Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Story

It’s the day before Christmas, and I wanted to share a story that my, now, 78-year old father shared several years ago about a particular Christmas Eve almost 50 years ago.  Every year, someone asks him to tell the story, so I wanted to pass along what has become a part of our Christmas story-telling traditions. 

Several years ago, Dad was on a plane traveling home from another part of our world, and was reminded when he saw no signs of Christmas or the birth of baby Jesus, just how far we had come from that great event many years ago.  Ten days in lands where the birth of the Christ child is not a part of their daily lives reminded him to think of that blessed event in Bethlehem which has changed the lives of those we know and millions of others that we don’t.

As he pondered the difference this great event made in our world and how much more is needed for peace on earth, he began to think of Christmas past.  He remembered that Christmas years ago as a child, when he got the little red wagon he wanted so much.  Not only could he play with it and make believe, but he could also use it to haul in the firewood for the iron cook stove from the nearby woods.  There weren’t a lot of gifts in those days, but they still heard the Christmas story at their little church on the mountain in middle-Tennessee.  That seemed more important than the gifts, anyway, and the story seemed so “clear” with life on their little farm.  He just couldn’t imagine a baby lying in their manger.  They didn’t have sheep, but he envisioned the shepherds on their mountaintop and at night he could see so many bright stars.  But, he wondered, how did they know which was the star over Bethlehem shining down on the manger where Jesus lay?

His thoughts moved ahead to his first year in college and going home for Christmas was a major challenge.  He took the bus from Knoxville home to Bon Air, TN.  Then he walked through the snow for 3 miles to get home.  It seemed a long way in the cold, but now that he’s older, he found that slight.  After all, Mary rode a donkey all the way to Bethlehem and she was great with child.  His trip home for Christmas was so trivial in comparison. 

A couple years later, while in veterinary school at Auburn University, he and my mom traveled home for Christmas with their first born, my sister, who was about 6 weeks old at the time.  He had paid for her doll on the installment plan; he and mom were working their way through vet school, and funds were tight.  So, it was go home for Christmas in Tennessee for all the family to see their new born child.  

Years later, they left Tennessee and moved to Texas for him to go to graduate school at Baylor University.  As you may know, graduate fellowships aren’t very much support, especially when you have a family, too.  But on Christmas Eve, there was a knock at their door.  Much to their surprise, it was a Jewish friend of theirs and his children.  His friend immediately exclaimed, “I’m your Jewish Santa Claus and we bring gifts for all your children!”  He might as well have been one of the wise men who brought gifts for baby Jesus.

Back to his flight home, many other thoughts of Christmas past came to his mind.  After 10 days in a world without Christmas, he returned to Hong Kong.  Upon arriving at his hotel room, the music of Christmas was playing!!  What a joy to be reminded of the season.  Christ indeed still lives!

Many hours and thousands of miles later, he was back in Knoxville,  He realized throughout the city, every creature was moving.  The town was all decorated for Christmas.  The crowds rushed about the city from mall to mall, in shop after shop in pursuit of toys made in China, the latest iPod or Xbox.  There were toys of mass destruction containing mercury and lead.  The newest DVDs, and cell phones for text messaging people so you don’t actually have to “talk” to them!  As he began to get discouraged, thinking, “This is not what Christmas is about!” it was time to take toys to Morgan-Scott, which is the annual Christmas project he and mom’s Sunday school class participate in together.  There were seven vans and trucks loaded to the brim to bring good cheer to the little children in the underprivileged, under served community just outside of Knoxville.  Their minds were filled with joy as they made their way through Oliver Springs, Wartburg, and Sunbright, because they could make Christmas special for this group of needy families.

But his heart was still not overjoyed.  He had to wonder, “Does the star still shine over Bethlehem?  Will there ever be peace in the middle East?”  We worry about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan…everywhere.  We pray for their safety and wouldn't it be a blessing if wars could stop and all people could have the peace the baby Jesus’ birth proclaimed?  We pray for God’s powerful hand to show the way, but he already did----if only everyone believed.

It’s now the day before Christmas.  Thoughts of family, Christmas dinner, sharing with one another our memorable Christmas times, our blue Christmases, and maybe even the “Grinch Stole Christmas” Christmas.  There are health issues, economics, family, relationships and emotional issues.  It can be a time of great joy or one of major concern.  It is often so busy, we can’t appreciate a “real” Christmas. 

But the most awesome experience he will always remember was one Christmas almost 50 years ago, while our family was living in Kingston, TN.  He was one of the JC’s delivering Christmas boxes to the needy.  Naturally, as the local veterinarian, he was assigned the “out of town”, more rural requests.  The evening was getting late, and on Christmas Eve, he was driving as fast as he could between stops so he could get home for our family’s own Christmas preparations.  He had one more basket to go.  It was getting dark, and he was met at the door of a brand-new house, by an angry man who demanded to know why he was so late.  He noticed through the doorway, he had already received 2 other boxes from other sources and informed him they made their deliveries on schedule!  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing!  Thinking fast, he looked at his list and asked him his name.  (He already knew his name, but kept it covered with his thumb.)  When he told him his name, he said, “Oh I’m sorry….I am at the wrong house.  You aren’t on my list.”  (This was untrue, of course, but he would deal with that later.)  He walked back to his car and left, not knowing what to do with the undelivered box.  He drove through the night trying to decide what to do, when he saw a dim light in the distance.  It was not a bright star as guided the shepherd or the wise men, but he was neither, so he followed it.  The road was unfamiliar, and grew narrow.  Soon, it was not paved at all, and it was too narrow to turn around.  He could still see the dim light ahead in the distance, so he continued to drive toward it.  Eventually, he arrived at the source of the light.  He found a small wooden shack.  He knocked on the door, and a young lady answered.  The contents of the house were very modest, with furniture and cabinets made of sawmill lumber.  She had a plain scrub pine Christmas tree decorated with handmade paper chains and under the tree was a 5# bag of potatoes.  She had two children, one of which was a young baby lying in a hand-made, box-like cradle for a bed. 

He asked the lady her name.  When she replied, he said, “I’m so glad to find you!  I’ve been searching all night!  I have a Christmas basket for you from the Jay Cees in Kingston.”  “How can this be?” she said.  Again, he told a little White Christmas lie.  “But I know you!  I have my sources, so wait here until I can get your Christmas box!” 

He brought in the ham, the staples, fresh fruit, some candy and a few toys.  She was shocked and happy.  But before she could comprehend what was happening, he wished her Merry Christmas, and drove through the night.

Finally, he made it to Highway 58. As he traveled home late that Christmas Eve, he thought he heard a voice say, “Don’t worry about the lie---you don’t have to be a shepherd or wise man to worship the Christ child.  But tonight, you had a glimpse of what they experienced 2000 years ago.”

Today is the day before Christmas.  I know there are many amazing and miraculous Christmas stories out there, but I wanted to share one that is special to me and my family.  May you all enjoy the blessing of the birth of the Christ child. Merry Christmas to all and to all a season of blessings!

One final comment, which is something Dad failed to mention, that was later pointed out by my mother:  Dad went back later to try to find the wooden shack where he delivered the last basket, and it was no where to be found.  He never found the house.