A brother and sister had made their usual hurried, obligatory pre-Christmas visit to the little farm, located deep in a valley where dwelt their elderly parents with their small herd of horses. The farm was where they had grown up and had been named Lone Pine Farm because of the huge pine, which topped the hill behind the farm. Through the years, the tree had become a talisman to the old man and his wife, and a landmark in the countryside.
The siblings had fond memories of their childhood here, with the green rolling hillside in the Spring and the icy snow, just right for sledding, in the winter. But the city hustle and bustle added more excitement to their lives, and called them away to a different life, where the concrete jungle seemed to rule their world.
The old folks no longer showed their horses, for the years had taken their toll on their tired, aged bodies, and getting out to the barn on those frosty mornings was getting harder but it gave them a reason to get up in the mornings and a reason to live. They sold a few foals each year, spent long hours grooming and loving on their friends. These horses were their reason for joy in the morning and contentment at day's end.
The brother and sister tried the whole weekend to convince their aged parents to rid themselves of the ugly creatures. The parents did not argue with their children. They just did not understand the love the older couple had for their friends, and try as they did over the years to explain, it was no use explaining again. Angry, as they prepared to leave, the city siblings confronted their old parents:
"Why do you not at least dispose of 'The Old One'. She is no longer of use to you. It's been years since you've had foals from her. You should cut corners and save so you can have more for yourselves. How can this old worn out horse bring you anything but expense and work? Why do you keep her alive anyway?"
The old man looked down at his worn boots, holes in the toes, scuffed at the barn floor and replied, "Yes,I could use a pair of new boots." His arm slid defensively about the Old One's neck as he drew her near with gentle caressing and rubbed her lovingly behind her ears. He replied softly, "We keep her because of love. Nothing else,just love."
Baffled and irritated, the young folks angrily wished the old man and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward the city as darkness stole through the valley.
The old couple shook their heads in sorrow that it had not been a happy visit. A tear fell upon their cheeks. How is it that these young folks do not understand the peace, joy, and love that filled their hearts?
So it was, that because of the unhappy leave-taking, no one noticed the insulation smoldering on the frayed wires in the old barn. None saw the first spark fall. None but the 'Old One'.
In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a cry of horror an despair, the old man shouted to his wife to call for help as he raced to the barn to save their beloved horses. But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing heat drove him back. He sank sobbing to the ground, helpless before the fire's fury. His wife, back from calling for help, cradled him in her arms. Clinging to each other, they wept at their loss.
By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking, glowing ruins were left, and the old man and his wife, exhausted from their grief, huddled together before the barn. They were speechless as they rose from the cold snow covered ground. They nodded thanks to the firemen as there was nothing anyone could do now.
The old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon his shoulders as his shaking old hands clumsily dried her tears with a frayed red bandanna. Brokenly he whispered, "We have lost much, but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas. Let us gather strength and climb the hill to the old pine where we have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down upon our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared and pray for our beloved most precious gifts that have been taken from us."
And so, he took her by the hand and slowly helped her up the snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back of his old and withered hand. The journey up the hill was hard for their old bodies in the steep snow. As they stepped over the little knoll at the crest of the hill, they paused to rest, looking up to the top of the hill the old couple gasped and fell to their knees in amazement at the incredible beauty before them.
Seemingly, every glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pine, and it was aglow with heavenly candles. And poised on its top most bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like spun glass. Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas tree such as this. They were breathless as the old man held his wife tighter in his arms.
Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of wonder and incredible joy. Amazed and mystified, he took his wife by the hand and pulled her forward. There, beneath the tree, in resplendent glory, a mist hovering over and glowing in the darkness was their Christmas gift. Shadows glistening in the night light. Bedded down about the 'Old One' close to the trunk of the tree, was the entire herd, safe.
At the first hint of smoke, the Old One had pushed the door ajar with her muzzle and had led the horses through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping cautiously through the snow. The foals were frightened and dashed about. The skittish yearlings looked back at the crackling, hungry flames, and tucked their tails under them as they licked their lips and hopped like rabbits, staying close to the wise old mare. The mares that were in foal with a new years crop of babies, pressed uneasily against the Old One as she moved calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now, she lay among them and gazed at the faces of the old man and his wife. Those she loved she had not disappointed. Her body was brittle with years, tired from the climb, but the golden eyes were filled with devotion as she offered her gift ~Because of love ~ only because of love.
Tears flowed as the old couple shouted their praise and joy to a loving, caring God. Even though they had lost their barn, they did not lose their peace and love.
Isn’t that just like Jesus? We go through our lives with joy and peace. We go through the low valleys and the ache in our hearts make us feel as if we are going to explode with grief, but when we climb to the alter of God and come boldly to the throne of Grace, He reaches out to us, wraps us in the warmth of His arms and declares: “Because of love, only because of love.”
We pray that your Christmas be full of the wonder of Christ, the beauty of grace, and the splendor of His love.