Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ: A Modern Christmas Tale of Hope
This is a work of fiction. The names of characters and events are purely from the author's imagination. Any similarities to real people and events are coincidental.
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Facing My Failure As a Mother
Frank and I told our kids from the beginning that Santa Claus is just a fun, make-believe Christmas legend. It's okay to play along but don't take it too seriously. I further confused them when I told them the real reason for the season is the birth of baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us; Christ the Lord; Savior of the world.
"Wait a minute," said my daughter Lucy, "Which is it, Jesus? Savior? Emmanuel? Or Christ?"
Donovan, my oldest, said, "Emmanuel Savior is His middle name and Christ is His last name."
"Savior Emmanuel and Christ are titles," I said. "Jesus is His name. You see Christ means anointed One, Emmanuel means 'God with us,' Savior means He saved us from our sins."
They shrugged. "Can we watch Rudolph tonight?"
Why is Christmas so complicated? I pondered that evening, as I knitted stockings for the fireplace where Santa was sure to find them. I heard Lucy yelling and ran into the family room where the children were watching the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer DVD I got on sale at Target for five bucks.
"Lucy, what is it, honey?"
She was standing in front of the television with fire in her eyes. I looked and saw poor Rudolph cowering under the taunting of his peers and excluding him from their reindeer games.
"What a bunch of jerks," Lucy said. My precious seven-year-old princess was talking like...gulp, like me when someone cuts me off on the freeway. My face burned with shame.
"Lucy, we don't call names in this house."
"Yeah, only Mom and Dad can say 'jerk," said Donovan, my nine-year-old know it all.
"Mommy, we ought to tell Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ on them," Lucy said
My snack for that evening was crow and humble pie as I sat the children down and apologized for using the word jerk on the freeway. I told them grown-ups do wrong things too. And I was sorry to them and to God. I read them the Christmas story straight from the Bible. We prayed together, and I put them to bed.
The next day the kids' faces were soft and glowing as we set up the Nativity scene on the coffee table. We sang Away in the Manger. Sacred silence filled the living room. Then Kevin broke into song.
"Santa Clause is coming to town. Santa Clause is coming to town." He swiveled his hips to the rock and roll carol. Pretty soon they were all dancing and singing about Santa.
I went into the bathroom to have a good cry. I was a terrible mother. And my husband was a terrible father. He was working overtime so we could afford a grand mound of gifts for the big day, leaving me alone to convey the real meaning of Christmas to our children. I won't tell you what Frank says on the freeway.
What a Bunch of Jerks
Holiday School Program
The next day the school had its big holiday program. It was all very exciting.
Kevin's kindergarten class wore Santa hats. They sang Jingle Bells first, ringing their little bells to the beat. They were so cute scratching their shins, singing loudly with enthusiasm off-key. One little girl lifted her dress up over her head. Everyone looked at her mother, smirking. Poor woman. She shriveled like a prune.
The next song stunned me. "Santa Clause is coming to town," they sang, swiveling their hips to Michael Jackson's holiday hit. Parents howled with laughter. Two women next to me threw me a nasty glance. I had no idea what their problem was so I turned to the next act of the day.
Lucy and the rest of the second graders wore construction paper reindeer antlers, askew on their heads and red rubber noses. They sang Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with exuberance. When they got to the part where Rudolph was being bullied by the other reindeer, I saw Lucy's face grow angry. She turned to the little boy next to her who was picking his nose with vigor and saw her mouth form the word "jerk." Suddenly our eyes met and she shrunk in shame. I blew her a kiss and showed praying hands. She nodded.
Donovan's fourth-grade class sang Frosty the Snowman. Donovan, being a bit on the round side, wore the snowman costume. He cried that morning because no one would know it was him and he felt left out. I promised I would tell everyone proudly, "That's my son Donovan playing Frosty." Their reenactment of the Snowman story was endearing enough, but I was about to gag on the holiday paganism.
Clueless Miss Debbi
I poured myself tepid coffee into a tiny styrofoam cup at the refreshment table, took a shortbread cookie, and sat on a tiny chair. I was annoyed they didn't make wider seats for parents. After all, thrice-yearly we went to parent-teacher conferences, more if your child was a little terror.
Why don't they sing Silent Night or Joy to the World? I fumed. Why don't they have children with bed sheets and bathrobes on, staring into a cardboard stable with a doll as Jesus resting in a cardboard feeding trough?
Just then I saw and heard Teacher Debbi, Kevin's kindergarten teacher, clacking down the hallway in her four-inch high heels. She didn't look a day over sixteen. I stood to greet her. She reached her arms around me and squeezed me tight. Her perfume nearly knocked me off my feet.
