by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
Here is the story to share with the kids in your life for the second Sunday of Advent.
Papa used to call me his little princess. I had just celebrated my thirteenth year, and had finally fallen asleep with little more to worry about than where to put my lovely gifts. I admit I did live like a princess; I even had my own maid. But that was before the raiders came, surprising us in the dead of night. Mama shook me awake, wrapping a blanket around me in my night dress, fastening my new sandals on my feet, and urging me to run and hide in the nearby woods. But I didn’t get far before I was snatched up by one of the raiders on horseback.
Now I’m here in this grubby town far to the south of my homeland. I’m a kitchen maid, little more than a slave to a master who owns this inn beside the main road leading into Bethlehem. Master and his wife run a decent enough place welcoming travelers near the end of each day. Rarely is every bed taken, but even I can figure out that lately we’re busier than usual. People from all over are flooding into the town for some reason.
Marta, the cook, is kind enough in her own way. She helps me learn her language, though not so much out of kindness. It’s because she doesn’t like struggling to make me understand what I’m supposed to do to make her tasks easier. I’ve seen what happens to servants who don’t obey, so I act quickly when waiting on the tired, sweaty travelers who find lodging here. Believe me! They can make me work, but they can’t make me happy about it!
Marta lets me keep a cat, a stray like me that I found shivery wet out in the little cave beyond the stables. That’s a hollowed out place in the hillside where we keep small animals like geese and chickens and a couple of nanny goats I’ve learned to milk. Simon, the stable boy, helps me muck out the place and supplies clean hay. I do this willingly for you see, as much as I hate the people around me, I love the animals.
One fateful night I was already asleep on my mat in the corner of the kitchen, curled up with my cat under a warm blanket. I was dreaming of home when Marta pulled at my foot and ordered, “Get up! The baby is coming and the mother needs our help.” And then, under her breath, “Why he took her with him to travel on a donkey so near to her time I’ll never understand…”
I stumbled to my feet and found the kitchen had already grown chilly. Why couldn’t this old woman let me sleep in peace I asked myself. Then, clearing sleep from my eyes, I heard Marta mumble something about needing warm water to wash the newborn. Feverishly she was working to bring up flames from the coals we had banked earlier. Finally, I realized she was motioning me to take some of the hot stones from around the fire pit out to the cave behind the stables. This was hard work.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw the first time I entered the shelter. The young mother was so beautiful, even when the painful contractions were upon her. I found a clean scrap of cloth, handing it to the father who wiped the sweat from her face. I guessed that they were northerners as their speech sounded much like Marta’s. I pushed down bitter anger as I dragged each heavy sack along the path. Back and forth between the kitchen and the cave I went, replacing stones that had cooled with hot ones, bringing some warmth to the place. As time passed I realized that, tired though I was, I was serving the little family willingly. Even tearing up a sheet of bed linen into strips to make swaddling for the newborn seemed like a glad task.
It was well past midnight before we heard the first cries. Eventually Marta returned to the kitchen and collapsed on a bench near the fire. “He’s asleep, Amina. A perfect child. A boy. The mother sleeps, too, finally. Go on,” she motioned me in the direction of the cave. “Go ahead and see for yourself.”
The early morning had grown bitter cold. I thought I saw a flash of brilliance far off in the distance as I slipped into the animal shelter. Soft light from a tiny oil lamp shown on the scene. A newborn child slept on the manger’s clean hay. His parents held one another in a loving embrace, not even noticing me. The animals were awake, too, though strangely they kept silent. I felt a holy hush. And it was then I realized I had changed! My heart stirred with a love for the child that I could scarce understand. And wonders of all wonders, I realized my resentment had softened. No longer did hate gnaw at my innards.
The little family left the next day. Marta saw to their first meal which I gladly served them. I can’t help wondering if I’ll ever see them again. Will I someday know how it could be that a helpless baby, newborn son of poor parents, could so change my heart? I wonder…
After sharing Amina’s story, the girl who discovered the gift of serving, you might talk with the kids in your class about ways they can celebrate Jesus’ birthday by serving others. They’ll come up with creative ideas for helping someone in their family, neighborhood or even along the road. Many churches offer families opportunities to work together to meet the needs of the congregation. Remind them that attitude counts when a person does chores or helps out to make life a little easier for someone else…especially siblings, right?
Thousands, more likely millions of teens and younger children are far from their comfortable home environments this Christmas season. Many live in tents in vast refugee settlements across Europe and Central Asia. These displaced people have little hope for the future much less anything good that might come their way to celebrate Christmas. Children in your class and their parents might search online for an agency that is ministering in a place like this, pray for its efforts and even send a support gift. Leads of this kind are often offered to members of the congregation through the weekly bulletin or website.