“How come there’s mail on Christmas Day?” I thought, as we arrived home mid-afternoon and saw the letter poking out of the mailbox.
Shirley got out of the car and pulled the envelope out of the slot. There was no stamp and no return address. It wasn’t even sealed, and as Shirley pulled out a folded sheet of paper, she showed me its scrawled, anonymous message: “Merry Christmas preacher. Enjoy your lunch.”
A mystery, until we saw a blanket-wrapped parcel at our back door. Shirley lifted it and we gaped at what was spread before us. And I knew I had to call Warren.
But let’s rewind a day or two….
Ministry in our small town means many opportunities to personally interact with people in every aspect of community life. It’s often formal and public; but I also enjoy the surprises of people’s levels of openness in their insights, their needs or their questions. It all reminds me of how Jesus allowed ordinary people to approach him.
It also keeps me from gaining honours in irrelevance, which can be a major hazard for pastors. Some of my colleagues feel more comfortable within their churches, like the local vicar. There’s a rumour that he is still alive, but he’s rarely seen outside the church or away from his enviably comfortable two-storey vicarage.
But it’s a pleasure to work along with Warren Snedden, the local Salvation Army captain, who mixes with people from the religious to the reluctant. He is a natural, and people warm to him….
Just two days ago we led an open air service together outside a bar. After the band had got everyone singing their favourite Christmas carols, it was my turn to give a brief message before the crowd all dispersed.
“This is a time for rejoicing as we celebrate the birth of Jesus,” I began. But not everyone was rejoicing, as I quickly found out. Old Ned had been liquefying his tonsils for some time. With his record of petty crimes he could get belligerent if he’d had too much to drink, and he had something to say:
“You talk about rejoicing! You can rejoice; you’ve got plenty to rejoice about. Christmas will be oh so comfortable for you with all your church stuff. What about those of us with no money and no friends? I can just imagine what you’ll be scoffing down your throat for Christmas dinner!”
“Couldn’t be further from the truth,” I replied. “We’ll probably have something at about four o’clock. After we’ve had a special service at church, I’ll be visiting patients in the local hospital. After that Captain Snedden and I will have a service at the geriatric care facility, and then we’ll be at the prison. Maybe a few sandwiches at four.” A few cheers escorted old Ned away, as he shuffled himself out of the picture….
But we weren’t looking at sandwiches now. At our back door, Shirley removed the blanket to reveal a turkey, pork, beef, veal, salads, a Christmas pudding and all the trimmings worthy of a royal banquet. And there was no shortage of alcohol either.
I raced to the phone and dialled Warren’s number. “Warren, you have to come over and help us eat all this food; it’s far more than we could possibly manage by ourselves!”
He brought his family over, and we had an unforgettable feast together, amazed and appreciative at some unknown benefactor’s generosity….
Our small town’s newspaper is published only twice a week. And you can imagine the shocked reaction across town when the next issue’s headline described a most audacious robbery; committed against one of the community’s most distinguished families.
“ROBBERS RUIN CHRISTMAS!” screamed the headline. The item continued about how, while the vicar had been leading worship on Christmas Day, thieves had broken into the vicarage and stolen his Christmas dinner!
How do you confess to a sin that you have not committed? Who could I thank? Who could I blame?
As I walked away from the newsagency back towards home who should I see but old Ned shuffling towards me.
“Hello Ned,” I said.
Ned said nothing as he walked on past me.
But he did give me a wink.
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