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THE BEGINNING OF LEE
Lee, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a self-professed atheist was sitting at his desk on Christmas Eve. A slow news day he found himself reminiscing about the Delgado family that he had featured while writing a series of articles about Chicagoís neediest people a few days earlier. The Delgadoís were comprised of a grandmother named Perfecta and her two granddaughters, Jenny age 13 and her sister Lydia 11 years old.
He remembered how unprepared he was when he walked into their two room apartment on the west side of Chicago for the interview; bare halls and bare walls, no furniture, no rugs, nothing but a kitchen table and a handful of rice in the cupboards. He learned during the interview that Jenny and Lydia only had one short-sleeved dress apiece, plus a thin gray sweater that they shared. On cold days when the girls walked the half-mile to school, one of the girls would start with the sweater and then give it to the other at the halfway mark. It was all they had. Perfecta wanted more for her granddaughters and would gladly have worked, but her severe arthritis and age made work too difficult and painful.
Since it was a slow news day Lee decided to check out a car and drive to Chicagoís west side to check up on the Delgadoís. When Jenny opened the door he couldnít believe what he saw! His article on the Delgadoís had touched the hearts of many subscribers who responded with furniture and appliances, rugs, dozens of coats, scarves and gloves. The girls wouldnít have to share a sweater any longer. There was cartons and cartons and boxes of food everywhere. They had so much food that the cupboards and closets couldnít contain it. Someone had even donated a Christmas tree, and under it were mounds of presents and thousands of dollars in cash!
Lee was astonished! But what astonished him the most was what he found Perfecta and her granddaughters doing. They were preparing to give most of it away. "Why would you give so much of this away?" Lee asked. Perfecta responded, "Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do." Lee was dumbfounded.
After regaining his composure he asked Perfecta another question. He wanted to know what she and the girls thought about the generosity that was shown to them. Again, Lee was not prepared for the answer. She said, "This is wonderful, this is very good." "We did nothing to deserve this; itís all a gift from God. But," she added, "It is not his greatest gift, Lee. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. Jesus."
Lee was speechless as he drove back to the office. In the quiet of his car he noted a couple of observations. He had plenty and along with it plenty of anxiety, while the Delgadoís despite their poverty had peace. Lee had everything and yet wanted more, but the Delgadoís had nothing and yet knew generosity. Lee had everything and yet his life was as bare as the Delgadoís apartment prior to the article running. And yet the Delgadoís who had nothing were filled with hope, contentment and had a spiritual certainty. Even though Lee had so much more than the Delgadoís, he longed for what they had in their poverty.
(From a sermon by Bryan Fink "Christmas is for all the Lees/Leighs of the World" 12/25/2008)
HEALING HOUSE: "I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD."
Healing House is in Kansas City, Ks. It's a home for drug addicts started by a woman named Bobbie Jo. Bobbie Jo had been walking the streets for many years but then someone cared enough to share the Gospel with her and she was born again. At the same time, her mother died and left her an inheritance. She knew that many of the women who were drug addicts turned to the streets to support their habits. When they were arrested, put in jail and then released, they had no place to go. So they went back to working the streets. So with her inheritance, Bobbie Jo bought an old retirement home that was boarded up and rehabbed it. She invited the ladies to come and live there and as they did, she would share the Gospel with them. Well, that home got filled up and then a pimp moved next door. She started praying for that house, gathered some more resources and bought that house. It filled up and she bought another and then an apartment complex. One woman whose life was racked with sin but who had been freed from it, then passed on the Good news through which they became free.
At Christmas time, they would take an offering from the ladies who would give out of their meager earnings. They would buy presents and then take them to the homeless on the streets that they knew saying, "This is a Christmas gift for you to remind you that there is still hope and there's a Savior who can save you." Last Christmas Eve, they pulled into a gas station to fill up the house van and two police officers were there. He recognized one of the girls in the van and walked over and said to her, "What are you doing here? I thought you were dead." He recognized another and then another and said, to all of them, "I thought you all were dead"! He called his partner over and showed him the women saying, "They're alive!" And in truth, they were dead, dead in their sins but now they were alive in a Savior who was born as a babe 2000 years ago. This I know: all of us need to be saved from something and this Jesus came to save you.
THE FOURTH GIFT OF THE MAGI
David Dewitt states, "Though there are still many questions about the Magi that may be left unanswered, we can determine that they brought a fourth gift that is often forgotten by many. After they laid their treasures down before Mary and Joseph, they worshipped Jesus. (This is the 4th Gift Ė the Worship of the King of Kings) These wise men from afar came not just to court favor but to proclaim that they believed Him to be the King of kings. The greatest gift that we can offer to Jesus this Christmas is our praise and worship."
History records for us an interesting footnote. It was during the dark winter of 1864. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Leeís generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built.
What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired. No yelling back and forth. No war fought. Only light, celebrating the birth of a child. But it didnít last forever. Soon the fires burned down and once again the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war.
