Greetings once again friends! This is Episode 32 of the podcast. The title of this week’s episode is “Some Favorite Christmas Stories.”
Well, here we are, right in the middle of the annual Christmas season. This time of year is always fraught with many intense feelings—memories, hopes, and joy—but also pain, loneliness, and even despair.
It’s a time of stories like no other season of the year.
Human beings live for stories! Every culture under heaven has stories that shape and guide the ideas, values, and practices of those who live in and are part of those cultures. Stories live through the telling and retelling generation after generation. Grandparents spin tales of yesteryear, hoping—perhaps—that the young will understand life from long ago. Preachers choose story illustrations for their sermons, attempting to shed light on the lesson of the day. Every novel, movie, or television program is a story. We never get tired of stories. In many ways they really are the stuff of life.
The “Greatest Story Ever Told,” of course, is the story of Jesus. I’ll say more about His story in next week’s episode. For today, however, I want to share some personal memories of Christmas that are very precious to me.
Thinking of Christmas stories common in our culture, several personal favorites come immediately to mind.
“A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens is one of the greatest. My favorite telling of this classic is a movie version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge.
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” the movie starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, is a perennial favorite. It carries a great lesson that every person’s influence goes far beyond their own awareness. The angel character “Clarence,” however, stretches the imagination—and is far from the true biblical concept of angels. Even so, the film is entertaining and important. Some other great lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the value of community, respect for other people, faithfulness, and integrity. Definitely values we need in our society today!
“The Story of the Other Wise Man,” by Henry Van Dyke is an entirely “made-up” story first published over a hundred years ago. Well-written, compelling, and inspirational are three thoughts generated by this long, short story. It’s only 58 pages of easy reading. But Van Dyke is a master storyteller couching his lessons in the experience of Artabán, a fourth “wise man” journeying to find and worship the Christ Child.
(Of course, we do not know how many Magi followed the Star, traveling from the East to bring gifts to the newborn King. The Bible doesn’t specify, but tradition says there were three—based on the three gifts (gold, frankincense, and myrrh) which the Magi presented to Jesus. (See Matthew 2:11)).
There are many, many other great Christmas stories we could mention, but here I want to share a personal story that happened many years ago on a cold, snowy Christmas morning in the Yakima Valley.
“The Unforgettable Christmas Gift”
[ This story was first published in “Whoa!” I Yelled, “Whoa!“ a collection of stories from my childhood and youth. Pacific Press. 1978.]
I reached up and pulled the covers closer around my face. My nose felt like a chunk of ice sticking out into the air. The wind whistled outside and blew against the window. Snow sifted through the cracks around the window frame in a fine powder. B-o-o-o-o, it was cold! The last thing I wanted to do just then was get out of my nice warm bed into the freezing icebox that was supposed to be my bedroom! Br-r-r-r!
“Loren! Beryl! Come on! It’s time to get up!” I heard Dad call from the kitchen. “It’s six o’clock. Time to do chores.”
“Uhnnnh!” I thought. “Why do we always have to get up so early? Even during Christmas vacation, and the day before Christmas at that!”
With about as much enthusiasm as a frozen mud slide, I sneaked my hand from under the covers and pulled my pants and shirt into bed with me. Br-r-r-r! They were cold! I pressed them close to my body, trying to keep myself warm and warm the clothes at the same time. I lay still for several minutes, savoring the warmth of the bed. Gradually the sludge of sleep started to clear from my mind.
“Hey, you guys! What’s keeping you in there?” Dad yelled again. He had a fire going in the kitchen stove.
I wiggled into my clothes under the covers and then stood up on the ice-cold floor. I grabbed my shoes and socks, and bolted for the kitchen. Beryl was already there, huddled against the cook stove, warming his hands. I sat down on a nearby chair and started pulling on my socks.
“Good morning, everyone!” Mom came through the door from the living room, closing it behind her. “How’s my family this morning?”
“Cold!” Beryl and I both said at the same time.
“Yes, it’s pretty wintry out this morning.” She peered out the kitchen window into the darkness on the back porch. “I wonder what the temperature is?”
“It’s about 18 degrees above zero,” Dad said. “I looked at the thermometer just a bit ago.”
“That isn’t so cold. It must be the wind and the snow that makes it seem colder.”