"Oooh, thank you for coming, Mrs. Nancy. Happy holidays."
"I am Mrs. Travers and Merry Christmas."
She poked my arm. "Aw, aren't you old school. Your Kevin is such a cool little dude, you've done a good job."
"Well, thank you, Debbi, I do try."
She frowned, then smiled, poking my arm again. "Now, Mrs. Nancy, I have taught the children to address grown-ups with a title. Let's stick to Teacher Debbi."
"I'll try to remember. I was just wondering why the children don't sing traditional sacred Christmas carols."
She looked puzzled. "Sacred?"
"Yes, religious songs like Silent Night, Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem."
"Aw, you are so cute with your old fashion ways," she said. "The thing is, we don't do religious songs because it might offend people who are atheists, agnostics, and there is the whole church and state thingy."
"I get your drift, but in case you didn't know, Christ is in the word Christmas. Christmas is about Christ coming as a baby, Savior of the world. That's what we celebrate on this holiday. I don't know why you can't at least add a few sacred Christmas songs to your secular fare."
"Wow, I never knew Christmas was named after Christ. But still, we can't offend..."
"I get it. But it's plain wrong. Everyone needs hope. Christ offers hope through salvation. Santa is nothing but a mythical legend who gives toys to kids."
Teacher Debbi frowned. "Santa only brings toys? Oh, Mrs. Nancy, do you still believe in Santa Claus?" She burst out laughing. "Oh gosh, you had me going there for a minute."
Teacher Debbi was a poor student.
"Who is with the children right now?" I asked.
"Teacher Todd. He's very qualified. He just got his GED. Now he's in community college going for his Associate's degree. Then he's going to get a degree in either Anthropology, Gothic Literature, or Social Media Science."
"Well, I'm glad to know my tax dollars for education are being well spent. You should get back. He might set up Twitter accounts for the kids, or start a dig for pot shards on the playground. I'd like to take Kevin home early. We have special plans."
Kevin had green teeth from frosting and held four candy canes in his hands. Six empty punch bottles were on the counters. Teacher Todd was sending a tweet, and the kids were running wild. Wrapping paper, ribbon, and candy wrappers were strewn over the floor. I introduced myself to Teacher Todd and gestured to his tweeting screen.
"Is this your idea of watching over our children?" I asked.
Before my very eyes, he turned into Eddie Haskell.
"It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Travers. I take my responsibilities for these children quite seriously. I was about to read them a story from my new Kindle. I got it as an early Christmas gift from Debbi. Er, um, Teacher Debbi."
"Really," I said, "that's the same model of cell phone I have. A Kindle is not a phone."
"Right, well, I can still google a story and read it on my phone."
"That doesn't fly with me, Todd. I could clearly see Twitter on your screen."
Debbi intervened. "Okaay, let's find Kevin and let you be on your way, Mrs. Nancy."
Daddy Meets the Christ Child
I picked up Lucy and Donovan and we were on our way home. I had to pull over so Kevin could throw up. It was green and red from the frosting and punch.
"Mommy," he said, "I can't wait to get home to see baby Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ in that little manger. All this stuff we did at school gived me a headache."
My heart swelled. We sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing. When we got to 'Glory to the newborn King,' Lucy stopped us. "Jesus was a King?"
"You know," said Donovan, "My Sunday school teacher called him the Prince of Peace. How can he be a king and a prince?"
A knot formed in my stomach. "Let's talk about it later,"
They sang it again for their Dad when he came home for dinner.
"That was nice, kids. Thank you and Merry Christmas. Now Daddy has to get back to work."
"What?" I moaned. Kevin ran out to the living room and came back with baby Jesus cradled delicately in his hands.
"Daddy, we know Santa's not real. You don't need to work so much to gived us a bunch of toys. Here," he said, putting baby Jesus into Frank's large hands. "Better be gentle, He's the Savior of the world."
Frank's eyes misted. "Hello, Savior of the world, I'm Frank." Then he led the kids to our bed to read them the Christmas story. Kevin fell asleep with his head on his father's lap, drool running out of the side of his mouth. Lucy fell asleep on my pillow. Donovan yawned and reclined back onto Frank's side.
"Daddy, you should put Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ back in his manger. You never know who might stop by."
"You are a wise man," Frank said. He called his employer and said there was an emergency at home and wouldn't be coming in. It certainly was an emergency.
