A Christmas Miracle

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“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” {Matthew 2:1-2}
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The Village Manger Scene

 

By Wayland Mandrel

Thanksgiving had been over and the calendar now turned to December, it was the Christmas month, and the fine people of our small town were busy behind the scenes, making preparations.  Christmas would be here quick enough, and everyone was already beginning to look forward to the annual celebrations in Forney Park, so named after General William Henry Forney who served at Gettysburg, and was present at the Battle of Appomattox.  Our small town was one of those places you read about in storybooks, a kind of 1950’s type village town that refused to turn into a large unfriendly metropolis.

The little town of Davison North Carolina had what might be called a Standing Holiday Committee, consisting of something like a dozen citizens, among which included, the Church Pastor, Joseph Grundy, owner of Grundy’s Hardware, as well as Greta Stilwell, owner of Stilwell’s Grocery.  Then there was Doctor Jacob Walden, our towns only Dentist, who always wanted to make sure everyone, had a bright smile on their faces.  People were friendly in Davison for the most part, that is unless their routine was threatened.  They loved their town’s way of life and didn’t want to have it modernized   Those who wished make of their town a rush, rush place to live, might find themselves in a heap of trouble!

Everyone knew everyone, so as a result everyone looked out for everyone else, and the town folks liked it that way!  It was the year 1955, there were no Cell Phones, I-Phones, I-Pads, or Laptop Computers, nor was their half a million pieces of space junk orbiting the earth.  The town still had rotary dial Phones, straight telephone cords, party lines and a Central Switchboard.  The Spinster Mildred Withers, usually manned, if that’s the right word, the Switchboard, and anyone making a call, including out of town, went through Mildred.  Anything there was to be known in town, Mildred knew about it, or you can bet your honorable reputation, it never happened!

There was no one in town that didn’t know our beloved Telephone Operator, and a wise person greeted her in the morning with a polite ‘Good Day Miss Withers.’  If a project arose, and someone having the right talent and equipment was needed, Mildred knew exactly who to turn to, and she could pull the right strings to make it happen!  It was the morning of Friday the 2nd of December, and our Mayor Julian Whitfield was busy rounding up the twelve members of the Standing Committee, and of course he turned to Spinster Mildred Withers.  By the 1:00 O’clock hour, they were all seated in the Conference Room; such as it was, in Davison’s modest size City Hall, ready to go to work.

Within days Volunteer Work Crews were busy transforming the town into a Christmas Village, including the Veranda in Forney Park, located in the middle of the town square.  After stringing the lights and other items, the last but most important transformation was in setting up the Manger Scene, with the coaching of the Pastor’s mother, the elderly but vary spry Missus Myrtle Grundy, known affectionately as the town Granny.  The Nativity was usually done using mannequins up until Christmas Eve, when they were removed in favor of a living display.  After a weeks work, it was Friday the 9th and everything was ready, the town citizens were already enjoying a walk through the park, so as to get a closer look.

All of the characters in the Manger Scent had two people ready to stand in, when the time came to exchange the mannequins for real people, actors stood in for Joseph and Mary, as well as a living baby for a short while on Christmas Eve, weather permitting.  The Standing Committee normally employed two Sheppard’s, and of course three Wise Men or Magi if you like.  The two sets of volunteers would hold a kind of changing of the guard, every couple of hours from 4:00 o’clock P.M. up until mid-night on Christmas Eve.  On Friday the 9th of December the ole Spinster Mildred Withers reported to our most Honorable Mayor Julian Whitefield, the town has now been transformed into Christmas Village.

My wife Brittany Mandrel always enjoyed the Christmas displays, particularly the Manger Scene in Forney Park, knowing every thing was at the ready, save to have put the mannequins in place, which would take on Thursday the 15th, the entire town waited with anticipation.  The days slowly slipped by while the town folks finished their own preparations for Christmas, which was in and of itself pleasant enough for our little Christmas Village.  The small town of Davison was such a peaceful place, it considered none of its citizens to be a stranger, but more like unto one big happy family.  Davison was a delightful place, police work was for the most part routine and often boring, just the way it aught to be!