“Yes, that wind drives the cold right through everything.” Dad stood to his feet and started pulling on his coat. “Come on, boys. We’ve got to get those animals taken care of,” he said to Beryl and me.
We dressed in our heavy coats, hats, gloves, and overshoes, then went stomping out into the early morning cold and darkness. Mom would have a breakfast of hot oatmeal and fresh hot biscuits ready by the time we got back. Dad had a rule that the stock got to eat before we did.
I stumbled through my chores still half asleep. My fingers were numb from the cold as I broke open snow-crusted bales of hay and tossed them into the feed mangers for the cows. Water dripped from the end of my nose and formed into an icicle. The wind bit at my cheeks and the lobes of my ears where they weren’t covered by my hat. I would have liked nothing better than finding a nice warm spot somewhere to curl up and go back to sleep. But, that was impossible. There’s nothing worse than being miserably cold and half asleep at the same time, and not able to do anything about either!
“I wonder what it would be like to stay in bed and sleep till 8 o’clock,” I mused half aloud. “That would really be something!”
The sky was getting light, and the sun was almost ready to come over the horizon when we finished the chores and went to the house for breakfast.
“Just in time!” Mom said as we walked in the door. “Get washed up and come to the table. The biscuits are ready to come out of the oven right now!”
After the blessing, the biscuits and oatmeal disappeared with amazing speed. I was starting to shake off the drowsiness that plagued me. It was like this every morning. About halfway through breakfast I finally woke up.
“What time are the girls coming home today?” I asked.
“They’re scheduled to come on the 4:00 p.m. bus,” Mom answered. “They should be home in plenty of time to help trim the tree.”
“I hope they bring plenty of presents,” I said. “There aren’t very many on the table yet.”
“There you go again,” Beryl said, “Always worrying about what you’re going to get!”
“Whoa, whoa!” Mom cut us off. “Let’s not have any arguing now. The Bible says, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.’ It also says that it is more blessed to give than to receive. All of us need to do what we can to make the other fellow happy.”
“Well,” Dad spoke up, “it’s going to be a mighty slim Christmas this year. We can be thankful we have food on the table and a place to live and clothes to wear, and we can all be together, but there’s not much money for presents. It looks like we’ll have to be satisfied with what we can do for one another.”
“What do you have in mind?” Mom asked.
“I’ll think of something,” he said.
The girls came home from college on the bus that afternoon. They did bring a lot of presents, and when the tree was trimmed it looked as if Santa Claus had been there for sure. Packages of red and green were piled high around the base and spilled over onto the table beside the tree. After supper that night we all gathered around and started opening the gifts one by one. Everybody got something from everybody else. Except, no one received a gift from Dad.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for mine,” he said.
“That’s okay,” we all assured him. “We’re just happy that we can all be together.”
We all went to bed later than usual that night, but that was allowed on Christmas Eve. I went to sleep dreaming of the nuts and candies and apples and oranges and other goodies that Dad always bought as special treats at Christmastime. No one could say that he had given us nothing. And, after all, money was in rather short supply.
The next morning when I woke up I knew something unusual had happened. For one thing, the sun was already up. It was already light outside. For another, I couldn’t remember Dad calling us to get up to do the chores. The cows had to be fed even on Christmas morning, and no way would Dad let them go hungry.
I crawled out of bed with the mystery tugging at my mind. What was going on, anyway? I pulled on my clothes and headed out to the kitchen with my shoes in my hand. Dad was sitting beside the cook stove reading a magazine.
“Merry Christmas!” he boomed.
“Merry Christmas,” I said. I glanced at the clock on top of the refrigerator. It was already 8:15!
“Wow! I really slept in!”
“Well, you always walk around half asleep doing your chores anyway, and since I couldn’t buy you anything for Christmas I decided I’d do your chores for you on Christmas morning, and let you sleep. I thought you’d probably like that.”
“You mean everything’s already all done?”
“Yes, I fed the cows and milked them. The horses are all taken care of, and everything else is done. Merry Christmas!”
And, if the the truth must be known, I’ll have to admit that I’ve forgotten almost all the other Christmas gifts of all the other Christmases. But, that’s one I’ll never forget as long as we have Christmases!
Thank you so much for listening today! I pray you have been blessed.
I hope you can join me for next week’s episode — “What We Really Need For Christmas.”
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