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James R. Stout

The Greatest Gift Ever For Christmas

            During the last couple of weeks, I have shared many Christmas memories with you via several blog entries. Most of them were told as memories of different Christmas’s and through the eyes of whatever age that I was during the specific Christmas. I’ve talked a lot about gifts given and received. I’ve talked a lot about time spent together with family. All of these things are definitely important to me and hold a special place in my heart. But in this blog entry I want to be a little bit more serious. There’s a phrase that has been very popular over the past few decades that goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Yes, that is true. But somehow or other the phrase seems to diminish meaning behind it.

            When I was growing-up we didn’t usually attend a Christmas Eve service. Mainly it was due to the churches that we attended had the big Christmas service on the Sunday prior to Christmas Day. In those years, Christmas Eve was spent traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Sometimes Mom and Dad had to both work on Christmas Eve and would not get home until too late to get ready and attend a service if there was one. But let me tell you that first and foremost in our minds really was the birth of Jesus and what it meant to not only us, but all of mankind. On a few occasions we were able to get to my grandparent’s farm with time to attend the Christmas Eve service as a family. The little church was and is a very small church. It serves a small community in the country. I remember one year when I was about 5-years-old that I was spending time with my grandparents leading up to Christmas Eve. My grandmother made sure that I was in my little light blue sport coat with a bow-tie. I even had to take a bath in the big tub in the kitchen that afternoon, much to my displeasure, to make sure that I represented Grandma and Grandpa properly. The church was a one room church. On Sunday mornings each age group split up and set together in a couple of pews to have Sunday School. Then the service came. There was an old pump organ for accompaniment. My grandmother sometimes played the pump organ when the lady who usually played it was not available. That little church began in 1862. It was started by my great-great grandfather. On the particular night I mention it was the service for Christmas. There were Christmas decorations, a Christmas Tree, and everyone was dressed-up in their “Sunday Go To Meeting” attire. The pastor, Brother Kee, read the Christmas story from the book of Luke and expounded on the miracle that the birth of our savior meant to the world. After the service was over something happened that I’ll always remember. I had noticed earlier that there were many presents under the Christmas Tree. I figured they were just for decoration. Empty boxes in Christmas wrapping. But that wasn’t the case. Brother Kee announced it was time for the Christmas presents to be given to the children present. Well, my first thought was one of embarrassment. I figured that since I wasn’t a member of the church there wouldn’t be a present for me. But imagine my surprise and delight when my name was called out and I was urged by my grandmother to go get the present. This couldn’t be! How did someone even know that I would be there? Once all the children had their presents, we were allowed to open them. I opened mine and it was one of those paddle balls. The kind where the paddle looks like a ping-pong paddle and a rubber band was attached to the center of the paddle and to a small rubber ball. I was thrilled. My grandfather had a dry sense of humor but was as loving a grandfather as I’ve ever known. He looked at the paddle ball and quips, “That might come in handy if you get out of line!” It was said with a smile. All these years later, I know that it was my grandmother who had bought that present and gotten it to the church before I came to visit. She wanted to make sure that I wasn’t left out by accident.

            There have been other Christmas Eves in my life when I did attend a service. They are always so very special. But on the many that were spent elsewhere the birth of our Lord and Savior was always foremost in our minds. Yes, we had the big dinner with the family, and we all loved exchanging gifts, but we never forgot the “reason for the season”. Perhaps the most special part of those Christmas’s was when it came time for the prayer before we ate. I still hear my father’s deep bass voice thanking God for His Son, for the food that we would all be shortly enjoying, and for the time spent together. I miss hearing my Dad pray. I am so very thankful for my kids and grandkids now. And, I am most thankful for Jesus. My life was changed forever nearly 2000 years before I was even born. We must remember that the miracle of Easter began with the miracle of the birth of Jesus. So, before you open the presents or take a bite of the feast, however grand or modest that they may be, be sure to thank God for Jesus and to honor Him by making sure that He is truly the reason for your Christmas gathering. We’ve already been given the only present that really matters. I pray that you all have a very Merry Christmas!

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