Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

May today be filled with fun, family, and the remembrance of our Savior and the wonderful gift He gave to each one of us; His life and the gift of eternal life and the chance to return to live with Him someday.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Tonight is Christmas Eve. The story for this night is the real story of Christmas found in the scriptures.
Luke 1:26-38, 46-47
Luke 2:1-20
Matthew 2:1-14

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Candle for Jesus

by Kim Hiatt Day in 2006
Luke carefully held the tiny slip of paper in his hand not yet daring to fold it open. "Oh please," he thought for the hundredth time, "please, please let it say Wiseman."

Luke had reluctantly agreed to be in the Sunday School Christmas Pageant. He had initially felt shy and foolish, but after hearing the Nativity Story from the Bible for the first time he changed his mind. Sister Bates, his Sunday school teacher had read them the story last week. She read it with feeling and humility. He never remembered hearing it before and kept re-playing it in his mind. How could a king like Jesus be born in an old barn with a bunch of animals? If he was the Son of God, why in the world would he be placed in a manger with straw instead of a real cradle? How ever did the Wisemen find him by following a distant star? Weren't the shepherds plenty afraid when the angles appeared out of nowhere?

When sister Bates outlined the Nativity Program, she made it clear that every single one of them would have a part. Luck was mighty reluctant, until the parts and costumes were described in detail. As Luke listened to all the information, he kept pulling at the threads in his worn and tattered overalls making the hole in his knee even bigger. He was so tired of wearing secondhand, shabby clothes from the mission barrel. He couldn't recollect a time when he had actually put something new on--something crisp, colorful and completely his own. Old shoes a mighty too tight or big enough to need newspapers shoved into their toes to keep from slipping and sliding inside them, frayed jackets cast off by some luckier soul than he made their way into his traveling knapsack, and he was plenty weary of making do with the mall. He was long since used to not fitting in with everyone else--ways the new kids, the poor one, the drifter who wouldn't be staying long. But somehow since he was settled here with the likelihood of staying put for a few months, Luke would give about anything for a new pair of overalls and a change to feel like he was as good as anybody else.

As he clutched the paper tightly, he knew again that he wanted to be a Wise man. He wanted to be a king and to wear the rich gowns of velvet and a fancy crown. He wanted to be important and of course, wise. Having followed the magnificent star, he wanted to present the baby Jesus with a beautiful and costly gift of frankincense or gold. He had imagined himself walking stately and regally to the stage, all eyes upon him, carefully carrying his gift with pride and purpose. He could see himself bow before the little manger feeling grand and royal inside. He had replayed this scene in his mind over and over this past week, and he was surprised at how much it mattered to him. He wanted to be a Wiseman and he wanted ti bad!

He didn't want to open the paper, didn't dare find out what was written upon it. He slipped out the side door of the small chapel into the crisp cool air and headed around the back. HE settled himself down on the ground between two trees for a moment's privacy and quiet away from all the children and chaos inside. Still carefully clutching the small paper he thought about the last few weeks he had been staying here with his great Aunt Meg. His dad had found work in Canada with a logging crew and had needed to leave him behind. It had been just him and his dad these past few years since his mama had died. His dad spent many hours seeking employment and then working long hours on a job finally found. The many doctors' bills from mam's illness and trying to stay afloat during these hard times hadn't been easy. They had moved around a lot, and Luke was often alone. He felt pretty disconnected from folks as it was hard to bother getting to know people that you would likely as not soon be leaving. It was easier to keep to himself, and he shuffled though each solitary day like a sleepwalker in his own life.

Luke tried to remember his mam and how good it felt to have her love him so .He tried so hard to remember her warm smile and generous affection. His memory of her was slipping away like dry sand though his fingers and could only be captured now in brief snatches--snatches that left him feeling empty and desolate afterwards. His dad's grief and loneliness had made him distant and gruff and he was always away. Luke thought he was a disappointment and a burden to his father, and there weren't many words between them. Luke felt alone...he felt insignificant and invisible. There was a hollowness that loomed inside and seemed to color the world in various shades of gray. Luke didn't think much of himself or much of the world around him either. He considered himself to be the loser that everyone else seemed to see and found caring about anything getting tougher. SO he was surprised to feel so intensely about being a Wiseman in this pageant as it seemed a good while since he had felt much of anything at all. These thoughts brought him back around to the little slip of paper form the drawing that had gone on earlier inside. He closed his eyes tight, took a deep breath and slowly unfolded it. After several seconds pause, he finally opened up his eyes to read the word, "Shepard." He was devastated. He angrily wadded up the sweaty paper and tossed it in front of him in disgust and disappointment. Why in the world did he imagine for a moment that something fine and extraordinary would happen to him? Of course he was a shepherd...a grimy, poor, shabby shepherd with a bunch of dumb sheep. Nothing special. Probably just one of the many kids in the pageant that they had found a stupid part for. What food he had been to actually hope for something good, to think that his place was any different than all of the rest, to think that he had a chance. He was mad as the dickens, and mostly at himself. Stupid pageant anyway. He just wouldn't be in it, wouldn't go back to Sunday school either, no matter that he had promised Aunt Meg when she took him in.
He walked home with his hands deep in his pockets and his mind whirling with discouraged thoughts. HE wasn't in a hurry to arrive home to such solitary quarters and didn't want to answer his aunt's questions about the practice. Aunt Meg had been a nurse for many years and was now retired, living alone. She was efficient, no nonsense and certainly not accustomed to children. She was fiercely devoted to the Bible and had reluctantly taken him in as her Christian duty. Luke knew she was trying ,he had felt her soften towards him the last week or so. She read the Bible each evening to him, and while he resisted it at first, he flt more and more drawn to listening to the stores about Jesus. Just who was this Jesus that he distantly remembered his Mama telling him about? He was amazed at the stories of him healing the sick, the blind and the lame. How he seemed to care about everyone! He wondered about some of the the parables and the unlikely souls Jesus befriended. He would lie in bed at night thinking about him, questioning why he was often scorned and driven out and how he seemed to love everyone regardless. Luke vaguely remembered his mam's prayers and how she had spoken of him with love and reverence. He found himself curiously listening during Bible reading to capture the essence of his mam's devotion. But wait. . .he didn't want to think about his now. . .it only reminded him of the Christmas pageant, and he certainly wasn't about to think of that!