We retired on the fold-out sofa bed we used for guests. Just as I was dozing off Frank said groggily, "Honey, I've never understood the Emmanuel name. I mean which was it, Jesus or Emmanuel?"
"Go to sleep, Frank."
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).
The Missing Messiah
The next day we grabbed cold Pop Tarts and piled into the car to go to school. Lucy and Donovan chattered, but Kevin was unusually quiet.
"You okay, Kev?"
"I'm just thinking."
"What are you thinking about?"
"It's private," he said, his brow furrowed.
On the way home, I stopped by Safeway to pick up a few things. A cross-looking woman stopped me in the cereal aisle. She looked vaguely familiar but I couldn't place her.
"Aren't you Donovan, Lucy, and Kevin's mom?"
"Yes, is there a problem?" Then I remembered she was one of the women who gave me a dirty look at the school holiday program.
"You bet there's a problem. Your kids have been telling my kids, and everyone else's kids, there is no Santa. Your children are so young. Why do they already know there's no Santa? They are spoiling Christmas for everyone."
I opened my mouth to speak, but she had more to say.
"And it's totally inappropriate for them to evangelize on school grounds. I've raised my kids right. We go to church every Christmas and Easter, say grace on Thanksgiving. It's not as though we are raising our kids to be pagans. Telling them there's no Santa has placed a lot of stress on my husband and I. The kids call us liars and child abusers. My Josh threatened to call CPS. Do you know what that would do to my reputation? It's not child abuse to say there is a Santa. Everyone does it and it makes them happy. You better reign your kids in or I will report them to the school board for breaking the constitution." She stormed off to the wine aisle.
I was overjoyed my kids were mini Billy Graham's. I would tell them to stop debunking Santa Claus, that should be left to parents. But I would not hush their telling everyone about Jesus.
I put the groceries away and started dusting. I was going over the coffee table, trying not to disturb the nativity scene and I noticed the manger was empty. I searched the floor, under the sofa and tree, but he was gone. I gave up as I had to get the house clean for my parents who would be arriving the next day.
"Baby Jesus is gone. Which one of you took him?" I said when I got the kids home.
"Not me," Donovan said.
"I didn't," said Lucy, shaking her head.
Kevin was staring out the window, guilt all over his face.
"Kevin Michael Travers, did you take the baby Jesus?"
"You forgot Savior Emmanuel and Christ, Mommy," he said.
"Sorry, now where is he?"
"I gived him away," he said, staring at his sneakers.
"You dummy, why did you give him away?" Lucy blasted.
"I gived Him to Teacher Debbi," he cried.
"Why Kevin?" I asked, thrilled.
"Because she said Christmas is about Santa Claus. I felt sorry for her to think that, so I gived her baby Jesus."
"What did she say when you gave it to her?"
"She askeded why I gived it to her and I told her because Christmas is not about Santa, it's about the Savior of the world."
"She thankeded me and said she would put it on her mantle and think of me whenever she looked at it. I told her to think about Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ, not me. I'm not the Savior of the world."
"You can say that again," said Donovan.
I took Kevin's face in my hands and kissed his nose. "That was so kind of you to give Teacher Debbi baby Jesus. I'm proud of you."
"Teacher Debbi cried. I saw tears in her eyes."
"Those were happy tears, Kevin. You touched her heart. You gave her the best Christmas present anyone could ever get."
Lucy was indignant about the empty manger.
"Let's go to Target to get a new one," I suggested.
"Save your money, Mom, I'm going to make one," Donovan said
"I wanna make one too," said Kevin.
"I'll make Joseph," Donovan said. "Lucy, you make Mary since you're a girl, and Kevin you make the baby Jesus since you're the one that took Him."
I could hear the children working hard in Lucy's room.
I was tired so I made Kraft Macaroni, frozen peas, and salad for dinner (don't judge). I heard the kids running toward the kitchen.
"Mommy, look what I made?" Kevin said, proudly holding up his paper baby Jesus.
Lucy and Donovan held up Joseph and Mary and the stable. What a humble sight. I put away the store-bought nativity and they set their paper one proudly on the coffee table.
"Grammy and Papa are going to like my baby Jesus Savior Emmanuel Christ," Kevin said.
"They will love it indeed, Kev," I told him.
I wrapped my arms around him and kissed his dirty face. The other two stepped in and we had a group hug and kiss fest. What a Christmas this had turned out to be.
