He sank down into his desk chair. It was Monday, the Monday before the Sunday before Christmas. His head in his hands, Rev. Larry Carter prayed. Though he talked often to God, this was different. His parishioners were expecting to hear a Christmas sermon on Sunday morning. But as of yet, he had not felt God's leading clearly on a particular topic or passage of Scripture. And he had one week to prepare.
Now, you have to understand that "Brother Larry" loved God's Word. He spent hours studying, reading, and meditating on Scripture. Unless He had totally immersed himself in a passage and had exhausted all possible meanings of words and phrases, he felt unprepared as he stood in the pulpit of Grace Community Church. The moniker "Larry the Learner," his affectionate nickname in Bible college, was given to him because he was constantly seen with his nose in his Bible. That reputation had followed him here to this small community, and it was one of the reasons his church members loved him so much.
With one week left, and nowhere to start, Larry was concerned, but not panicky. He had a faith in God that transcended any problem. "Now Lord," he prayed, "You know I need your guidance in this matter. But I don't want this sermon to be just another Christmas sermon. No, Lord, I want you to show yourself in a special and unique way this year. We need you to remind us about the truth of Christmas in a way that we will never forget. So Lord, lead me to your message for all of us. And may I, and your people, receive it with glad hearts. In Jesus name, Amen."
The ringing of the telephone beside him on the desk interrupted his few moments of silence. Because the church was too small to afford a secretary, Larry reached over and picked up the receiver.
The energetic voice of Rev. William "Will" Stoger, pastor of a church in a neighboring town and a friend since college, always brought a smile to Larry's face. After a brief and humorous exchange, Will said, "I just called to find out what you were preaching on this Sunday."
With a devilish grin on his face, Larry retorted, "The platform, of course!"
"Ha, Ha! That is so-o-o funny! Hardy, har har! No, I'm serious now. What is your text?"
Larry paused. He knew he had to tell his friend the truth. "I don't know."
"Yeah, sure you don't! What do you take me for? C'mon, you can tell me, I won't blabber."
"I really don't know, Will. I've been praying and searching for weeks now. And I still don't have a clue."
"Wow, that is unbelievable! You always are prepared, always know well in advance what you are preaching. What's going on, buddy?"
"I wish I knew. Just pray with me about it. I know God will answer. I have a feeling God is already at work answering my prayers."
"I will pray with you, you know that. Hey, gotta go. I have some calls to make at the hospital. I'll call you later in the week."
"Thanks, Will. I appreciate your prayers. We'll talk later. Take care and God bless."
"Bye," said Will, and Larry heard the click of the phone. Replacing the receiver in its cradle, Larry decided it was time to face God seriously. Kneeling beside his desk, he began to pour his heart out to God.
Tuesday had come and gone in such a rush that Larry wondered if he had missed a day. Furthermore, though he had explored many Scriptural possibilities, he was no closer toward a message than he had been. Still, he had this nagging feeling that this night would somehow bring answers...
Down the block, at the home of Chance and Courtney Milhouse, a scene was unfolding that would impact this sleepy little community. A couple, whose car had just breathed its last breath and had given up the ghost, shivered in the cold night wind. Their finances depleted, they did the only thing they knew to do: they walked up to the nearest house, hoping against all hope for some kind of help.
Courtney Milhouse, flour on her face and hands from the Christmas cookies she was baking with her children, opened her front door. Slightly taken aback at the sight of strangers at her door, she stammered, "C-can I help you?"
The man, his wife slightly hidden behind him, said in a hushed tone, "Yes, ma'am, er, I hope so. You see, my wife and I were traveling through your town when our car broke down. We hate to be a bother, and wouldn't if we could help it, but we have no money and nowhere to stay. Is there any way you and your family could help us?"
It was at that moment that the man's wife moved into Courtney's live of vision. Courtney's audible gasp caught ever her by surprise.
"When is your baby due?" Courtney inquired.
The woman replied, "Anytime now."
Without any hesitation, Courtney said, "Then certainly we will help you in some way. Please come in." The couple meekly followed Courtney into her den. "Have a seat, and I will see what I can do." Moving into her kitchen, Courtney scolded her children for playing in the flour, then dialed her husband's work number and waited. After a brief exchange, she hung up and called her pastor.
"Hello?" answered Larry.
"Brother Larry, this is Courtney. How are you?"
"Just fine, Courtney. What can I do for you?"
Courtney briefly recounted the situation to Larry, then asked his advice. "What are we going to do?
"We could give them some money," said Larry. "Or put them up in a motel. But they are probably already booked." Praying silently, Larry asked, "Courtney, what can you do for them?"
