Will Gillan’s Dilemma

Willard Gillan went to his bench in the corner of the basement. He had gone to the little workshop almost every evening of November. With each passing hour, his satisfaction had been growing.

Willard (or Will as his friends called him) was an artisan of sorts. He worked with paint brushes, wood chisels, sandpaper, and saws. He followed the carpenter’s son from Nazareth but lived on a tough side of Chicago.

A picture had been in his mind, and now it stood almost life-size in his little work area. There was Joseph, Mary, the straw-filled manger, four shepherds huddled together, two sheep, and three bowing kings. The only thing lacking was the Christ Child.

Will had decided to go for realism. The baby would look like a normal middle-eastern infant-a baby with dark hair, not blond, and jet-black eyes, not blue. After all, the child had been bom in Israel to Jewish parents.

All month he had thought about where he would place the nativity scene. All along his idea had been to put it outside in the darkness of the street and light it up. A deeper darkness characterized his neighborhood than that which came when the sun went down and the neon beer sign flickered on across the street. It was to that deeper darkness that shadows human hearts that he had wanted to bring light and beauty, yet simplicity.

He had done the same thing last year. It hadn’t been as nicely crafted as this group. Will’s wife had been ill with cancer (she died in the spring), so he had not had as much time to put into it. This year there had been lots of time.

You may ask why he didn’t just put up the old one. Why go to all the bother of making a new and even better holy family? That’s what had him in turmoil. Frustrated vandals had come one night last year with fluorescent orange paint cans and sprayed sexual obscenities all over the virgin’s face.

A few nights later they twisted Joseph’s head off. Will had patched it up, but on Christmas Eve they hacked the shepherds to pieces and stole the little baby. In his place in the manger, they had thrust a plastic toy pig.

The police had come. Neighbors had come around too, the same folks who had “ooed and aahed” when he had first set it up. That night they were nervous and quiet and conveniently blind. No one had heard or seen anything.

Though there wasn’t a basin, the constable turned his back on the mess, walked away, and “washed his hands.” He knew what he should do but he couldn’t. The splintered wood was laid to rest in a dumpster.

Yet light was desperately needed in the darkness of the street. So Will had begun again. Yet he had also been going back and forth in his mind about where he was going to place the manger scene this year so that it would be safe.

Could he somehow protect it behind heavy gauge wire? What about plexi-glass? Was there a place up higher-out of the reach of the darkness – perhaps on the little balcony?

All these thoughts had been rummaging around in his heart. There had to be a safe place. Why should he risk its getting ripped apart again?

This year’s work was his finest. He had even momentarily thought of keeping it inside . . . for himself . . . where it was safe.

And then he had read the Book. It said, “Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a human, [Jesus] humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross!”

Then he knew that he had no choice as to where the manger scene was to be placed.


written in 1993 by Bishop Keith Elford, who was serving as pastor of First Free Methodist Church in Moose Jaw at the time.

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