The Grandparents Meet Jesus
My parents arrived the next afternoon. The kids beamed as they showed Papa and Grammy their handmade nativity. My parents, not particularly religious, respect our faith, however broken it may be, and encouraged the children. That evening after dinner they had a surprise for the children— A DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas. My children had never seen it (so shoot me). We gathered in the family room around the TV with popcorn and hot chocolate and watched the angst of Charlie Brown about the commercialism and shallowness of Christmas.
We were all riveted to the screen. As I watched Charlie lament, I realized I have been just as frustrated by the secularism, hoopla, and glitz of the "holiday" and it's empty promises.
After the Peanuts Christmas play went awry and Charlie Brown was mocked and abandoned for his meager little tree, he had a meltdown, just like I had inside of me at the school holiday program.
"Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" Charlie cried from the depths of his soul.
I know what Christmas is about, but so many don't, nor do they care and it was making me crazy. Thankfully, Linus came through. He went center stage, the lights dimmed, the spotlight shone upon him, and he recited the story from Luke 2 about the shepherds, angels, and the proclamation that the Christ Child was born. Then it struck me— in the middle of his speech, Linus dropped his security blanket, the one you never see him without. How profound. When he was finished, he picked it up, the house lights went on and he told Charlie that that was the real meaning of Christmas.
"Bingo, Linus. You nailed it, Bud," I said.
When the credits rolled I asked, "What did you think, everyone?"
"I think Linus nailed it, too," my dad said.
"He certainly did," said Mom. "I admit I am guilty as anyone else for making Christmas about children and stuff. I mean you hear, 'Christmas is for children.' But it's for everyone. The angels said ' for all people.'"
As we began taking the empty cups and popcorn bowls to the kitchen Kevin disappeared. I figured he went to the bathroom. But he was back a moment later, cradling the paper Jesus in his hand. He handed it to my father with great solemnity.
"This is for you and Grammy, for Christmas. He wants to meet you."
"Oh Kevin, thank you for introducing us," my Dad said. "Nice to meet you, Jesus."
"We will treasure Him, Kevin, thank you," my Mom said.
Christmas Eve Service
A light dusting of snow ushered in Christmas Eve. There's nothing like a white Christmas. We had a simple early meal of tacos (a Christmas Eve tradition); the turkey dinner would be Christmas day. We dressed in our finest, bundled up, and headed off to church.
The sanctuary was decorated with candles and wreaths and a huge banner that said 'Emmanuel, God With Us.' A crude manger with a doll lying silently inside sat in front of the podium for all to see. It was the authenticity we needed. The choir sang the traditional holy songs of Christmas and we joined in with fervent joy. Pastor Gary then gave his message coming from Luke 2. In some places, he was very solemn, in others animated with great gladness He's a great storyteller for sure.
When the sermon was over, we lit candles and made our way outside where a little fire was blazing in a portable campfire container. Our small congregation gathered around it, and we sang Silent Night Acapella. We looked up at the night sky, delighted to see the clouds had parted for a short time to reveal the stars. After the benediction, we made our way to the fellowship hall for refreshments.
I was chatting with Tiffany Mayhew when I saw Kevin leading a woman by the hand through the crowd. A young man followed. My jaw dropped open. Teacher Debbi and Todd. She threw her arms around me and hugged me tightly.
"Oh, Mrs. Nancy, I mean Mrs. Travers, your little Kevin has changed my Christmas forever. When he gave me his baby Jesus and told me the story of true Christmas, my heart melted. I realize how wrong I've been about what it means."
"I am so happy for you, Miss Debbi. And how about you, Todd," I asked.
He gave me a sheepish smile. "Well," he said, "Jesus is cooler than Santa, but I love the new Kindle Debbi got me for Christmas. Check this out?" He whipped it out proudly. "The real deal this time." He winked.
Miss Debbi turned red and leaned in to whisper in my ear. "He's just not getting it, Mrs. Travers. Could you pray for him?"
"Of course I will. You can pray too, you know."
"Yes, I think you're right and I will."
"Miss Debbi," I said, "I'd like you to come to church this Sunday and learn more about Jesus."
"Oh, Mrs. Travers, that is so nice of you. I will come."
"Wonderful. We'll meet you in the lobby and we can sit together. The service is at 10 a.m."
Todd was reading from his new Kindle with a smile on his face.
"Reading the Bible?" I asked.
"Uh, no. Harry Potter."
Miss Debbi looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Mrs. Travers, I have just one question: Kevin says Jesus is also called Savior, Emmanuel, and Christ. I'm confused."
I kissed her cheek and said Jesus was just fine. Kevin yanked on my coat. I bent down to hear him.
"Mommy, this is the bestest Christmas ever."
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:22-23).
© 2019 Lori Colbo