Thursday, December 18, 2014

19 December 2014


This is the Christmas season of 2014 and we are spending our second Christmas in Cape Town South Africa; Last year we were in Port Elizabeth at this time. The weather in South Africa, at this time of the year, is warm - 75 – 85 degrees. The day-time temperatures have been on the increase for the last 6 weeks and with the warming of the days have also come the spring foliage and blossoms that beautify the landscape. Hence, for individuals that are from Montana who are accustomed to a reverse temperature trend as Christmas time draws near, it is hard to “feel” like Christmas is next week. However, there is another element prevalent at this time of the year here in South Africa that, if you are not careful, will subdue the Christmas spirit as well and that is the entire country goes on a month long “holiday”. This is vacation time for them. Many businesses go into hibernation mode, schools are shut down, and people seem to evaporate and not reappear until mid-January. Most stores with the exception of the big malls, have very little, if any, Christmas decorations or music. Very rarely is there a house with lights and external decorations. Therefore, for someone used to lights, festivities and a general atmosphere of Christmas all about, it just does not feel like Christmas.

However, as I have reflected on these feelings concerning Christmas it has made me realize once more that Christmas is not about what is going on in the world around you but what is going on inside your heart and mind. A few moments of reflecting on why we celebrate Christmas should quickly revitalize our joy and gratitude of the gift that is given to each of us and keep Christmas alive in us.

I recently read of a survey that was done with a group of about one thousand youth. They were asked to react with the first thought that came into their minds after they were given a word. The word was "Christmas." Ninety-four per cent of them, of nearly a thousand teen-agers, responded with words such as "presents," "snow," "reindeer," "lights," "trees," "Santa Claus"-94 per cent of them. Two per cent responded with irrelevancies. One boy, for instance, responded with "broken leg." That had been his experience for Christmas the year before.  But there were only 4 per cent, just 4 per cent, who responded with words such as "Bethlehem," "Christmas carol," "wise men," "shepherds," or "Christ," or any word that might even remotely be connected with the real story of Christmas.

It is not my intent to review the whole birth of Christ story to refresh our minds as to the real meaning of Christmas. However, there are many stories that could be told that illustrate the spirit of Christmas. The one that best illustrates for me what should be in our hearts and minds, not only at Christmas time but throughout the year, is the story of the “Christmas Guest”. As you read it, let your mind focus on those you can help to have a brighter day and then reach out to them.

The Christmas Guest

It happened one day at the year's white end,
Two neighbors called on an old-time friend
And they found his shop so meager and mean,
Made gay with a thousand boughs of green,
And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And said, "Old friends, at dawn today,
When the cock was crowing the night away,
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, 'I am coming your guest to be'.
So I've been busy with feet astir,
Strewing my shop with branches of fir,
The table is spread and the kettle is shined
And over the rafters the holly is twined,
And now I will wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear
His step as He nears my humble place,
And I open the door and look in His face. . ."
So his friends went home and left Conrad alone,
For this was the happiest day he had known,
For, long since, his family had passed away
And Conrad has spent a sad Christmas Day.
But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best,
And he listened with only joy in his heart.
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be standing there
In answer to his earnest prayer
So he ran to the window after hearing a sound,
But all that he saw on the snow-covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn.
So Conrad was touched and went to the door
And he said, "Your feet must be frozen and sore,
And I have some shoes in my shop for you
And a coat that will keep you warmer, too."
So with grateful heart the man went away,
But as Conrad noticed the time of day
He wondered what made the dear Lord so late
And how much longer he'd have to wait,
When he heard a knock and ran to the door,
But it was only a stranger once more,
A bent, old crone with a shawl of black,
A bundle of faggots piled on her back.
She asked for only a place to rest,
But that was reserved for Conrad's Great Guest.
But her voice seemed to plead, "Don't send me away
Let me rest awhile on Christmas day."
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sip.
But after she left he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were passing away
And the Lord had not come as He said He would,
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood.
When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
"Please help me and tell me where am I."
So again he opened his friendly door
And stood disappointed as twice before,
It was only a child who had wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day. .
Again Conrad's heart was heavy and sad,
But he knew he should make this little child glad,
So he called her in and wiped her tears
And quieted her childish fears.
Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door,
He knew that the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away.
So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said, "Dear Lord, why did you delay,
What kept You from coming to call on me,
For I wanted so much Your face to see. . ."
When soft in the silence a voice he heard,
"Lift up your head for I kept My word--
Three times My shadow crossed your floor--
Three times I came to your lonely door--
For I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet,
I was the woman you gave to eat,
And I was the child on the homeless street."
Helen Steiner Rice

May each of you have a Merry Christmas as you reflect on the eternal gift that is given to each of us because of the birth and atonement of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Lee & Angie

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