From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul


He had been inspecting the church before the parishioners arrived for the first mass and had noted with approval that the aisles and pews had been swept and dusted after the midnight mass, and that any lost purses, prayer books and gloves had been collected and sent to the parish rectory.

It was a little before five in the morning. Outside it was dark, and in the church, where only the old priest moved about, the yellow light from the candles flickered and threw shifting shadows on the arches and the stone floor. Occasionally, a transient beam of candlelight dimly picked out the rich colors of the stained glass windows. It was cold, and except for the priest’s slow tread, it was silent.

On his way back to the sacristy, he paused beside the crèche to say a Christmas prayer of greeting to the Christ Child. On the little model stage, with admirable realism, the sacred scene was shown. Through the open door you could see the night sky and the star that had led the shepherds to the stable; the shepherds, in fact, were just entering, in attitudes of adoration; livestock were in the stalls; and in the center was the Holy Family, looking down into the manger.

The priest frowned and leaned closer. The whisper of his exclamation rustled through the church. The manger was empty. The Christ Child—the little plaster doll that represented the infant savior—was gone.

Hurriedly, and with growing agitation, the priest made a search that started in the vicinity of the manger and then took him, bent and peering, through the aisles again. He called the church sexton, then the assistant pastor and all the parish fathers. But none of them could offer any explanation. They discussed it long; and in the end, shaking their heads and surveying one another sorrowfully, they accepted the truth they had been trying to evade. The figure of the infant savior had not been mislaid, or lost; it had been stolen.

With a solemnity befitting the occasion, the pastor reported the theft to the congregation that assembled for the first mass. In a voice stern and yet trembling with outraged emotion, he spoke of the shocking nature of the deed, and of the dreadful sacrilege that had been committed. His gaze swept the congregation, as if searching the innermost thoughts of each man and woman. “The Christ Child,” he said, “must be returned to the crèche before this Christmas Day is over.” Then, in silence, he strode from the pulpit.

At each succeeding mass he repeated this adjuration, but to no avail. The manger remained empty. Toward the end of Christmas afternoon the pastor, gray-faced and heavyhearted, set out on a meditative stroll through the wintry streets of his parish.

It was while he was on this walk that he saw ahead of him one of the smallest members of his flock, a little boy of five or six named Johnny Mullaney. Shabbily bundled against the cold, Johnny was trudging up the sidewalk, dragging proudly behind him a toy express wagon, bright red and obviously Christmas new.

The priest was touched by the realization of the sacrifices and the scrimpings that the purchase of a toy like this must have entailed; for the family was poor. Here was a needed glow to warm his heart and to renew his faith in human nature. He quickened his step and overtook the little boy, intending to wish him a Merry Christmas and to exclaim admiringly over the beauty of the wagon. But as he drew nearer, this benevolent plan was suddenly put out of his mind by the discovery that the wagon was not empty—it
contained, in fact, the figure of the Christ Child, now wrapped and blanketed, but not quite hidden.

Grimly the priest stopped Johnny. Severely he lectured him. The boy was only a little boy, and one must, of course, make allowances—but nevertheless he was old enough to understand that stealing was a sin, and that to rob the church of a sacred image was a very great sin indeed. Now, in ringing tones, the priest made this plain to Johnny, who stood looking up at him with clear eyes that seemed guiltless—filling now, however, with what must be penitent tears.

“But, Father,” the small boy quavered, when at last the priest had finished his tirade, “I didn’t steal the Christ Child. It wasn’t like that at all.” He gulped, and went on: “It was just that I’ve been praying to Him for a red wagon for a Christmas present—and I promised Him that if I got it, I’d take Him out for the first ride.”

Author Unknown
Submitted by Carolyn Bower

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