Finally the days passed by, and Thursday the 15th of December had arrived, right on schedule, the volunteer Christmas Display Workers, were on site at 4:00 O’clock in the afternoon, ready to put the Manger Scene mannequins in place.  The Christmas Display was more then just a bunch of decorations, strung all over town, Christmas was an exciting event in town, and a sound reason for everyone to socialize.  So the good citizens gathered around enjoying every moment, singing Christmas Carols as the lights went on at the Manger Scene, as well as around the town.  In Davison, Christmas was more then Santa Claus; inasmuch as among the town’s displays was statuette of Santa Bowing in Prayer!

The town was not large enough to have a separate Elementary and High School, so many years before a combination Elementary and High School was built, the Gymnasium and Auditorium were often used for a number of activities.  On the same Thursday when nearly all the town folks were at Forney Park, the live Manger Scene Teams all gathered in the Gymnasium at the Davison School.  They would conduct several full practice secessions over the next ten days until Christmas Eve!  Mayor Julian Whitfield presided over the celebrations at the park, which usually included a speech, however Julian was no polished politician, and had no speechwriter, so he stumbled through the best he could.

Nonetheless the crowd always enjoyed the occasion, especially when the Honorable Mayor began to speak, “Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure, as always on the occasion of the Christmas Season, to officially open the celebrations here at Forney Park.  None of us were so blessed as to have been present that day when our Lord Jesus Christ was, as a baby, born in Bethlehem of Judea.  So we have constructed this humble scene to commemorate that blessed occasion, which took place so long ago.  Pastor Joseph Grundy will now lead us in prayer!  The Pastor stepped upon the modest, temporary platform, which had been hauled out of storage for the occasion.

As the Pastor stepped before the microphone, he began to speak, “Ladies and gentlemen, citizens of our fine town of Davison, as we begin our annual celebration of our Savior and Lord, born in a Manger in Bethlehem, let us begin in prayer.  Precious Lord and Heaven Father, we humble ourselves before you, in honor of ‘Your Son Jesus Christ’ born in a manger.  While the world is so often wrapped up in a secular celebration, including all manner of commercialization, which accompanies even dominates their Christmas Holiday Season.  It is not so in our cozy little town of Davison, where Christ Jesus remains the reason for the season.”  The Pastor then closed with an “Amen and Amen!"

It would be ten more days until Christmas Day, nine days until the mannequins in the Manger Scene, would be exchanged for living volunteer local actors.  While the days passed the good citizens of Davison visited the site often, usually during their conduct of business in town, and among those visitors were the Spinster Mildred Withers, when not on duty.  Others were Greta Stilwell, owner of Stilwell’s Grocery and Missus Myrtle Grundy the town Granny, who often stopped by, if for no other reason then to make sure all was right at the towns Manger Scene.  Late on Friday Evening of the 23rd granny wanting to be certain the exchange of mannequins for living actors would take place on schedule.

It was about 3:30 P.M. on Friday afternoon and the three ladies were gathered around, as were many other townsfolk, when Granny Grundy called the ladies aside asking, “Are all our actors ready to take their places at 4:00 o’clock sharp tomorrow?  Greta, whose store was just across the street looked at Granny with that certain look on her face.  “Well Granny, the Three Wise Men scheduled for the first watch are all sick, they may have contracted the flew while practicing at the school Gymnasium.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, but one of the actors was sneezing, it was Mister Bob Snider.”  Granny looked first at Mildred, then back at Greta, “What about the alternates, are they sick too?"

Greta looked back at old Granny Grundy, “Well, the alternates aren’t feeling all that good, but they seem to think they’ll be up and ready by tomorrow night when they are most needed.”  Granny turned away as if thinking of what to do next, then she turned again to face the two ladies, “We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow and see how things turn out, but the scene ain’t complete without the Wise Men.”  Mildred turned to Granny, “Granny, couldn’t we just pick two more sets of Wise Men?  I am sure I can find replacements before tomorrow evening!”

Old Granny looked at the two ladies standing before her, “No, we’ll just make do for now, and hope the second team is able to take their places on time.  But somehow before 6:00 0’clock, when the first team is about to be relieved by the second, we can pick someone out of the crowd to stand in the place of the sick ones.”  The three ladies chatted for a little while then went their way, Greta returned to her store, feeling like some of those people in the crowd might wish to do a little shopping before returning home.  The Spinster Mildred Withers relieved her stand-in on the town’s Telephone Switchboard; the Standing Committee was then notified, and everyone let it pass, waiting to see how it would all work out.

