Pulpit Reflections

“A Christmas Doat?”

By Rev. Rick Pittenger


As Christmas approaches our minds are filled with Christmas memories. It is through the eyes of children that we see our understanding of the world turned upside down. Here is just one example, for there are many!

Following worship one Sunday morning, I was stopped in the hallway in front of my office. It was a grandmother. This time the story began…

“Pastor Rick, have I got a story for you!”

Pastors usually cringe when we hear that expression. Many times it is a story; a shade off color…one I’ve usually heard a couple dozen times in every church I’ve served over the last 29 years, it’s usually one people wouldn’t necessarily have the nerve to share in the sanctuary, but in the hallway in front of the office they can safely tell the story.

This time though, the story was different, it was an “out of the mouths of babes” kind of story.

Apparently her granddaughter, who recently turned 4 had been bugging her mother and grandmother about getting her her very own Nativity. Or in her words, “A Jesus House” that she could play with.

My mind started to drift as the story continued, back to when our children were at that age.

A Lutheran clergy friend’s spouse (Barb Stadie) in the first community I served out of seminary, Arlington, SD, made us a crocheted Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. It was the kind your children could play with and you wouldn’t worry about it breaking.

We thought it to be a wonderful idea in the midst of the hands-off crystal and/or porcelain breakable versions most people have. Our children spent hours playing with Baby Jesus in the hand soap sized manger under our Christmas tree at home.

But, back to the grandmother’s story, the grandmother had been out doing some Christmas shopping and picked up a “Jesus house” for her granddaughter as an early Christmas present. When she brought it in for the first time, the granddaughter “shook and trembled” with excitement. Sure enough, her very own Nativity, complete with all the people and animals of that first Christmas nativity; complete with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds, sheep, an ox, a donkey…

“But Grandma, where’s the DOAT?” said the little girl.

“The what?” said the grandmother.

“THE DOAT, the Christmas DOAT Grandma?”

“Tell me about the Christmas Doat,” said the wise grandma.

“You know, the ‘doat’ was the one that guarded the baby Jesus and breathed on the baby Jesus’s head and kept him warm through the night.

(Apparently the child’s mother was asked how the baby Jesus stayed warm when it was so cold on that first Christmas night and that was her mother’s way of answering a child’s question). It was then, the grandmother realized that the “Christmas Goat” was what her grand daughter was talking about. Sure enough she’s been searching ever since for that Christmas Doat!

It was surprising to me that the child understood it to be the Christmas Goat rather than the Christmas Lamb. You remember the other biblical story, where people were separated: (Mt 25:33) the sheep are on the left and the goats are on the right? How I hope I’m a sheep and not a goat I’ve often thought! I’m afraid though, that many times I become the Christmas Goat of Billy Goat Gruff fame.

It’s nice to know someone has a different image of those “scapegoats” that take away the sins of the world, banished to the desert wilderness with the sins of the early church.

But a Christmas “Doat”? This Christmas Goat has a nice ring to it. Sounds like an animal legends are written about. All that talk from our childhood about not judging a book by its cover comes into clearer focus this Christmas. My hope and prayer is that you’ll each have your own Christmas Doat in your “Jesus house” and you’ll love him or her anyway. Yes, children turn our understanding of the world upside down.

That’s why Jesus came in the first place wasn’t it? To turn the world upside down, and to bring joy to those who knew no joy prior to his coming.

During Christmas programs through the eyes and mouths of babes, we witness once again a portion of that Joy made manifest on the earth that first Christmas. Wide eyed, shepherds and angels sing out ”Joy to the world, the lord is come. Let earth receive her king.” Isaiah reminds us “and a little child shall lead them.”

Joy to the world and Merry Christmas to all, even the Christmas “Doats” in our midst!

Rev. Rick Pittenger, is the pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Vermillion and the Gayville/Volin UMC.

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