George loved Christmas. Loved it.
Now, it wasn't the shiny, silk bows or glitter-edged ribbons… not the crisp, glistening snow on pine-fresh trees… nor the jingles and carols or graceful swooping garland. It wasn't even the twinkling lights or brightly wrapped packages. No, for George it was something else entirely:
It was the money.
He loved money, and Christmas morning was his favorite day of the year.
The parking lot echoed a ghostly desolation; the once-festive light poles now dangled broken garland and expired promotions. The shopping center windows stared cold as he opened the door of his variety store and stepped inside.
What a mess! Trash... toys... gadgets... tools... the floor was littered with neglected products and packaging. Perfectly aligned rows of once-tidy shelves were haphazardly strewn with random merchandise.
But George just smiled. He reached into his pocket and found the object of his affection: the folded bundle of cash from the registers the night before. He held it, caressed it, and he loved it. It was a very successful selling season, and as he fondled his treasure he began to clean up the store.
He picked up a little baby doll, cute and cuddly, and was ready to place it back on the shelves when he suddenly realized he was being watched: Pressed against the glass of the door was the face of a little girl. She was wearing a perfect green dress, her straight golden hair was tied up in one bright red bow, and she carried a permanent curiosity in her expression.
He opened the door and stepped outside.
"Hi mister," she began. She couldn't have been more than five or six years old, but she spoke very boldly. "What are you doing?"
"Cleaning my store." He toyed with the bundle in his pocket.
"My name is Annie. My mommy and I are walking to Christmas Day services at church this morning." She pointed to her mother, looking into windows further down. "We left early so we could walk around a little. After church we are going to a big family dinner."
He smiled at her simple joys. She was so young… so innocent… and had no knowledge of the important realities of life. He thumbed the hidden bundle of green again, and replied wryly, "That's nice. Will you get Christmas gifts there?"
"No, but I get to see my family, and that’s better anyway. Mommy says there's nothing more special than seeing loved ones. Don't you think?"
"Sure." He gave a sly smile. He, too, had loved ones… and fives, tens and twenties. Yes, he loved his darling twenties…
She continued, "You know what I like most? Hugs. I like it when people I love give me hugs… that means they love me back! Isn't that great? Don’t you like to be loved?" He thought awkwardly about the folded bundle in his pocket, and was about to reply, but she didn't give him time to answer. "Do you want to go to church with us?"
"No, I can't," he dodged.
"What's that for?" She caught him by surprise, pointing at the doll he was still carrying.
He thought a minute, then did something out of normal character - he squatted down, and held it out to her. "I want you to have this."
Her eyes grew wide, and her face lit up. She held the doll like a prize, then before he knew it she pounced on his neck and he found himself surrounded by a great big hug.
Now, it wasn't a 'pat on the back' hug. It wasn’t a 'good job' sideways hug, or a 'nice to see you' quick hug - it was a sincere hug that ran from the tips of her dainty little fingers to the deepest part of her Jesus-filled heart… and it reached into George and touched him.
"Thank you!" she exclaimed then jumped back. He chuckled at her exuberance, and envied her happiness. That hug, simple yet amazing, did something to him. A longing began to grow inside him, something he could not explain. He instinctively reached for the bundle of cash in his pocket, but it now seemed as dead as the paper it was printed on, like the corpse of a once-living thing.
He watched as she skipped away, then suddenly cried out, "Annie, wait! I think I will come, after all."
He felt the warmth of her hand as she smiled and took his, and together they walked away.
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