Summary: This is an original parable for a Christmas Eve service.

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God works in mysterious ways. And some of us figure this out earlier than others.

For Carter the lights started to come on along about the first week in November. He was wandering through the aisles at the Mega-Mart looking for his mother. She had left him in the toy department while she went for paper towels. But Carter got bored after 30 seconds and decided to find her.

He passed the center aisle which features the seasonal merchandise and they had just put on display a 5 foot mechanical Santa with arms that moved, while he pivoted around in a half-circle. The white ball on the tip on his red cap was flashing. And he was singing a song that anyone but a six-year-old would have found annoying – especially since they had changed the words – just slightly – some hot-dog marketing exec. trying to be cute.

Carter stopped to watch with wide-open eyes the jolly fellow as he went through his routine. He listened as the jolly fellow sang:

“You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town

I’m making a list

And checking it twice;

Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice

Santa Claus is coming to town

I see you when you’re sleeping

I know when you’re awake

I know if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!”

It was at that point that Christmas was ruined for Carter – “I know if you’ve been bad or good...” Those words lodged in his mind. And it didn’t help that the song got stuck there, too.

And along about the fifth time through he had a revelation – an epiphany. It was too late.

I mean, most six-year-olds are just really figuring out where they fit into the world of right and wrong – good and bad. And all Carter could understand at that point was that he was wanting in the whole area of good.

It had been eating at him all week, actually – ever since both his father and his teacher had yelled at him. His father was mad because he had “borrowed” some tools to build something and left them out in the rain in the backyard. And his teacher had sternly rebuked him for trying to hide gum under his first grade desk. Of course, gum is against the rules in school and Carter didn’t chew gum anywhere else except at school – he didn’t even like gum – but it was against the rules – and he wanted to prove that he could do it without getting caught. But he wasn’t very good at it and after the third time Mrs. Avery not only spoke sternly to him but told him that she was going to call his mother on the phone.

And there had been a bunch of other indiscretions that he didn’t really want to think about. He was afraid that once they got home his teacher was going to call, then there would be yelling and screaming at him – everyone would be mad at him. And he’d be stuck in his room for the whole night – no Gameboy, no TV, no computer– no anything.

Anyway, you can imagine his agony. And for most six year olds it’s just that – agony – the idea that you’re in trouble. But for Carter it went beyond the normal fear and became an agony of the soul when that mechanical Santa sang to him. Who knows why but those words grabbed him, played over and over again in his head, and began to eat away at his confidence in life – or at least in Christmas.

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