December 24, 2023
Technically, this week is still considered the holidays, so here are a couple more Christmas stories. My wife and I have always sought out people to invite over for dinner during the holidays. One year when we lived in the land of continual sunshine, we decorated the palm tree in the front yard early in the season. We knew we’d be leaving the week before Christmas and driving the 2000 miles back home, but we wanted to decorate the house and yard and get in the Christmas spirit. We also bought a tree at the corner Christmas Tree lot. It cost a whopping 28 bucks. That was a lot for a tree that we would only use for a few days then discard, but it was worth it.
The Sunday before Christmas, my wife planned a big meal and we invited a family from our neighborhood - a single mom and her 10 year old son. They were both a bit on the wild side, you might say, and very unpredictable. They didn’t have much in terms of what this world has to offer. Her car was old, oily, loud and smokey. Just the thing Homeowner Associations love. They came and went at very random hours day and night. And although we suspected they might be up to some sketchy business, there was never any evidence of that and they were always friendly and were very happy when we invited them and said they’d come to dinner.
Sunday came and just before they were to arrive, I lit up a fire in the fireplace. It was 82 degrees outside, but Christmas is a time for a fire in the fireplace. We had to open all the doors and windows, and it was hot, but it was worth it. The time to eat came, but they didn’t show up. We waited a bit and then I wandered down the street to their house. There was no car in the driveway. I knocked on the door. No one was home. I noticed some activity across the street so I went over there and invited a different couple. We knew each other and had exchanged greetings, but that was about as far as our friendship with them had gone. They hesitated at the invitation, but came anyway. We had a great time, a great meal, and seeing as we were leaving the next day, they went home with our Christmas tree. They hadn’t gotten one yet and weren’t going to because they cost too much. So, that 28 dollar tree got twice the mileage. As an aside, later that year they asked me to babysit their cat while they went on vacation in Ohio, which I did. But that cat and I just never bonded. In fact, it was a horrible experience. The cat hid every time I went over there to feed it and I never saw it - not one single time. But it showed me it’s dislike by pooping on the carpet - Every. Single. Day.
Our tree is down now. The pine needles have been swept and vacuumed up. The ornaments have been carefully put away and the lights neatly folded and stored for easy access next year. Each piece of the manger scene has been wrapped in paper and strategically placed back in its box and we are ready for the New Year. This year, we will face each new day with thanksgiving and live them one day at a time in the grace and strength God gives us. We will be thankful and will try to be an encouragement to everyone we meet. Whether this year is smooth sailing or tumultuous - each day is a gift from God and He is near. Best wishes and prayers to you and yours for a prosperous and Happy New Year! "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." - Psalm 118:24
(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin).