The preacher drifted from candle to candle extinguishing the flickering flames, keeping a watchful eye on the stranger lingering in the back pew. The worn military jacket he clutched to his thin frame bore dark V's where insignia were once sewn on the arms; his posture of submission had altered little throughout the service. Unkempt hair cast shadows his face, igniting the preacher's concern and curiosity.
"Merry Christmas, friend. Is there something I can pray about for you tonight?
The stranger lifted his head, revealing unfocused eyes and a furled brow. "Preacher, can I ask you something?" He rubbed his face with a dirty hand.
"Of course. What's troubling you?"
"Do you believe in miracles? I mean honest to God, real-life, miracles?"
"I believe anything is possible with God."
The stranger glanced around, and seeing no one else in the sanctuary, took a deep breath. "I've been selling Christmas trees down at the corner." He examined his grubby, sap-stained palms. "Used to be a doctor. A surgeon. Until drink got the better of me and I lost my license this past spring. Lost my wife not long after. Can't blame her for taking the kids and leaving. I've been trying to get my act together, but jobs and I haven't gotten along lately. God and I either, for that matter." He chanced a look at the preacher, and was encouraged by his caring eyes.
"Tonight, this 20-something woman, 'great with child' like Mary, comes waddling through the lot checking out the trees. I wonder why she waited until Christmas Eve to get a tree, especially in her condition, but I've learned not to ask questions. Hampers sales, you know?"
The preacher merely hummed, "Mmm," in response. He'd learned that interruptions hamper confessions.
The stranger continued. "She picked out a beauty - a 10-foot Frazier fir - and I offered to pull it out so she could see it from all sides. As she's rounding the back of the tree, she moans and grabs her belly. I think to myself, 'Not here; not now. I can't do this.'
"This is where it starts getting crazy." He paused, collecting his thoughts and gathering courage.
The preacher murmured, "Go on, friend; I'm listening."
Another deep breath filled the strangers lungs. "I heard this voice: 'Yes, you can. You are here for such a time as this.'
The preacher twitched.
"It wasn't in my head, Preacher, it was out loud. I swear it was. If the woman heard it, she gave no indication. That's when she dropped to her knees and shrieked. And that's when I started to panic.
"She yelled, 'Help me!' but my feet were frozen in place and my heart was in my throat. And I heard it again: 'You are here for such a time as this.'" The stranger closed his eyes and rushed on, his words coming out in a tumble.
"The tree, it started to glow. Then it started to change, morph, into sort of a man. But not a man. A God-man. He spoke. 'I am with you always.' The voice I'd heard - it was Him.
"Preacher, I knew who it was. I admit I'd had a few nips to take the chill off, or maybe more that a few, but I was NOT seeing things. I was seeing...and hearing...Jesus.
"I dropped to my knees beside the woman, and Jesus knelt beside me. The tremor left my hands for the first time in months, years maybe. The woman was crying, and babbling about how she wanted a Christmas tree before the baby was born, but I was only half listening. His voice overshadowed all other sounds. 'I am with you. I will never leave you.' His presence and His glow warmed me and calmed me. Together we delivered that baby.
"I wrapped him up in my coat, cut the cord with my tree saw, and dug out my cell to call for an ambulance.
"When I looked to Jesus for help, He was just a Christmas tree again. He spoke once more, but only in my head. 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'
The stranger pleaded, "You believe me, right? I'm not crazy? The woman...she never saw anything."
"Friend, God's ways are not our ways. Who's to say what's real, and what is vision?"
"Preacher, I know it was real. I asked what his name was, the baby. She said she hadn't decided until that moment. The perfect name had just come to her.
Emmanuel: "God is with us"
Scripture referenced is from the NKJV:
Esther 4:14 Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"
Matthew 28:20 "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age.""
Matthew 25:20 "His lord said to him, 'Well [done], good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.'
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