Luke walked into his aunt's kitchen, pasted the bread and milk she had waiting for him and wearily went upstairs to his tiny bedroom. As he lay shivering in bed, he thought of his dad. He wondered if he would be home for Christmas. Christmas hadn't been much of a big deal these last few years, and when Aunt Meg suggested that they soon cut down a Christmas tree, he had felt genuine surprise at such an offer. "Stupid Christmas. . stupid everything," the reoccurring thought that kept hammering itself in his mind. Just what did anything even matter at all?
The next several days Luke was an even more solitary figure. He withdrew into his oversize jacket and tried to pretend that he wasn't even in it. He went though the motions of everyday. . .of going to school, even of going to Sunday school, but then walked right back out the door after Aunt Meg went into her own class. He didn't make and attempts to answer the questions of his school mates and barely mumbled in reply to his aunt. Who knows how long this might have gone on until an evening a few days later when there was a knock at the door. Sister Bates, sensing his need and disappointment, stood holding a candlestick bringing also a genuine love and goodwill that Luke hadn't felt in a very long time. With concern and kindness in her eyes, she placed the candle in Luke's hand and told him how important a true shepherd really was, caring for each and everyone of his sheep. How they patiently looked after their flock to keep them safe - even had them numbered in their conscientious are. That a goo shepherd would even die for his flock, just as Jesus did for us. she described how the angels appeared to them first, proclaiming the glorious birth of our Savior and singing praises to him. That the shepherds were afraid in the beginning, but then they hurried to find the hold child to kneel and worship him. After wards they hastened to spread the good news to others. The good news of the Savior's birth! She explained that during the pageant, the shepherds would come in carrying a lighted candle. The candle would symbolize that Jesus is the light of the world. That he was born to rescue us from the worries, the struggle and darkness of this life, and bring us to everlasting light.

Sister Bates explained that the shepherds would all gather around the baby Jesus, carefully holding their candles while the nativity story was finished and the congregation sang several songs. Luke pondered all of this, trying not to be the slightest bit interested, nor feel the intensity of her compassionate gaze--yet also trying to push past the thick wall of indifference and let her kindness in. Sister Bates took both of his hands in hers and looked intently into his eyes, "We need you in our pageant Luke," she declared with feeling. "You need to carry this candle, this light, for Jesus." After several seconds pause, she smiled, and as she turned to leave told him she also wanted him to keep the candlestick afterwards. . .to remind him of being a shepherd and the significance of the light. Strangely comforted, Luke held the shiny candlestick later that evening. IT was one of the few things he even owned, and he was still surprised that she had really given it to him. Carefully holding it he felt the first stirrings of renewed hope. HE felt a lightness within that was new to him. He thought again about what it represented. He remembered his aunt had read something bout Jesus saying "I am the light of the world," and although he didn't understand it then, he felt it now. He could somehow feel that light surrounding him here. HE smiled to himself. . .and didn't even know why.

The next few days felt much different to Luke. He didn't feel so alone inside. He looked at the world around him and there seemed to be colors again. HE was friendlier to his class mates and felt more genuinely interested in the life around him. Cutting down the Christmas tree a couple of days later with Aunt Meg, and then hauling it home in the snow was pure magic! She herself seemed happier and went about humming Christmas carols and baking Christmas cookies with a merriment that was a surprise to all. Even his old overalls didn't seem to bother him as much as they had before, and he hardly noticed the holes. OH sure, he still wanted to be Wiseman, and during practices later in the week, he felt twinges of envy as they came in nobly dressed with such finery and carrying their beautiful gifts. But it was okay. The coarse brown robe that he wore didn't seem so bad. He kept remembering all Sister Bates had told him about the shepherds. But oh how he did long for such a beautiful offering to give the baby Jesus. That bothered him a lot-it just didn't seem fair that the shepherds didn't have anything to give. HE knew what not having anything felt like, and it seemed a little king born in a stable ought to receive something more.

