“Do not forget…some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2
I’ve been touched by recent stories of God’s quiet guidance…the simple ways that God gets through to a life, in the midst of human circumstance. I was especially touched by John Hetman’s sharing of his encounter with an angel or “angelic presence” that kept him from impulsive suicide all those years ago.
For those of you who can share your personal stories of God’s guidance, I would encourage you to share…if you can, please add your comments in the “Advent meditation on guidance.”
Perhaps you feel your story is not sensational, or whatever, but I would encourage you to still share. Please do not feel intimidated! There is something about a testimony of grace – no matter how seemingly small – that touches other people. What may seem small or insignificant to you may be the exact word that another person needs to hear for hope and healing…
And, maybe you feel your story is not some big “victory” or happy ending kind of thing. Maybe all you can do is share a bit of light that God has given you in the midst of pain…if that is the case, then I would urge you to share all the more!
Your tears, bottled in the priceless vessel of God’s grace, can become sacred ointment for the deep wounds in another person’s soul!
At any rate, for further encouragement, here are some Christmas stories that I’ve heard recently…stories that have encouraged me, challenged me, and moved me to tears and action.
Gold, circumstance and mud
The first story is told by Rex Knowles, a pastor who was home with his children the week before Christmas [which, as Patrick O'Hannigan astutely notes, cannot truly be termed 'babysitting!' Thanks, Patrick!]. Anyway, while Rex Knowles was there with his children, thinking disjointed and anxious thoughts, God’s grace broke in…in the form of his dear children acting out the Christmas story. Listen to how Rex tells the story:
I was babysitting my four children while my wife had gone shopping. Baby-sitting to me is reading the paper while my wife had gone shopping. Baby-sitting to me is reading the paper while the kids mess up the house. Only that day I wasn't reading. I was fuming…
There was a knock on the door. Then Nancy's voice, "Daddy, we have a play to put on. Would you like to see it?" I didn't. But I have fatherly responsibilities…so I followed her into the living room. Right away I knew it was a Christmas play, for at the foot of the piano stool was a lighted flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes lying an a shoebox.
Rex, age six, came in wearing my bathrobe and carrying a mop handle. He sat on the stool and looked at the flashlight. Nancy, age ten, draped a sheet over her head, stood behind Rex, and began, "I'm Mary and this boy is Joseph." “Usually in this play Joseph stands up and Mary sits down, but Mary sitting down is taller than Joseph standing up so we thought it looked better this way.”
Enter Trudy, age four, at a full run. There were pillowcases over her arms. She spread them wide and said only "I'm an angel."
Then came Ann, age eight. I knew she was a wise man because she had on her mother's high heels and walked like she was a wise man riding a camel. On a pillow she carried three items, undoubtedly gold, frankincense, and myrrh. She walked across the room and announced, "I'm all three wise men. I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud."
That was all. The play was over. I didn't laugh, I prayed. How near the truth Ann was. We come at Christmas burdened down with gold, with the showy gifts and the tinselly tree. Under the circumstance we can do no other. And it really does seem a bit like mud when you think about it. But my children saw through the earthly and found the real reason for Christmas -- to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Gold, circumstance and mud!
Seen through a child’s eyes, they take their proper place: a child holds gold lightly, dances with circumstance, and plays in mud.
And God? God looks at mud as the building block of human life: He takes mud, breathes on it, and it becomes a living soul: Adam and Eve, man and woman. And God looks at the worst circumstance as a door of grace. Finally, gold given by God does not own the person, but provides for kingdom purpose…
Gold, circumstance and mud: kingly gifts after all!
A brother like that
The second story is a story my father used to tell, but I hadn’t heard it for years until this week. It’s the story of a street child with a heart in touch with God.
A man named Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. "Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.
Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas." The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish..." He hesitated…
Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.
"I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."
Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?"
"Oh yes, I'd love that."
After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front on my house?"
Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again. "Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked.
He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.
"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And some day I'm gonna give you one just like it...then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you about."
Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.
That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when He said, "It is more blessed to give than receive."
I wish I could be a brother like that!
Indeed. God, grant me the grace to be a child in deed and action…this Christmas!
Redemption from the monsters
The third story kind of ties them all together.
It’s the story of a mother who was putting her young daughter to bed. The daughter was concerned about monsters under the bed, and fretted and fussed. The mother tried to re-assure her, but the daughter imagined one horror after another. But then, the young girl got a smile on her face, turned toward her mother and said, “I know! I’ll just ask Jesus to keep me safe from the monsters. They can’t get me then!”
The mother tried to affirm the faith of her daughter, but in that moment, her mind went to young girls half-way around the world, not much older than her daughter, girls who face terrible real life monsters…monsters that look like human men, but act like demons – animals that rape and kill and steal a childhood.
And her mind thought, “How do we tell those girls about the love of God?”
The question is one that echoes in me: some people encounter monsters, and God delivers them…by grace and prayer. But how do we share the love of God with those who are encountering “monsters” of any kind, yet seem to be losing the battle?
What about the person struggling for one last breath, facing cancer, heart or lung failure?
Or what about the girl crying quietly inside, with so many wounded dreams…hurt by rape of body or mind, trust broken…in a hundred pieces, this Christmas?
We have to find some way to present the call of Christ in a way that is real, and addresses real hurts, real “monsters” that infringe on beautiful hearts every day. I think the only way we can offer hope is like the real Jesus did…not some candy coated, sentimental substitute for grace, but rather the real thing: Yes, there are wounds, Jesus said. Yes, there are broken people. But, He answered in these terms: I have come to give beauty for ashes.
Gospel honesty is recognizing the ashes that people deal with every day. We don’t hide from the monsters under the bed. But we answer them in terms of the Messiah:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on Me…
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
…to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion --
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of depression.
We can only answer as Job did, staring death in the face:
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my body is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Now that is a Christmas message worth sharing! The wounds are real, but they are faced head on by our Christ…
May God bless these words to your life this day…may He take your mud and make it gold for your wounded heart, this very day, this good day!