After our 3:00 Christmas Eve service, our sign language interpreter said to me, "I like the Strawing of the Manger best. We don't have that in our tradition." (She's Methodist.)
I didn't know about the Strawing of the Manger either. A few years ago, when the children stopped singing on Christmas eve (so many of them were out of town), we were trying to figure out what to do differently for our afternoon service, and decided to make it into a "family" service." I have a couple with a new baby play the "holy family" every year, process into the church and stand by the manger during the reading of the gospel. We have six children read a verse of prophecy near the beginning of the service. And the Senior Pastor suggested that we have the youngest children put the straw in the manger, to get it ready for the baby Jesus.
We get a big bag of straw and invite them up. We don't reallly have a "children's message", but we have each of the children put some of the straw in the manger, to make a soft bed for him. Some of them put a few straws in, some put whole armfuls in. The last little boy on Monday made two efforts. He was about 2 1/2 or 3.
Afterwards, there is straw in the manger, and straw all over the floor too. In other words, it's a moderate to big mess. And we don't vaccuum it up between services. It stays a mess, all during Christmas eve.
It's just right for Christmas eve. For when else does God come to us, but in the middle of our mess? I get up to preach at that early service on Christmas, and I think: I try so hard to make the perfect Christmas, to preach a lovely sermon, to design wonder-ful worship services, to make a good family dinner, to buy meaningful presents. It's good to remember as I get up to preach, that my best efforts really end up being a big mess.
But God comes anyway.
Emmanuel -- in the middle of our mess, when our best efforts make it worse, when our best efforts are not enough, when our hearts are still hard.
I visited a woman with Alzheimers the Saturday before Christmas eve. Her husband was with her, but it wasn't a good day. She kept saying, "I'm so afraid," and he kept trying to reassure her that he would stay with her and take care of her. At one point she turned to him and said sharply, "What if you can't do it? What if your best isn't good enough? I'm afraid."
Our best is never "good enough".
But God comes anyway.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the Newborn King.