The good news of Chris...
The brand new pastor and his wife were assigned to their first church in Brooklyn and were to reopen it. They arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw the church, it was run down and needed a lot of work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.
They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and just about finished. On December 19, a terrible driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. After the rain stopped, the pastor went over to the church. His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit. He cleaned up the mess on the floor and decided to postpone the Christmas Eve service.
On the way home, he noticed that a local business was having a garage sale for charity so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover up the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to church.
By that time, it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus which would arrive 45 minutes later. She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder and hung the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area perfectly.
Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. "Pastor," she asked, "where did you get that tablecloth?"
The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria.
The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were living in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week but he was captured, sent to prison and she never saw her husband or her home again. The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth but she told him to keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home, which was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.
On Christmas Eve, the church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return. One older man from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stared. The pastor wondered why he wasn't leaving. The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall. The pastor explained and then the man said it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and wondered how there could be two tablecloths so much alike.
He told the pastor when the Nazis came he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but was arrested and put in a prison. He never saw his wife or his home again.
The pastor then asked if he would allow him to take the man for a little ride. They drove to Staten Island, to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman's apartment, knocked on the door and that day, he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine. as this huband and wife embraced each other of the first time 35 years.
God shows up in the unexpected. Have you ever been there?
Whenever a farmer in western Kansas buys a new truck or combine or something, they are hesitant to bring it out or tell anyone about it. Iím not quite sure why that is - but I think a part of it is they donít want the other farmers to get jealous over what theyíve got and they donít want to come off as arrogant. So they keep it to themselves as long as possible, or just donít buy new trucks so as not to come off as being better than their neighbors. It seems rather ridiculous to a point - almost like a false modesty. If God has blessed you with the ability to get a new truck and you are still generous with your offerings and giving, why canít you let people see your gift from God? Why canít you use it? As long as you arenít arrogant and flashy about it, why not enjoy it? Let them look at it and do the ďoohs and aahs.Ē
Mary realized that there is no way she could keep this gift hidden in a garage - that it wasnít just a gift for her - but for the world. She had to admit the bare truth of the matter - she had been given a wonderful gift. She said, From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for meó holy is his name. Soon after she gave birth, she would realize what a PUBLIC thing this was. Shepherds first came and then told all kinds of people about it. So they came and saw the baby. Then Wise Men came some months later. Here she had all these strangers coming in their house and visiting the manger on the same night as the birth, but she didnít say, ďcome back tomorrow - I just gave birth for crying out loud.Ē She knew that all generations would know about this birth, but she didnít want to be arrogant and flashy about it. She wanted to make sure that they kept the praise where it belonged - to the Mighty One - for doing great things for her. She didnít want any of the credit.
AT CHRISTMAS ALL ROADS LEAD HOME
Marjorie Holmes writes, "At Christmas, all roads lead home. The filled planes, the packed trains and overflowing buses all speak eloquently of a single destination: home. Despite the crowding and the crushing, the delays, the confusion, we clutch our bright packages and beam our anticipation. We are like birds driven by an instinct we only faintly understand--the hunger to be (home)."
She then remembers a Christmas during the Great Depression when her Dad was out of work and the rest of her siblings were scattered across the country and unable to return home for Christmas. But then just days before, each sibling conspired with the others to make it home no matter what to surprise their parents. When she arrived at the door, she writes, "I'll never forget (my mother's) eyes or the feel of her arms around me." The next morning she was awakened by the sleigh bells hanging on the front door as her siblings each arrived. "Together. (We realized) it was the best Christmas gift we could give one another."
Many years later, her husband had to travel to Florida to perform a vital surgery which would separate them for Christmas. They had agreed that this would be the way it is for Christmas this year but then at the last minute, Marjorie and her daughter hopped a train and headed to Florida. On the way, she saw a sailor in his uniform with his sea bag on his shoulders and she knew here was another so immutably driven to "Come home." And then she writes, "There must be some deep psychological reason why we turn so instinctively toward home at this special time. Perhaps we are acting out the ancient story of a man and a woman and a coming child, plodding along with their donkey toward their destination. It was necessary for Joseph to go home...The Child who was born on that first Christmas grew up to be a man, Jesus. He healed many people, taught us many important things. But the message that has left the most lasting impression and given the most hope and comfort is this: that we do have a home to go to...a place where every day will be Christmas, with everybody there. At home."
THE CHRISTMAS STORM: A Modern Parable by Paul Harvey
"This is about a modern man, one of us, he was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with others. But he did not believe in all that incarnation stuff that the Churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didnít make sense to him and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just could not swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as man. Iím truly sorry to distress you, he told his wife, but Iím not going with you to church this Christmas Eve. He said heíd feel like a hypocrite. That he would much rather stay home, but that he would wait up for them. He stayed, they went. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier, then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another and another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. Well, when he went to the front door, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter they had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldnít let the poor creatures lie there and freeze. He remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter -- if he could direct the birds to it. He quickly put on his coat and galoshes, trampled through the deepening snow to the barn, opened the door wide, and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in and he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted wide open doorway of the stable, but to his dismay the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them, he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms -- instead they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn. Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature, if only I could think of some way to let them know they can trust me. That Iím not trying to hurt them, bu...