Christmas Eve and the night of the pageant finally arrived. Luke adjusted his head piece nervously as the crowd of people made their way into the cozy church decorated with festive pine boughs and ribbons. He felt excitement inside, as he had never participated in anything so fine. He listened to the music of the organist as if hearing it for the first time, and everything seemed to come alive for him as the Christmas Nativity was performed. HE really felt for poor tired Mary, and for kind Joseph, so concerned and anxiously trying to find a warm and safe place for her in the inn. He watched in awe as the glittery star was raised over the baby Jesus, who was the small baby brother of another shepherd, as if the true majestic star of the east was actually in the night sky. And as the shepherds reverently make their way to his bedside, carefully carrying the important lighted candles, his heart seemed ready to burst. As he knelt before this little one, it was as though he was before sweet baby Jesus himself. He felt in awe, and as if he was truly one of the privileged ones to behold the Lamb of God and be a witness of his birth. As his eyes locked with the little fellow in the manger bed, it was suddenly as if his own magnificent miracle was unfolding within. For with that tiny gaze he felt a powerful love and warmth he didn't know was possible. It utterly surrounded him and give him such a sense of peace and joy. In this instant he knew Jesus really did know him, that indeed the Good Shepherd knew all of his sheep. Luke somehow knew that his worries, loneliness, sadness and insecurities were entirely know to him--that he was aware of and had compassion for how hard things had been. He also felt that Jesus knew how really important and wonderful he was! That in his eyes he wasn't anything close to a loser. . .what a dear and pleasant surprise! Luke felt as if all of heaven was smiling down at him as this rush of light and love penetrated his soul. He felt his mama's warm affection once again take hold of his heart, mingled with this amazingly strong love from Jesus.

Luke hardly noticed as the Wisemen came and laid their fine gifts by the manger, so intent was this sweet exchange between him and the baby. As he was aware of the lowly animals about, and the hushed feeling present, it occurred to him that Jesus was born in a humble stable, this king of heaven and earth, because he came to know us and love us for who we are and not for what we do, where we live, how we look or what we have. As the congregation joined in singing the sweet Christmas hymns of praise and adoration, Luke was oblivious to it all. Oblivious even to his father's presence at the back of the chapel, whose tear filled eyes, for the first time in a long time, truly beheld his sweet son on the stage. Nothing could compare to the majesty of this moment when Luke truly saw himself in the eyes of the Savior. It was like coming home, and somehow he knew that nothing would be the same for him again. That even his dad returning. . even the new overalls that Aunt Meg had saved for and had carefully wrapped under the tree couldn't stop this moment of knowing who he was. For carrying this light had dispelled all of the darkness, and as the pageant ended, he knew that he would take it with him. Even after secretly leaving his gift of the candlestick carefully nestled at the mangers' feet among the ornate gifts of the magi, he knew that the real gift would be going forward with all of the the light he could muster. Going forward as a shepherd--looking after and caring for others, and spreading the good news of Jesus and his wondrous light.

"I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep." John 10:14

"I am the light of the world, he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." John 8:12

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Christmas I Remember Best

by Rheuama A. West
It should have been the worst, the bleakest of Christmases. It turned out to be the loveliest of all my life. I was nine years old, one of seven children, and we lived in a little farming town in Utah It had been a tragic year for all of us. But we still had our father and that made all the difference.
Every year in our town a Christmas Eve Social was held at the church. How well I remember Dad buttoning our coasts, placing us all on our long, homemade sleigh and pulling us to the church about a mile away. it was snowing. How cold and good it felt on our faces. We held tight to one another, and above the crunch of snow beneath Dad's feet we could hear him softly whistling "Silent Night."
Mama had died that previous summer. She had been confined to bed for three years. So Dad had assumed all mother and father responsibilities. I remember him standing me on a stool by our big round kitchen table and teaching m to mix bread. But my main task was being Mama's hand and feet until that day in June, her own birthday, when she died.
Tow months later came the big fire. Our barns, sheds, haystacks and livestock were destroyed, It was a calamity, but dad stood between the disaster and us. We weren't even aware of how poor we were . We had no money at all.
I don't remember much about the Christmas Eve Social. I just remember Dad pulling us there and pulling us back. Later, in the front room around our pot-bellied stove, he served us our warm milk and bread. Our Christmas tree, topped by a worn cardboard angel, had been brought from the nearby hills. Strings of our homegrown popcorn made it the most beautiful tree I had ever seen-or smelled.
After supper, Dad made all seven of us sit in a half circle by the tree. I remember I wore a long flannel nightgown. He sat on the floor facing us and told us that he was ready to give us our Christmas gift. We waited; puzzled because we thought Christmas presents were for Christmas morning. Dad looked at our expectant faces. "Long ago," he said, "on a night like this, some poor shepherds were watching their sheep on a lonely hillside, when all of a sudden. . ."
His quiet voice went on and on telling the story f the Christ Child in his own simple words, and I'll never forget how love and gratitude seemed to fill the room. There wad light from the oil lamp and warmth from the stove, but somehow it was more than that. We felt Mama's presence.
We learned that loving someone was far more important than having something. We were filled with peace and happiness and joy. When the story was ended Dad had us all kneel for family prayer. Then he said, "Try to remember, when everything else seems to be lost, the greatest thing of all remains; "God's love for us". That is what Christmas means. That's the gift that can never be taken aways."
The next morning we found that Dad had whittled little presents for each of us and hung them on the tree, doors for the girls, whistles for the boys. But he was right, he had given us our real gift the night before.
All this happened long ago, but to this day it all comes back to me whenever I hear "Silent Night" or feel snowflakes on my face, or--best of all--when I get an occasional glimpse of Christ shinning in my 90-year-old father's face.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Most Beautiful Thing