"I do have one idea," replied Courtney. "I still have the little house my mother lived in before she died. It still has water and electricity. I could let them stay there."
"Why that's a grand idea, Courtney."
"Could you take them over there, Brother Larry? I hate to ask, but the children and I are in the middle of baking cookies, and Chase isn't home from work. If that's a problem, I'll work something out."
"No problem whatsoever. Just let me get ready and I'll come right over. Give me about twenty minutes."
Courtney said goodbye and hung up the phone. Returning to the den, she smiled at the scene before her. The man was holding his wife as she peacefully slept in his arms. Speaking quietly to the man, Courtney relayed the information to him. Humbly thanking her, he turned, and with a tear in his eye, gently awakened his wife. He shared the good news with her, and the woman smiled, her eyes glistening with tears of joy. Courtney felt satisfaction at having been used by God to help this couple. She excused herself, turned, and walked toward the kitchen. The song in her heart sent a prayer of thanksgiving to her lips. She continued to the kitchen to finish her baking.
Larry hung up the phone, and went into his bedroom. A few minutes later he returned, pulled on his overcoat, and headed out the door. In his car, Larry prayed. "Lord, is this you working? If so, show yourself to me and to these people in a special way. Oh, and don't forget my message for Sunday! Amen." He backed out of his driveway and headed for the Milhouse home.
Nancy Walters, head nurse at the local hospital, sighed heavily. Her shift was ending, finally. It had been a long day already, and now Brother Larry wanted her to check on the strangers. Why her? She knew it was because she was a nurse, but she felt so tired. Silently she prayed for strength as she hurried to her car.
"Your blood pressure is great, slightly elevated, which is normal for pregnancy." Nancy folded her blood pressure kit and returned it to her bag. Facing the woman once again, she asked, "Are you having any problems?"
"No, everything is fine," the woman bashfully answered.
Nancy nodded, then turned and walked over to Larry. In a hushed tone, Nancy whispered, "Brother Larry, she is in good health, and could deliver at any time. Without insurance, the hospital cost will be expensive, and they have no money. What are we going to do?"
Larry, experiencing a little de-ja vu, quietly replied, "What are you going to do, Nancy? How can you help?"
Nancy, surprised by her pastor's pointed reply, stammered, "M-me?" After a moment of collecting her thoughts, Nancy looked at Larry and said, "Well, I do have the next two days off, and I still have my midwife certification. I suppose I could make myself available to them."
"Atta girl, Nancy. But don't make yourself available to them." Seeing her puzzled expression, he continued, "Make yourself available to God."
With what must have seemed a Cheshire grin, Larry said his good-byes, and again found himself alone in his car. Looking heavenward, Larry asked, "Just what are you doing Lord? I know you know, but could let me in on it? Please?" He inserted his key into the ignition and started his car. Praying as he went, he steered his car toward home.
The ringing of the telephone disturbed Larry from his reverie. He had just settled himself at his desk when thoughts about the previous night flooded his mind. Shaking his head to restore his thoughts to the present, he picked up the phone and uttered his usual cheerful greeting. Dan Miller, the town banker and his church treasurer, had a voice that was always pleasant and chipper. As usual, he came straight to the point.
"I've heard about that couple. What are we going to do about them?"
Pausing long enough to say a short prayer, Larry asked again the question that God had placed on his heart. "Well, you're the banker, what are you going to do?"
The long silence on the other end was unusual and unexpected. Dan always had an opinion, and to catch him speechless seemed a small triumph to Larry. He smiled to himself.
"Dan, are you still there?"
"I'm here, Brother Larry. My mind has so many things running through it that I'm having trouble collecting them. I was thinking that we could start a trust fund for them here at the bank, to help them with any expenses they might have. I can have it set up in a few hours. Meanwhile, do you think we can get the other officers of the church to agree to give some funds to get it started? I'll be happy to make the calls."
Uttering a silent "Thank you" toward heaven, Larry answered, "Sure. Make the calls. I'll leave it in your capable hands. Just keep me in the loop?
"You know I will. Let me go so I can get the ball rolling. I'll update you later."
Larry's gaze went from the phone to the ceiling. His spirit soared with exhilaration at what God was doing among his church members. Did they realize it? Directing his gaze to the open Bible on his desk, he began earnestly searching for the Scripture verses bombarding his thoughts. "Okay, okay, Lord!" he said. "I get the message! Slow down a little, will you?"
