huge “Christmas cards” standing vertically with messages from local organizations, youth and civic groups wishing peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
A local ballet troupe performed the Nutcracker after dark and for a few years in the running one of my best friends, Alison, my godchildren/ niece & nephew, Tyler and Katie and I made it a traditional way to kick off the Christmas season. We would bring a thermos of hot cocoa, some snacks and a quilt and settle in for a great show. (The ballet troupe is now bigger, better, rents a space and charges for the performance, & Doug and Alison, Ty & Katie have moved to Texas). Still, these are great memories.
Near the sidewalk, fairly close to the Christmas cards and Santa there has always been a life-size Nativity set. People will walk through the park and stand and check it out. I always wonder if they know Jesus. For some maybe it’s the only time during the Christmas season that they think of Him. For some He is just part of the story and not the main character. Some may not know anything of Him, yet here they are considering Him even at a glance. For others, it is a picture of what you know to be so true, so real, so affirming that God became man that we might know Him. I like to stop by, reflect and thank Him. I have found great joy, just as the angels have said.
An angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds in their fields and said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” (Luke 2:10-14.)
This year, I drove downtown after the Santa parade. I didn’t really want to make a day of it, I just wanted to get the flavor of the festivities. It was evident that our community like many others had to make some budget cuts. That’s okay. I understand. Some things which used to be free were also being charged for. Well, it’s not a necessity like trash removal, so again, I understand. And if it helped one more family to still have an income then I think that’s good. But, as I’m circling the park, I don’t see the Nativity. I thought I must have missed it, so I drove back again. No nativity. By now, I’m feeling a little panicked. Where is Jesus? What did they do with Jesus? They moved the Christmas cards to the Vinoy basin, a bit closer to Tampa Bay, maybe they moved the Nativity there as well… No. Jesus wasn’t there either. I wanted to cry and at the same time I was composing a letter to the mayor and the city council in my head. I felt so sad and disappointed.
I was driving away when past the Museum of Fine Arts and closer to the marina I noticed what looked to be a straw roof. Wait a minute! I anxiously waited through the light, then drove to find the Nativity in South Straub Park. I can’t tell you how happy I was to see it! I parked and just sat there for a minute. There was a man standing in front of it just looking and drinking a cup of coffee. I wondered what his thoughts were at the time. I found myself praying for God to touch his heart.
I thanked God that our city still places the symbols of the true meaning of Christmas out for the world to see and prayed that they always would. Then as only God knows how to do, He began to speak to my heart. This is what I feel like He was saying to me…
This year is not like years past for many people. Some can’t seem to find Jesus in it. Some have felt disappointed and wonder where He is. Some have felt loss of many kinds. Some have lost parents, spouses, children or friends. Some have lost jobs and economic security. Some have lost pets. Some have lost their homes. Some have lost pride. Some have lost their joy and peace. Some have lost the idea of a god they trusted in.
What I want you to know is that there is hope. Jesus may not be where you’ve always thought He would be, as far as an external connection to Him. But, the whole point of Christmas is that He is Emmanuel. He is God with us! Take another look. (Drive around the block one more time. Look for the signs of what may only initially appear as a straw roof.) Ask Him where He is in your circumstances. Ask Him to be your peace and joy and to bear your burdens. He is not far off. He is very, very near.
God bless you and may you find Jesus in all.
Father, today I lift up the person who is reading this. I bring them to You. I ask You to touch their heart and help them in whatever way will bring them closer to You. I ask You to provide all they have need for spiritually, emotionally, physically and financially. I pray that they find You. I pray that You fill them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. I pray for You to bring comfort, peace and strength to their hearts and fresh vision for their future. I pray that You would bring healing to minds and bodies and strength to their inner most being. I ask You to put them on a path in the center of Your will and give each one a heart to follow You closely. Bless each one I pray, for Your glory, in Jesus name. Amen.