The side of the path were covered with rugs of white snow. But, in the center, its whiteness was crushed and chummed into a foaming brown by the tramp, tramping of hundreds of hurrying feet. It was the day before Christmas. People rushed up and down the path carrying arm loads of bundles. They laughed and called to each other as they pushed their way through the crowds.
Above the path, the long arms of an ancient tree reached upward to the sky. It swayed and moaned as a strong wind grasped ti's branches, and bent them toward the earth. Down below a haughty laugh sounds, as a lovely fir tree stretches and preens it's thick green branches, sending a fine spray of know shimmering downward to the ground
"I should think," said the fir, in a high smug voice, "that you'd try a little harder to stand still. Goodness knows you're ugly enough with leaves you've already lost. If you move around any more, you'll soon be quite bare."
"I know," answered the old tree. "Everything has put on its most beautiful clothes for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Even from here I can see the decorations shining form each street corner. And yesterday some men came and put the brightest, loveliest lights on every tree along the path--except me, or course". He signed softly, and a flake of snow melted in the form of a teardrop and ran down his gnarled trunk.
"Oh indeed! and did you expect they'd put light upon you so your ugliness would stand out even more?" smirked the fir.
"I guess you're right," replied the old tree in a sad voice. "If there were only somewhere I could hide until after the celebrations are over, but here I stand...the only ugly thing among all this beauty. If they would only come and chop me down." and he signed sorrowfully.
"Well, I don't wish you any ill will," replied the fir, "but you are an eyesore. Perhaps it would be better for us all if they came and chopped you down." Once again he stretch he lovely thick branches. "You might try to hold onto those three small leaves you still have. At least you wouldn't be completely bare."
"Oh, I've tried so hard," cried the old tree. "Each fall I say to myself, 'this year I won't give up a single leaf, no matter what the cause', but someone always comes along who seems to need them more than I," and he signed once again.
"I told you not to give aways so many to the dirty little paper boy, "said the fir. "Why you even lowered your branch a little, so that he could reach them. You can't say I didn't warn you then."
"Yes, you did at that," the old tree replied. "But they made him so happy. I heard him say he would pick some for his invalid mother."
"OH they all had good causes," mocked the fir. "That young girl, for instance, colored leaves for her party, indeed! They were your leaves!"
"She took a lot, didn't she?" said the old tree, and he seemed to smile.
Just then a cold wind blew down the path and a tiny brown bird fell to the ground at the foot of the old tree and lay there shivering too cold to lift its wings. The old tree looked down in pity, and then quickly he let go of his last three leaves. The golden leaves fluttered down and settled softly over the shivering little bird, and it la there quietly under the warmth of them.
"Now you've done it!" shrieked the fir. "You've given away ever single leaf! Christmas morning you'll make our path the ugliest sight in the whole city!" The old tree said nothing. Instead, he stretched out his branches to gather what snowflakes he cold that they might not fall on the tiny bird.
The young fir turned away in anger, and it was then he noticed a painter sitting quietly a few feet form the path, intent upon his long brushes and his canvas. His clothes were old and tattered. His face wore a sad expression. He was thinking of his loved ones and the empty, cheerless Christmas morning the would face, for he had sold not a single painting in the last few months.
But the little tree didn't see this. Instead, he turned back to the old tree and said in a haughty voice, a least keep those bare branches as far away fro me me as possible. I'm being painted and your hideousness with mar the background.
"I'll try," replied the old tree. And he raised his branches as high as possible. It was almost dark when the painter picked up his easel and left. And the little fir was tired and cross fro mall his preening and posing. Christmas morning he a woke late, and as he proudly shook aways the snow from his lovely branches, he was amazed to see a huge crowd of people surrounding the old tree, ah-ing and oh-ing as they stood back and gazed upward. And even those hurrying along the path had to stop for a moment to sigh before they went on. "Whatever could it be?" thought the haughty fir, and he too looked up to see if perhaps the top of the old tree had been broken off durning the night.
Just then a paper blew away from the hands of an enraptured newsboy and sailed straight into the young fir. The fir gasped in amazement, for there on the front page was a picture of the painter holding his painting of a great white tree whose leafless branches, laden with snow, stretch upward into the sky. While below lay a tiny brown bird almost covered by three golden leaves. And beneath the picture were the words, "The Most Beautiful Thing Is That Which Hath Given All." The young fir quietly bowed its head beneath the great beauty of the humble old tree.
*SJohnson I'll answer your question after I'm finished with the 12 day of Christmas stories I'm doing. Thank you for your question.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Jesus is Better than Santa Claus

Santa lives at the North Pole...
Jesus is everywhere.