Larry could hardly believe it. Plopping down into his easy chair, he reflected on the Wednesday evening service he had just witnessed. His normally unresponsive, easy-going congregation was abuzz with the excitement surrounding the strange couple. Everyone was questioning him on what he was going to do about the couple. Using that as a catalyst, Larry had, again, turned the question back to them, asking them what they were going to do about them. Reminding them of the story of the Good Samaritan, Larry encouraged them to discover their own particular avenue of providing assistance to this couple. Before he left the church, plans were being made for a baby shower, a "food pounding," and God-only-knows what else. He had decided to slip out and let them do the planning.
Larry's wife and sweetheart, Charity, glided into the room and cuddled up on his lap. Her soothing voice and endearing presence always had a calming effect on Larry.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
Bursting with pride at knowing God was at work among His people, Larry responded, "I was wondering about an Almighty God who could use little insignificant men to fulfill His eternal purposes."
"You're talking about the couple, aren't you? I have never seen such an outpouring of support, at least not in our church. It is so refreshing to see. After all, sometimes the best sermons are not preached in pulpits."
Larry stood up so abruptly, he nearly dumped his wife on the floor. "You're a genius! Why haven't I thought of that before?" He kissed his wife hard on the lips, then proceeded straight to his little study.
Smiling knowingly, Charity said, "You're welcome." Then she went into the kitchen to finish the dishes.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear, but bone-chillingly cold. The morning service at Grace Community Church would begin shortly, and the air practically crackled with excitement and anticipation. The smartly dressed sanctuary, with the glow of Christmas candles, exuded warmth and comfort. Larry felt as if he were floating on air as he entered the stage and sat down behind the pulpit. As the organist began the prelude, Larry silently pleaded with God to glorify Himself during the service. Following the preliminaries, the congregation heartily sang several Christmas hymns. The offering was collected, and then the choir gave a beautiful rendition of an old Christmas favorite. Larry then stepped up to the pulpit, barely able to contain himself as he launched into his morning message.
"This morning's message will be unique. For weeks now I have been praying that God would show me a special message to deliver to you today. And He did. But not like I am accustomed to, and certainly not what you are expecting. You folks know I never come to the pulpit unprepared, and am rarely without words." He paused to allow the smattering of laughter he knew would come. "But I want you to know, I don't have a printed sermon today." The look on their faces was a Kodak moment if he had ever seen one. "The message has been written, however." More puzzlement, and a few whispers. "You see, God wrote this week's sermon on hearts, not on paper. In Hebrews chapter thirteen and verse two, God said, 'Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.' By now I am sure all of you are aware of the young couple that was stranded in our town this week. I believe God sent that couple to perform a work of grace in our hearts. And what a work it was! The spirit of Christmas is all about Christ, and why He came to earth. He came to give: of Himself, of His grace and mercy, of His love, and of His power." Amens were heard throughout the congregation. "So what better way to celebrate Christmas and to get into the Christmas spirit than to give of ourselves to God, and especially to others. I am convinced that God directed that couple to this town at this time of year for a specific reason. God knew that we needed to be reminded of His reason for Christmas, not our reasons." More amens. "God's grace has shone brightly through the members of this congregation this week in a way we have never experienced. My prayer was that God would work in a special way this year, and He did. May I share with you that labor of love, and the outcome?
"Courtney and Chance Milhouse, will you stand? You were willing to share of your abundance by allowing the couple to stay at a home you owned. Nancy Walters, where are you? Stand please. You used the training you received to minister to the physical needs of this couple. Dan and Stephanie Miller, will you stand? Your spearheading of a fund for the couple brought about a great response from our people. Linda McCandless, stand and be recognized! You are a champion at organizing folks, especially in the preparation of food and supplies. God bless you! Where's Gladys Hampton? Stand up young lady! I understand you did a great job in helping collect needed things for the baby, including pulling together a quick and wonderful baby shower on Saturday. And Bob Taylor, your offer to fix their car, for free, was a huge help. Praise the Lord! Your offer to create a job for the man was a blessing also. And there are so many others I could mention by name. But may I share with you the greatest news?
"On Thursday, the couple gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. That is great news. But do you want to know the best news? Because you allowed yourselves to be used of God, two new souls entered the family of God on Friday morning." The crowd burst into spontaneous applause, standing in ovation. Larry held up his hands to quiet them, then motioned for them to be seated. "Yes, Joseph and Mary accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior." The silence was deafening, as shock registered on the faces." "What? Did no one stop to ask their names? And by the way, baby . . ." His pause for effect had everyone on the edge of their seats. " . . . Joshua is doing just fine. With your love and help, this has been, and will be, a Christmas to remember. God bless you this Christmas! Let us pray."