Recommendations by Coty and Beth Pinckney
"The Gifts of the Child Christ" by George Macdonald. A classic story from the 19th century. Excerpt; Full story.
Excerpts from copyrighted stories:
Christmas is a time for stories! For adults and teens, I heartily recommend John Piper's Advent Poems. More than 70 are available online via this link. Some lines from my favorite, The Innkeeper, are below. This poem is also available in as an attractive book. Most of these poems elaborate on a biblical story. Originally read as part of Advent worship services, all are biblically sound and theologically deep.
For children of all ages: My wife and I love to read to our six children, and we thoroughly enjoy good Christmas stories. My newest find: "The Manger is Empty," by Walter Wangerin, a touching story of a child coming to understand death and resurrection at Christmas. As for Christmas story collections, we enjoy A Newbery Christmas, edited by Greenberg and Waugh (Delacorte Press, 1991), and The Christmas Stories of George Macdonald (David C. Cook Publishing, 1981). A Newbery Christmas remains in print; you can order it through the link below. The George Macdonald book is out of print, but some of these Christmas stories are collected with other wonderful selections in The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Stories and Fairy Tales. This, too, you can order below. Here are excerpts from some of our personal favorites from these collections, which we have read to kids as young as two:
"A Full House" by Madeline L'Engle
Our house is on the crest of a hill, a mile out of the village. As I looked uphill, I could see the lights of our outdoor Christmas tree twinkling warmly through the snow. I turned up our back road, feeling suddenly very tired. When I drove up to the garage and saw that Wally's car was not there, I tried not to let Father or the children see my disappointment. I began ejecting the kids from the back. It was my father who first noticed what looked like a bundle of clothes by the storm door.
"Victoria,' he called to me. "What's this?"
The bundle of clothes moved. A tear-stained face emerged, and I recognized Evie, who had moved from the village with her parents two years ago, when she was 16. She had been our favorite and most loyal baby-sitter, and we all missed her. I hadn't seen her -- or heard anything about her -- in all this time.
"Evie!" I cried. "What is it? What's the matter?"
She moved stiffly, as though she had been huddled there in the cold for a long time. Then she held her arms out to me in a childlike gesture. "Mrs. Austin --" She sighed as I bent down to kiss her. And then, "Mom threw me out. So I came here."
"Ramona, the Sheep Suit, and the Three Wise Persons" by Beverly Cleary
Ramona longed to be there with Davy and Howie, jumping and ba-a-ing and wagging her tail, too. Maybe the faded rabbits didn't show as much as she had thought. She sat hunched and miserable. She had told her father she would not be a sheep, and she couldn't back down now. She hoped God was too busy to notice her, and then she changed her mind. Please, God, prayed Ramona, in case He wasn't too busy to listen to a miserable little sheep, I don't really mean to be horrid. It just works out that way. She was frightened, she discovered, for when the program began, she would be left alone in the church basement. The lights might even be turned out, a scary thought, for the big stone church filled Ramona with awe, and she did not want to be left alone in the dark with her awe. Please, God, prayed Ramona, get me out of this mess.
(This story constitutes the last two chapters of Ramona and her Father, a Newbery Honor Book published in 1977; order via Amazon by following one of these links: hardback; paperback)
"A Candle for St Bridget" by Ruth Sawyer
It was a day of celebration; we had currants in the griddle bread, and Mickey, the post-boy, dropped in for his "sup o' tea." I was given a free choice of all the stories I would be hearing again, and I chose St. Bridget. With the moor wind caoining around the chimney and the turf blazing high, the children stretched on the clay floor, and Delia with her foot on the cradle keeping the "wee-est one" hushed, Michael took us over the hills again to Bethlehem to the manger wherein Mary had laid her baby. We saw the byre with its rude stalls and the crib where the hay was stacked; we saw the gray donkey munching contentedly and Joseph, fallen asleep; and we saw Bridget stoop and take the baby to her own heart and croon him his first cradle-song. All this we saw by "the light of the Wee Child's own glory" and the gift of Michael Donnelly's tongue.
A few times, from far off, I have glimpsed Bethlehem; but that is the only time I have ever entered there.
"The Gifts of the Child Christ" by George Macdonald
It was the morning of Christmas Day, and little Phosy knew it in every cranny of her soul. She was not of those who had been up all night, and now she was awake, early and wide. The moment she awoke she was speculating: He was coming today. How would he come? Where should she find the baby Jesus? And when would he come? In the morning, or the afternoon, or in the evening? Could such a grief be in store for her as that he would not appear until night, when she would be again in bed? But she would not sleep till all hope was gone. Would everybody be gathered to meet him, or would he show himself to one after another, each alone? Then her turn would be last, and oh, if he would come to the nursery! But perhaps he would not appear to her at all. For was she not one whom the Lord did not care to chasten?
Expectation grew and wrought in her until she could lie in bed no longer. Alice was fast asleep. It must be early, but whether it was yet light or not, she could not tell for the curtains. Anyhow she would get up and dress. Then she would be ready for Jesus whenever he should come. . . .