Santa rides in a sleigh...
Jesus rides on the wind and walks on the water.

Santa comes but once a year...
Jesus is an ever present help.

Santa fills your stockings with goodies...
Jesus supplies all your needs.

Santa come down your chimney uninvited...
Jesus stands at your door and knocks, and then enters your heart when invited.

You have to wait in line to see Santa...
Jesus is as close as the mention of His name.

Santa lets you sit on his lap...
Jesus lets you rest in His arms.

Santa doesn't know your name...
Jesus knew our names before we did. Not only does He know our names, He knows our address too. He knows our history and future and He even knows how many hairs are on our heads.

Santa has a belly like a bowl full of jelly...
Jesus has a heart full of love.

Santa offers HO HO HO...
Jesus offers health, help, and hope.

Santa says "You better not cry"...
Jesus says "Cast all your cares on me for I care for you."

Santa's little helpers make toys...
Jesus makes new life, mends wounded hearts, repairs broken homes and builds mansions.

Santa may make you chuckle but...
Jesus gives you joy that is your strength.

While Santa puts gifts under your tree...
Jesus became our gift under your tree.
Jesus became our gifts and died on a tree.

We need to remember WHO Christmas is all about.
We need to put Christ back in CHRISTmas,
Jesus is still the reason for the season.

Yes, Jesus is better, He is even better than Santa Claus.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Prayer

by Robert Lewis Stevenson
Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise Men.
Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing with Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.
May Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thought, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Dime for a Present

Bobby was getting cold sitting out in his back yard in the snow. Bobby didn't ware boots; he didn't like them and anyways he didn't own any. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them and they did a poor job of keeping out the cold. Bobby had been in his backyard for about an hour already. And, try as he might, he could not come up with an idea for his mother's Christmas gift. He shook his head as the thought, "This is useless, even if I do come up with an idea, I don't have any money to spend."
Ever since his father had passed away three years ago, the family of five had struggled. It wasn't because his mother didn't care, or try, there just never seemed to be enough. She worked night at the hospital, but the small wage that she was earning could only be stretched so far. What the family lacked in money and material things, they more than made up for in love and family unity. Bobby had two older and one younger sister, who ran the household in their mother's absence. All three of his sisters had already made beautiful gifts for their mother. Somehow it just wasn't fair. Here it was Christmas even already, and he had nothing. Wiping a tear from his eyes. Bobby kicked the snow and started to walk down to the street where the shops and stores were.
It wasn't easy being six without a father, especially when he needed a man to talk to. Bobby walked from shop to shop, looking into each decorated window. Everything seemed so beautiful and so out of reach. It was starting to get dark and Bobby reluctantly turned to walk home when suddenly his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun's rays reflecting off of something along the curb. He reached down and discovered a shiny dime. Never before has anyone felt so wealthy as Bobby felt at that moment.
As he held his new found treasure, a warmth spread throughout his entire body and he walked into the first store he saw. His excitement quickly turned cold when salesperson after salesperson told him that he could not buy anything with only a dime. He saw a flower shop and went inside to wait in line.
When the shop owner asked if he could help him, Bobby presented the dime and asked if he could buy one flower for his mother's Christmas gift. The shop owner looked at Bobby and his ten cent offering. Then he put his hand on Bobby's shoulder and said to him, "You just wait here and I'll see what I can do for you." As Bobby waited, he looked at the beautiful flowers and even though he was a boy, he could see why mothers and girls liked flowers.
The sound of the door closing as the last customer left jolted Bobby back to reality. All alone in the shop, Bobby began to feel alone and afraid. Suddenly the shop owner came out and moved to the counter. There, before Bobby's eyes, lay twelve long stem, re roses, with leaves of green and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow. Bobby's heart sank as the owner picked them up and placed them gently into a long white box. "That will be ten cents young man." the shop owner said reaching out his hand for the dime.
Slowly, Bobby moved his hand to give the man his dime. Could this be true? No one else would give him a thing for his dime! Sensing the boy's reluctance, the shop owner added, "I just happened to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?" This time Bobby did not hesitate, and when the man placed the long box into his hands, he knew it was true. Walking out the door that the owner was holding for Bobby, he heard the shop keeper say, "Merry Christmas, son."
As he returned inside, the shop keepers wife walked out. "Who were you talking to back there and where are the roses you were fixing?" Staring out the window, and blinking the tears from his own eyes, he replied, "A strange thing happened to me this morning. While I was setting up things to open the shop, I thought I heard a voice telling me to set aside a down of my best roses for a special gift. I wasn't sure at the time whether I had lost my mind or what, but I set them aside anyways. Then just a few minutes ago, a little boy came into the sop and wanted to buy a flower for his mother with one small dime. When I looked at him, I saw myself, many years ago. I too was a poor boy with nothing to buy my mother a Christmas gift. A bearded man, whom I never knew, stopped me on the street and told me that he wanted to give me ten dollars. When I saw that little boy tonight, I knew who that voice was, and I put together a dozen of my very best roses. " The shop owner and his wife hugged each other tightly, and as they stepped out into the bitter cold air, they somehow didn't feel cold at all.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Holy Night to Remember