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The day before Christmas finally arrived, and thanks to Doctor Matt Jamison and his nurse wife, Missus Gabriella Jamison, both the first and second alternates for the Manger Scene appeared able to take their places, one in rotation of the other.  The time finally arrived, it was 4:00 o’clock on the 24th of December 1955, and the mannequins had been hauled away an hour before, now the live actors were in place.  There were no political speeches to be given, no cheers and hoopla, as was the custom, on this occasion each December.  Somehow the town’s folks were deeply appreciative of the occasion, without such amenities!

While their humble Manger Scene was nothing special compared to those in wealthier parts of the country, still it was the meaning of the event, which set it apart from all celebrations.  The town’s dignitaries, if one could call them such, were gathered before the Manger Scene, and among them were, Mayor Julian Whitfield, Pastor Joseph Grundy, Doctor Jacob Walden – Dentist, Spinster Mildred Withers, Missus Myrtle Grundy – Pastors Mother, Missus Gabriella Jamison as well as the entire Standing Holiday Committee.  Doctor Matt Jamison could not be present, due to being called to duty at the town’s version of a Hospital, which was more like unto a Clinic.

The Manger Scene supposedly was to be ready at 4:00 o’clock with the Sheppard’s, positioned in the grass some distance away, with all the proper lighting effects, but an hour and forty minutes passed, and the crowd grew restless, until finally the main body of actors were ready.  A brightly lighted artificial star had been prepared, so as to shine over the Sheppard’s as the Angle of the Lord spoke to them through a voice seemingly coming directly out of the brightly lighted star.  ”And the angle said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” {Luke 2:10-11}.

As the story progressed, it came time for the Wise Men to appear!  The Sheppard’s had already arrived at the Manger Scene, beholding the baby Jesus in the Manger, which was now a live baby, inasmuch as the weather was fair enough, and the baby sufficiently protected.  A voice spoke from the background concerning the Wise Men in a very reverent tone, while quoting from the Scripture, “Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews?   For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” {Matthew 2:1-2}.

The Wise Men were supposed to appear about then, but where were they?  The crowd turned their heads, first in one direction, then in another!  Everything became exceedingly quiet, and no one dared cause a disturbance!  Granny Grundy turned to the
Spinster Mildred Withers, who had been relieved from her switchboard duties for the occasion. ”Mildred; didn’t Doctor Jamison say yesterday the Wise Men would be able to participate, along with the others?”  Mildred glanced over at Granny, “That’s what he said Granny, maybe they ran into difficulties along the way or else regretfully, maybe they had a relapse.”  Granny glanced back at Mildred, “I certainly hope not, the other team is not up to double duty!” 

The moments passed by and it was becoming obvious to everyone in the crowd, something was wrong, it was already well past night fall, and the Wise Men should have been coming around the corner from behind the crowd.  Gabriella, the Pastor’s wife, standing off to Mildred’s left, leaned over a wee bit, “Want me to ask my husband?   For one of the few times in her life, Granny didn’t know what to do, “Go ahead Gabriella ask him, maybe he knows what happened.  Maybe they’ve just been delayed?  Just then the attention of the crowd was drawn to a spectacle-taking place off to the right and from behind them, as three Camels with Riders approached, mesmerizing everyone.

Granny turned to the Spinster Mildred Withers, the town’s Telephone Operator, and whispered, “Mildred, I thought you knew everything there is to know about what is going on in this town?  Where did those camels come from?  And the costumes those Wise Men are wearing, they are so real looking!”  The crowd gazed at the camels and their riders, watching every step the camels took, as well as every movement of the men riding them.  Slowly they made their way down the street then across the lawn, pausing before the Manger Scene!  The riders had their camels kneel down, as three of the most amazing and realistic looking Wise Men or Magi dismounted.

