“Remember Jesus Christ…”
2 Timothy 2:8
Freckles was a little, gray tabby cat, a stray, less than a year old. I found her wandering through my foxgloves and delphiniums. She was thin, hungry, and covered with fleas. The poor little creature broke my heart, and when I brought her a plate of cat food she claimed me as her own. At the end of a few days, it was as if we had known each other forever.
From the beginning, my cat made it clear to me that she was in control. True to her kind, she was independent and self-assured. My house belonged to her. She allowed me to live there, but in return for her gracious hospitality I was required to provide her with two meals a day, treats on demand, fresh water always, and an impeccably clean commode. As long as I kept my part of the bargain things went fine, but if I strayed, even a whisker, from her routine, she found ways to punish me.
Freckles did cat things. She chased ghost mice up the walls, she walked precariously on curtain rods, and she opened my kitchen cabinets. Whenever I scolded her, she found a way to get to my eye level. She’d jump up on a counter top, or worse, climb up my back! Then she’d stare at me as if to say, “Deal with it, Lady. I’m a cat.” Freckles stole things. If I left a piece of jewelry on my dresser, it was gone. If I rolled a pair of clean socks into a ball, they ended up in a dark corner under the sofa. She took food, money, underwear, keys, pencils — anything she could get her teeth into. Each new season brought new things to steal. In the spring, she stole from the Easter baskets, in the summer she took packets of flower seeds, in autumn she took the gloves I wore to keep blisters from forming on my hands while I raked leaves for endless hours. But, by far, winter was her favorite time. Winter brought Christmas.
Christmas was prime time for my naughty, little cat burglar. The house was filled with exciting new toys: ornaments, candles, papier-maché angels, peppermint candy. It was a rare occasion when I saw Freckles without something dangling from her mouth. But I was good about it; I dealt with it in the spirit of the season: I found her stash, I returned things to where they rightfully belonged, and I didn’t say a word about it — until she stole Jesus.
Baby Jesus has the place of honor at the center of my nativity scene. Each year, I put him gently into the tiny, straw-filled manger on the fireplace mantel. Then, I carefully place Mary and Joseph at his side.
At first Freckles showed no interest in Jesus, but then He became the object of her intent. I saw her planning it. She lay there in front of the hearth looking angelic, but her mind was full of a sneak, snatch, and run routine. Silently, she’d climb up the wing-back chair. Then, she’d leap softly onto the mantel. After that, she’d pussyfoot around the wise men and past the donkey grazing on the hay, and then — she’d seize Jesus! Before I’d know what was happening, she’d run off with him someplace where I’d never find him again. Shrewd is the mind of a cat.
Her scheme went off without a hitch, except that she knocked over a shepherd when she absconded with our Lord and Savior. I saw her just as she jumped from the mantel with Jesus held firmly in her teeth. He was visible only from the waist up, His tiny arms outstretched and pleading for rescue.
“Hey!” I cried. “You come back here with Jesus!”
What followed was a wild chase around the house. I was determined not to let her out of my sight, and I stayed in hot pursuit. Finally, I cornered her. Knowing she’d been had, Freckles dropped Jesus with no remorse and no look of guilt. She glared at me. Her eyes said, “Deal with it, Lady.” Gently, I placed Baby Jesus back in his bed. It was the last time Freckles would steal Him from the manger. (I quickly learned that double-faced tape does wonders.)
When Freckles stole Jesus, it made me realize that I too have stolen Him from the manger. I’ve done it by giving in to the commercialism of Christmas. The familiar trappings of the season — presents, parties, decorations — distract me from the true meaning of the holiday. I find myself complaining about how much I have to do and how little time there is. I wonder whether the gifts I bought are good enough. Did I buy enough for everyone? Is the wrapping paper pretty enough? Did I get enough tags and bows? Are there enough lights to trim the tree? Will one pie be enough for Christmas dinner? All these concerns are like Freckles stealing Jesus from the manager and hiding Him somewhere out of sight, out of mind.
Even in the antics of our pets, God teaches us. My lesson that day was that Christ is Christmas. As much as I hate to admit it, I forget that sometimes. Christ gets lost in the gaiety, the bright, flickering lights, the dulcet carols, the mountains of gifts. But Christ is Christmas. He sees everything we do. He watches us. He speaks. In the middle of the sounds of the season His voice might only be a whisper. But listen. He says, simply: “Remember me.”
Forgive me for not putting you first on your birthday. Teach me that your light shines more brightly than the holiday lights, and that your voice is sweeter than the carols.
[Come back next week for an inspiring guest post by my friend and fellow author, Shari Barr.]