By Sharon Espeseth
As northern Canadians we share many memories of cold winters. At Christmas time, I often reflect upon one particular evening of a prairie winter in the early sixties. Thought the frost was cruel, the reminiscence is warm.
We were students at college in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, most of us living away from home for the first tie. Hanging a few strips of tinsel in our rooms didn't relieve the feeling of homesickness that had oven taken our dorm. What could we do to bring on the Christmas spirit, stave off our longing for home and maybe brighten someone else's life? One of my friends suggested going caroling. That was it! Every student at our small college was rousted out for the occasion. No auditions. No voice lesson. No excuses. Warmth of spirit was the only requirement. And our enthusiasm served as an electric soul-warmer for those who seemed lacking in spirit.
We divided into groups so our music would resound over most of our college town. The group I joined had nothing resembling four-part harmony, but we could collectively make a joyful noise. Bounding boisterously and carrying a tune in our hearts, we made our first call. "Deck the Halls," we tra-la-la-ed.
Soon we discovered that caroling brings a variety of responses. When you carol for people you know, you can be sure of open doors and open hearts; when you carol for strangers, you can't be sure of what kind of reception you will get. Some folks remained in the safety and coziness of their homes, watching and listening passively though living rooms windows. Others cautiously propped the door open enough to hear us, but not enough to let in the cold - or their unknown guests. Some flung wide their doors and sang along; other watched in silent reverie.
One of the stops on our journey was a three-story apartment building. With no intercoms or security cameras to deter us in those days, we walked right in .Starting our performance in the basement, we sand mostly to closed doors. After a couple of songs we headed for the main floor. Two doors swung open. One door way framed a young couple, obviously expecting a child. In another doorway, two preschoolers clung to their parent's legs. Surprise? Wonder? Curiosity? Their faces seemed to ask, Who are these strange, bundled-up people? And why are they doing this?
We sang "Away in a Manger" for the young ones. We continued with "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem" for our seemingly appreciative gathering. Mounting the stairs to the third floor, we burst into "It Came upon the Midnight Clear," a song that suited the night.
One door on the top floor creaked open. A stately gentleman, grey-haired and thing, held onto his doorknob. He became our audience of one. As we murmured about what to sing next, the elderly fellow asked, " Would you come into our apartment and sing for my wife? She's bedridden. I know she'd love to hear you. My wife used to be an opera singer, " He added proudly, "and she's always loved music,"
All eight of us stepped timidly into the couple's tiny, crowded bachelor suite, Books, records, china, antique furniture and mementos whispered stories to us. I reminded myself not to stare for fear of invading their privacy. This was their home, their sanctuary and hallowed place where the old-timer watched over his fragile partner. Her silver bed-mussed head made only a small dent in her pillow.
Without a word, he adjusted his wife's headrest so she could see and hear us better. Then he gave a nod. Our voices rose and warbled through "Hark the Herald Angel Sing." Had our voices been given extra grace and beauty for this occasion? Perhaps they had - we sang rather well for such a motley, impromptu crew.
A smile flickered on the lady's gaunt, wrinkled, yet beautiful, face. Her eyes sparkled softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Her husband requested "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night," two of her favorites. As we finished our performances, her eyes closed. Now the man shed his own tears. Quietly we turned to leave, closing the door softly on the housebound couple.
The winter moon and stars shone down upon us. It had become a silent night, a holy night, for we had been in the presence of love that was gentle and mild. All was calm; all was bright as we headed back to our residence. We had found, and maybe even given ,the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Two Babies

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage.
They related the following story in their own words:
It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first tine., the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Though out the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. (No colored paper was available in the city.)
Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown as American lady was throwing aways as she left Russia, were used for the baby's blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table were little Misha sat -- he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project.
As I looked at the little boy's manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.
Then Misha start to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, "And when Mara laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don't have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn't because I didn't have a gift to give him like everybody else did.
But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, 'If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?' And Jesus told me, 'If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me. " "So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him--for always."
As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.
The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him-FOR ALWAYS. I've learned that it's not what you have in your life, but who you have in your life that counts.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pattern of Love