She crept out of the room and down the stair. The house was very still. What if Jesus should come and find nobody awake? Would he go again and give them no presents? Perhaps she ought to wake them all . . . .
(The complete story)
'The Innkeeper' by John Piper
The children ran
Ahead of Jesus as he strode
Toward Jacobís Inn. The stony road
That led up to the inn was deep
With centuries of wear, and steep
At one point just before the door.
The Lord knocked once, then twice, before
He heard an old manís voice, "ĎRound back!"
It called. So Jesus took the track
That led around the inn. The old
Man leaned back in his chair and told
The dog to never mind. "Ainít had
No one to tend the door, my lad,
For thirty years. Iím sorry for
The inconvenience to your sore
Feet. The road to Jerusalem
Is hard, ainít it? Donít mind old Shem.
Heís harmless like his dad. Wonít bite
A Roman soldier in the night.
Sit down." And Jacob waved the stump
Of his right arm. "Weíre in a slump
Right now. Got lots of time to think
And talk. Come, sit and have a drink.
From Jacobís well!" he laughed. "You own
The inn?" The Lord inquired. "On loan,
Youíd better say. God owns the inn."
At that the Lord knew they were kin,
And ventured on: "Do you recall
The tax when Caesar said to all
The world that each must be enrolled?"
Old Jacob winced, "Are north winds cold?
Are deserts dry? Do fishes swim
And ravens fly? I do. A grim
And awful year it was for me.
Why do you ask?" "I have a debt
To pay, and I must see how much.
Why do you say that it was such
A grim and awful year?" He raised
The stump of his right arm, "So dazed,
Young man, I didnít know Iíd lost
My arm. Do you know what it cost
For me to house the Son of God?"
(The complete poem)
"The Manger is Empty" by Walter Wangerin
[Odessa's] brown cheeks had gone to parchment, were sunken, her temples scalloped; her hair and her arms together were most thin, her nails too long, her eyes beclouded. Odessa was dying of cancer. . . .
The children, in dim yellow light, were circled round a stranger, . . . delicate, old, and dying, lying on her back.
Odessa, for her part, said nothing. She stared back at them.
"Sing," I said to the children. "What's this? Y'all gone munching on your tongues? Sing the same as you always do. Sing for Miz Williams."
And they did, that wide-eyed ring of children.
One by one they sang the carols everyone knew. . . . One by one they relaxed, and their faces melted, and I saw that my Mary's eyes went bright and sparkled - and she smiled, and she was smiling on Odessa Williams. The children gave the lady an innocent concert, as clean and light as snow.
Odessa, too, began to smile.
For that smile, for the gladness in an old lady's face, I whispered, "Dee Dee, sing 'Silent Night' once more."
Dear Dee Dee! That child . . . stroked the very air as though it were a chime of glass. . . . So high she took her crystal voice, so long she held the notes, that the rest of the children unconsciously hummed and harmonized with her, and they began to sway together, and for a moment they lost themselves in the song.
Yet, Odessa found them. Odessa snared those children. Even while they were still singing, Odessa drew them to herself. And then their mouths were singing the hymn, but their eyes were fixed on her.
Odessa Williams, lying on her back, began to direct the music.
She lifted her arms and marked the beat precisely; her lank hands virtually shaped the tone of Dee Dee's descant; and her thin face frowned with a painful pleasure. She pursed her lips as though tasting something celestial and delicious, so the children thought themselves marvelous. . . . The lady took them. The lady carried them. The lady led them meek to the end of their carol and to a perfect silence; and then they stood there round her bed, astonished, each of them the possession of Odessa Williams, restrained. And waiting.
Oh, what a power of matriarchal authority was here, keenly alive!
Nor did she disappoint them. For she began, in a low and husky voice, to talk. No, Odessa preached. . . .
The children gazed at her, and the children believed her absolutely. . . .
"Listen me," Odessa said. "When you sing, wherever you go to sing, whoever's sittin' down in front of you when you sing - I'm there with you. I tell you truly: I alluz been with you, I alluz will be. And how can I say such a mackulous thing?" She lowered her voice. Her eyelids drooped a minimal degree. "Why, 'cause we in Jesus. Babies, babies, we be in Jesus, old ones, young ones, us and you together. Jesus keep us in his bosom, and Jesus, no - he don't never let us go. Never. Never. Not ever -"
So Odessa spoke in the dim long light. So said the lady with such conviction and with such a determined love for children whom she'd never met till now, but whom she'd followed with her heart, that these same children rolled tears from their wide-opened eyes, and they were not ashamed.
[This story was published in Christianity Today December 13, 1985; some of you will be able to find that issue in libraries. It was republished as part of a collection of stories entitled The Manger is Empty in hardback in 1989 and paperback in 1994; both editions are now out of print. Last I checked, there were several used copies for sale through Bookpricer and Bookfinder. Prices ranged as low as $4.]
Order the books mentioned above:
A Newbery Christmas
The Gifts of the Child Christ and Other Stories
Ramona and Her Father
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