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The scene unfolding before the town’s citizens that night, were it not for us being in the 20th century, one would rightfully conclude they were the original Magi of the Holy Scriptures.  The three men each removed a package from off their camels then glancing at one other, they walked slowly toward the Manger, a short distance away.  As they stood before the Baby in the Manger and his mother, one by one they bowed down and began to speak, as they offered their gifts.  The first one laid his gift before the Manger and replied, “Gold to offer have I, the value of which is diminished before his glory.”  The Second then reached out and like the first, offered his gift before the Manger!

“Incense to offer have I, Incense owns a deity nigh, prayer and praising, all men raising, worshiping him, God Most High!”  And finally the third Wise Man offered his gift of Mir!  The tree men paused before Mary and the Baby Jesus, lying in the Manger.  Then the three almost in unison arose as they walked away, briefly looking back behind them, as each mounted his camel, and with a glorified look on their faces, departed.  The three camels and their riders headed back in the direction in which they had came, moving slowly as if they’d been a part of the planned activities. Angels then appeared glorifying God in Highest, “Born unto you this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Slowly things returned to some semblance of normality, then came a number of men, about five in number, who had stood at the edge of the crowd, nearest the street, and closest to the direction in which the Camels and their riders had approached, and now had exited.  The men looked almost dazed, so much so they talked over each other, in an attempt to explain what they had seen.  There was a certain man among them that predominated in getting his message heard, whose name was Rubin Jacobs, “The three Wise Men, they, they went half way down the street and just vanished.”  Another man known commonly to the town’s folks as Bo Sullivan, stuttered at first then joined in with his friend Rubin.

”Rubin is right, they just vanished, along with their camels, we all saw them!” Mayor Julian Whitfield, Pastor Joseph Grundy and Dentist Jacob Walden, walked up and joined the others, including, Granny Grundy, Telephone Operator Mildred Withers, and Gabriella Jamison, as well as the five men who had chased the Camels down the street, and watched them disappear.  Slowly, everyone turned towards Pastor Joseph Grundy, who said nothing, but his expression spoke louder then anything he could have said.  The group all turned and headed in the direction of the Manger Scene, where the actors who were playing the part of the Sheppard’s as well as that of Joseph and Mary were in a state of awe.

As the group approached the man who had been playing the part of Joseph, a man named Jay Buckner, broke from the Manger Scene and approached, speaking to the Pastor, “Pastor, the Wise Men left real gifts, I recognized the gold, and the others must be real also; I am certain all the gifts are the real thing.  Who were these men Pastor?”  The Pastor walked over to the Manger Scene and looked at the three gifts, picking up each one and examining it, then he walked a few steps over to where there was a box, which had been part of the Manger Scene, and Stepping upon it he looked back, then up into the heavens and began to pray.

”Precious Lord and Heavenly Master, things have taken place here tonight that are beyond our understanding, yet we cannot doubt that you have visited our little town this evening.  And we thank you for your presence, which we can even now feel in our hearts!  Amen!”  Then the Pastor began to speak to the congregation of people, “My fellow citizens of Davison, the visitation of the Wise Men cannot be explained save that God has sent us a miracle, not only with the Wise Men themselves, but also of the Angels.  What is important is not the story line we have followed, that God in his wisdom wanted us to know, that his son Jesus Christ was truly born in a Manger approximately 2,000 years ago.

I can tell you this much, Doctor Matt Jamison only a few moments ago contacted his nurse wife Gabriella Jamison, and she relayed to me the his message, the two groups of actors that were to play the part of the Wise Men in rotation, have been bed ridden all evening.  And we have no such men in our town, such as those who paid us a visit, so I can only conclude, these Wise Men who visited us, were of God.  These men were sent from the realms of glory to let us know, that we do not merely play out a fantasy in our reenactments of the Manger Scene.  What we do here is representative of God own story, that of the birth of his only begotten son!”

The actors returned to their places in the Manger Scene, and the Pastor along with the entire congregation of people, simultaneously, and without being instructed, bowed down upon the ground in the snow.  Somehow the cold snow affected no one, and they all prayed, each in their own way, unto the Lord God, and in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ.  As the crowd gradually arose, the Pastor read from the Holy Scripture,
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the King, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, where is he that is born king of the Jews?  for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” {Matthew 2:1-2}.

God Bless, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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