I love all the "joy to the world" and the Christmas electricity in the air. But maybe you remember a few Christmases ago, just down from the manger there were a lot of flags at half-staff for 26 Connecticut funerals. You probably remember all those little children gunned down so brutally just eleven days before Christmas. We live in a violent time, an angry time, conflicted, confusing. But it's still Christmas, and still the "most wonderful time of the year."
One of the beautiful things to see on the news at Christmastime is soldiers coming home. Boy, we've seen it over the years, and coming from sometimes war torn places in the world. But there was a Christmas not too long ago, and that was not Amy's story. I had met her at a dinner I had spoken at and she was stressed. See, she had just gotten called up to go to Afghanistan at that time. So as the Christmas displays were lighting up everything, Amy was saying goodbye to the people she loved and leaving for the battlefield. By the way, God knows that feeling.
Buttermilk Falls is a beautiful spot! That's what I had been told, and I was always open for a great new spot to go for a Sunday afternoon drive with the kids. So we drove out to the country and set out to discover the beauty of Buttermilk Falls. I did have to stop and ask directions a couple of times; I guess a lot of people didn't know where this great spot was.
The lion is supposed to be the king of beasts. If there was a king of birds, I think it would have to be the eagle. I remember one point in our Native American ministry when we had arrived on this reservation. And as we were praying and preparing for our outreach there, someone pointed up toward the sky and said, "Look!" It was an eagle, soaring above our heads. We all felt as if God had sent that majestic bird to virtually affirm His care for us. It's hard not to be inspired watching an eagle soar. But if it were up to baby eagles, they probably never would. They love the softness of the eagle nest - until one day, when they're out walking around the nest, and Mother Eagle starts pulling the fur and the foliage out of the nest, leaving a bed of exposed sticks and stones. Suddenly, that comfy little nest isn't so comfy anymore. At that point, Mamma Eagle manages to get that eaglet out of the nest, onto her back, and into the sky. I'm sure that eaglet can't imagine just hanging out there in the sky all by himself, but that's what he was born for. He wasn't made for staying in a cozy nest, and neither are you. He was made to touch the sky, and so are you.
Our friend told us that their youngest child, Ralphie, was like "Mr. Christmas" at their house. Very early every Christmas morning, he was everyone's alarm clock to get up and get going on those presents. That's what made this one Christmas so strange. Two weeks earlier, Ralphie was doing a little exploring in the closets while his parents were gone, and he found where they had hidden their presents! He couldn't resist. He opened this one bag and saw the major gift they had bought for him. Well, then came Christmas. Everyone slept later than they ever had on a Christmas morning because Ralphie didn't get up! Everyone was waiting impatiently around the Christmas tree, so Dad called up the stairs, "Ralphie, are you coming?" "Yeah," Ralphie replied. All the other kids were psyched as they opened their gifts. Not Ralphie. He opened his with little emotion, sort of a halfhearted thanks. Dad took him aside and said, "Ralphie, are you sick, man? You're always like Mr. Christmas around here!" And Ralphie explained why his "joy to the world" had gone. "Dad, the problem is I opened my gift early, and I ruined Christmas."
The little kid with the round head and the pitiful tree! He's become a regular part of America's Christmas. Our kids watched "The Charlie Brown Christmas" when they were little, and that thing's been around so long, their kids love it and their parents never stopped loving it.
My wife had gotten a really nice wedding gift for our friend. This beautiful little serving dish and some cut glass and some silver. One of those things people get only at their wedding, usually. Well, here's the problem. The girl had been married for four years, and four years later, well, we found the present. Yeah, we put it behind a chair to get it out of the way one day, and we found it four years later. We had planned to have our daughter take it to the wedding for us. Well, we totally missed the time that you should give a gift like that.
I met Gary when we were both working with our local high school football team. He was a coach. I was the football. No, actually I was sort of an unofficial chaplain for the team. Gary was basically a happy guy, pretty laid back. Until "they" come up in the conversation. "They" are the men who were prisoners of war or missing in action in the Vietnam War. When it came to the subject of the MIA's who had not been accounted for, Gary wasn't laid back anymore. Suddenly he was really intense, really serious. See, Gary was one of a number of veterans determined to do whatever they could to make sure that we would do everything we could to locate them, and at least to give an account for missing soldiers.
Well, it's got to be the Christmas season! You know, you keep seeing the UPS trucks going up and down like a fleet, and those drivers are busy! They must collapse into bed at night after those long, long hours they work. But their job could be worse. I mean, what if they had to shop for all those packages, and buy them, and package them and deliver them? Well, fortunately it's not up to the UPS guy to create the package; he's just got to deliver it. It's kind of like you and me.
A friend of ours told us about a lady in this area who had just lost her husband. They had this beautiful farm, but it was really more than she wanted to maintain without him. Some of it was devoted to a wonderful vegetable garden that she'd cared for many years. After her husband's death, she offered to let her neighbors treat that garden as if it was their garden. Well, one day the man next door was picking carrots. and he suddenly stopped to examine one carrot that was very unusual. It seemed to have grown into an hourglass shape; it was wide at the top and at the bottom. It was really, like, narrow at the center. And as he brushed the dirt off that carrot, he was shocked at what he found. There was a gold ring right in the center of the carrot!