By Jake Smith
I didn't question Timmy, age nine, or his seven-year old brother Billy about the brown wrapping paper passed back and forth between then as we visited each store.
Every year at Christmas time, our Service Club takes the children from poor families in our town on a personally conducted shopping tour. I was assigned Timmy and and Billy, whose father was out of work. After giving them the allotted $4 each, we began our trip. At different stores I make suggestions, but always their answer was a solemn shake of the head, no. Finally I asked, "Where would you suggest we look?"
"Could we go to a shoes store, Sir?" answered Timmy. "We'd like a pair of shoes for our Daddy so he can go to work."
IN the shoe store the clerk asked what the boys wanted. Out came the brown paper. "We want a pair of work shoes to fit this foot," the said.
Billy explained that it was a pattern of the daddy's foot. They had drawn it while he was asleep in a chair.
The clerk held the paper against a measuring stick then walked away. Soon he came with an open box "Will these do?" he asked.
Timmy and Billy handled the shoes with great eagerness. "How much do they cost?" said Billy.
Then Timmy saw the price on the box. "They're $16.95" he said in dismay. "We only have $8."
I looked at the clear and he cleared his throat. "That's the regular price," he said, "but they're on sale; $3.98 today only."
Then with shoes happily in hand the boys brought gifts for their mother and two little sisters. Not once did they think of themselves.
The day after Christmas the boy's father stopped me on the street. The new shes were on his feet; gratitude was in his eyes. "I just thank Jesus for people who care," he said.
"And I thank Jesus for your tow sons," I replied. "They taught me more about Christmas in one evening than I learned in a life time."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Season for Giving

by Camille Gleason
There are many things to be remembered, and lessons to be learned during the Christmas Holidays. Some of the lessons come in ways we never expected.
Last year at this time I was living aways from home. I lived in one of the nation's biggest cities by myself and didn't have many friends. I was dreading the Christmas holidays because I knew I would be alone and there was no way I could afford to make the cross country trip home. I worked downtown in one of the nation's most busy and secured buildings. Every morning I got on the Metro and had a 45-minute ride into the city. At night I would get on the Metro again and have another long journey home.
This routine happened day and day after day. I was thankful to be in the nation's capital, and counted my blessings daily for the opportunity I had to be out amongst the leaders of the country. But I couldn't help but feel extremely loneliness as the holidays came, and I couldn't get the Christmas spirit to set in my heart. It just didn't seem like the same holiday without Mom's sweetbread and pies, Dad reading the Christmas story, and my sisters gathered together laughing in one bedroom on Christmas Eve. I longed for the comforts of the snowy mountain valley, and the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir playing over the loud speakers in the various stores in town. This Christmas would be different and there was nothing much I could do about it. Or, so I thought.
As I got off the Metro every morning, and walked the five minutes to my office, I passed people who had made their home on benches outside. They never asked for anything from those who passed them quickly. Often I saw them drinking a cup of hot coffee or hot chocolate, but that probably kept them warm fro just a few brief moments., I wondered how they were surviving the cold air. IT seemed to break through every one of my bones each time the wind blew; and I had on a warm coat and ear muffs. I saw these friends of mine every day and would make what I thought was my contribution; a simple smile when we made eye contact.
The Christmas season was fast upon me and there was still no feeling of it in my heart. I heard the Christmas songs, the mall parking lots were always full, as occasional snow fell to the ground, and there were Christmas specials on TV every night. But still I felt something was missing. I couldn't put my finger on it. I remember one night feeling lonely and cold and almost lost, and then in my mind a vision of my friends on the benches outside my office came into clear view. As I caught hold upon that thought, I realized that with the help of Heavenly Father, I didn't have to feel alone anymore; nor did I need to feel sorry for myself. Something hit me that night and changed my whole attitude for the season.
I went right to the kitchen and started baking. The smell of banana bread and my mom's sweetbread filled the air. IF I couldn't have it homemade from her kitchen, I would have it from mine.
The next morning as I walked by my friends on the street, I passed out loaves of banana bread, hot out of the oven. It may have warmed them a little bit, but I was on fire inside. I found myself smiling all the way up the elevator to the 8th floor. I hummed Christmas song all day. That night when I left my office, I saw another man who had made him home across the street. I had noticed him before sand saw the smile he always gave those who passed him by. He was like my other friends; never asking for anything. Seeing him warmed my heart and I felt a desire to heed the call of the savior. The thought of the Babe in Bethlehem filled my heart and my mind and I knew that there was more that I could do than just deliver banana bread. "When saw we thee a stranger..." sounded in my ears. I thought of the Savior as I looked at this man and knew that at one time the Savior felt his cold, his hunger, and his pain.
The next day on my lunch break, I went to this man and delivered a bag full of Christmas treasures. A new blanket, gloves, and ear muffs to protect him from the cold air. warm bread to feed him physically, and a copy of the the Book of Mormon to fee him spiritually. There were other things i that gab, which now I don't remember. I can imagine that they kept him warm that winter, but what I received by giving those gifts to him, will keep me warm for a lifetime.
Christmas is a season of so many things. I always thought of it as a time to spend with my family; eating Mom's pies, laughing with my sisters, and listening to my Dad read to me. Although I still longed for those times, I came to realize that Christmas is so much more. It is a season for giving and reaching out to those who may feel lost for forgotten, It is a season to forget yourself, and do as the Savior --that Babe born in Bethlehem -- would do. It is a season to remember Him and remember His great message, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." I won't ever view Christmas quite like I used to. I am not in that city, or amongst those friends anymore, but i won't ever forget the lesson I learned from their kind smiles and Christ-like faces.