Christmas is an exciting time and little Sammy was excited. He was 15 years old and Christmas was still to him a time of wonder. He was a happy child despite his handicap. You see, Sammy was slightly retarded. He still went to school, though he was 2 years behind. And he did the things that most boys do; he played ball, road his bike, fished, climbed trees and other fun stuff.
And for the most part the kids were not too mean -- sometimes they laughed and called him "stupid Sammy" -- but Sammy just didnít seem to hear them -- he just enjoyed life every part of it; to him life was full of wonder and amazement.
And Christmas was the most wonderful time of all.
It was Christmas Eve, and both the sky and the ground were white with snow. And it was 8 OíClock, time to go to church for the annual Christmas Eve Celebration. Sammy could hardly wait. He was so excited wondering what present would be under the tree for him this year. Last year he got a telescope.
Every year on Christmas Eve after the service all the children would gather around the huge Christmas tree and each one was handed a present, with their name on it. And even though Sammy was a little old for this they still let him take part.
Sammyís parents left early that night, because his mother was singing a solo, "Silent Night" and she wanted to practice.
They were the first to arrive at church. And when his dad opened the door; well you can guess where Sammy went; thatís right.. at the speed of light he went right to the Christmas tree and started to look for the present with his name of it.
After a few minutes, he began to worry because he couldnít find it. Then his eyes caught hold of a big box -- the biggest present that was there. He slowly walked over to it -- lifted the card and there in great big letters was his name "Sammy." He couldnít believe it, the biggest present was his, and his mind began thinking at the sped of light of all the many possibilities of what was inside; maybe it was a bike; a TV a horse, a tent; ... What was in it -- Sammy could barely stand it -- but he knew he had to wait.
Sammy really did enjoy the service, really, but he kind of thought that 3 days was just a little too long -- well, at least that is how long it seemed to him.
Finally it was over and all the children rushed to the huge tree.
Preacher Joe stared picking up presents and calling out names; Sarah, Bobby, Susan, Sammy was on the edge of his seat -- he was about to burst with anticipation.
The Preacher Joe walked over to the big box and said, "Well, letís see whose name is on this one," but before he could read the name Sammy bolted beside him and said "Itís mine Preach Joe" "so it is," Joe replied.
Sammy took the box and gently took off the bow, His heart was racing like a jack hammer. His mom and dad stood beside him smiling -- enjoying their sons excitement.
Sammy removed all the paper and laid it beside the box -- And then he began to remove the lid -- In his mind all of the things he hoped to see flashed before his eyes in a second. Finally Sammy got the box open and he looked inside and he saw........
Nothing ---- He saw nothing -- someone had played a trick on stupid Sammy. When Sammy lifted his head, huge tears were streaming down his face.
Who would do something so cruel -- who would play such a mean trick on Sammy... The box was empty.
Everyday, all around the world, this same trick is being played. Though the names and exact situation are a little different -- the results are still the same.
Our world promises people great things; happiness, wealth, pleasure, relationships, fame, success, power. And it wraps them up in a great big box, with pretty paper and a beautiful bow.
And it hands us this box -- as a gift, we get excited; and we take off the bow -- we unwrap the box and we open it with great expectations.... And when we look inside, just like Sammy all we find is an empty box. No hope, no life, no joy, no happiness -- just huge tears of heart break streaming down our face. THATíS THE KIND OF GIFTS THIS WORLD GIVES US... HAVE YOU EVER OPENED ONE OF HER BOXES? I THINK YOU HAVE AND ITíS NOT FUN IS IT?
If I Were the Devil
If I were the prince of darkness, I’d want to engulf the world in darkness, and I’d have a third of its real estate, and I’d have four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree. THEE. So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first. I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve. DO AS YOU PLEASE. To the young, I would whisper that the Bible is a myth, I would convince them that man created God, instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is square. And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, "our father, which is in Washington." And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lewd literature exciting so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d peddle narcotics to whom I could; I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.
If I were the devil I’d soon have families that war with themselves, churches that war with themselves, and nations that war with themselves, until each in its turn was consumed, and with promises of higher ratings, I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames.
If I were the devil, I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions, just let them run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every school house door.
Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography. Soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches, I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priest and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money.
If I were the devil, I’d make the symbol of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas, a bottle. And what’ll you bet I couldn’t get whole states to promote gambling as the way to get rich. I would caution against extremes, in hard work, in patriotism, and in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old fashioned, that swinging is more fun. That what you see on TV is the way to be, and thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure.
In other words, If I were the devil, I’d just keep right on doing what he’s doing.
- From a Paul Harvey Broadcast