Monday, December 13, 2010

12 Days of Christmas, The Big Wheel

I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas season so far. I know that we are. There are 12 days until Christmas so it's time for my annual 12 days of Christmas stories. Each day I'm going to post a new Christmas story for you every day until Christmas. I hope you feel the true spirit of the season as you read them.

The Big Wheel
In September 1960, I woke up one morning with six hungry babies and just 75 cents in my pocket. Their father was gone. The boys ranged from three months to seven years; their sister was two. Their dad had never been much more than a presence they feared. whenever they heard his tires crunch on the gravel drive way they would scramble to hide under their beds. He did manage to leave $15 a week to buy groceries. Now that he had decided to leave, there would be no more beatings, but no food either. If there was a welfare system in effect in southern Indiana at the time, I certainly knew nothing about it.
I scrubbed the kids until they looked brand new and then put on my best homemade dress. I loaded them into the rusty old '51 Chevy and drove off to find a job. The seven of us went to every factory, store and restaurant in our small town. No luck. The kids stayed crammed into the car and tried to be quiet while I tried to convince whomever would listen that I was willing to learn or do anything. I had to have a job. Still no luck.
The last place we went to, just a few miles out of town, was an old Root Beer Barrel drive-in that had been converted to a truck stop. It was called the Big wheel. An old lady named Granny owned the place and she peeked out of the window from time to time at all those kids. She needed someone on the graveyard shift, 11 at night until 7 in the morning. She paid 65 cents an hour and I could start that night.
I raced home and called the teenager down the street that baby-sat for people. I bargained with her to come and sleep on my sofa for a dollar a night. She could arrive with her pajamas on and the kid would already be asleep. This seemed like a good arrangement for her, so we made a deal. That night when the little ones and I knelt to say our prayers we all thanked God for finding Mommy a job. And so I started at the Big Wheel. When I went home in the mornings I woke the baby-sitter up and sent her home with one dollar of my tip money-fully half of what I averaged every night.
As the weeks went by, heating bills added another strain to my meager wage. The tires on the old Chevy had the consistency of penny balloons and began to leak. I had to fill them with air on the way to work and again every morning before I could to home. One bleak fall morning, I dragged myself to the car to go home and found four tires in the back seat. New tires! There was not one, no nothing, just hose beautiful brand new tires. Had angels taken up residence in Indianan? I wondered. I made a deal with the owner of the local service station. In exchange for his mounting the new ires, I would clean up his office. I remember it took me a lot longer to scrub his floor than it did for him to do the tires.
I was no working six nights instead of five and it still wasn't enough. Christmas was coming and I knew there would be no money for toys for the kids. I found a can of read paint and started repairing and painting some old toys. The I hid them in the basement so there would be something for Santa to deliver on Christmas morning. Clothes were a worry too. I was sewing patches on top of patches on the boys pants and soon they would be too fat gone to repaired.
On Christmas Eve the usual customers were drinking coffee in the Big Wheel. These were the tuckers, Les, Frank, and Jim, and a state trooper named Joe. A few musicians were hanging around after a gig at the Legion and were dropping nickels in the pinball machine. The regulars all just around and talked through the wee hours of the morning and then left to get home before the sun came up.
When it was time for me to go home at seven o'clock on Christmas morning I hurried to the car. I was hoping the kids wouldn't wake up before I managed to get home and get the presents from the basement and place them under the tree. (We had cut down a small cedar tree by the side of the road down by the dump.) IT was still dark and I couldn't see much, but there appeared to be some dark shadows in the car-or was that just a trick of the night? Something certainly looked different, but it was hard to tell what. When I reached the car I peered warily into one of the side windows. Then my jaw dropped in amazement. My old battered Chevy was filled full to the top with boxes of all shaped and sizes.
I quickly opened the driver's side door, scrambled inside and kneeled in the font facing the back seat. Reaching back, I pulled off the lid of the top box. Inside was a whole case of little blue jeans, sized 2 -10! I looked inside another box: It was full of shirts to go with the jeans. Then I peeked inside some of the other boxed. There was candy and nuts and bananas and bags of groceries. There was an enormous ham for baking ,and canned vegetables and potatoes. There was budding and Jell-O and cookies, pie filling and flour. There was a whole bad of laundry supplies and cleaning items. And there were five toy trucks and one beautiful little doll. As I drove back through empty streets as the sun slowly rose on the most amazing Christmas Day of my life, I was sobbing with gratitude. And I will never forget the joy on the faces of my little one that precious morning.
Yes, there were angels in Indiana that long-ago December. And they all hung out at the Big Wheel truck stop.