The Christmas Sweater
Christmas eve for some is when we dig out all of our stuff: Christmas decorations, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas recipes, Christmas cards, Christmas movies, Christmas books, and my personal favorite, my Christmas sweater. Some people spend a lot of money on Christmas shopping; buying Christmas gifts and outfits to dress up in for Christmas parties and food to make Christmas candy and Christmas cookies. As I searched for my sweater and after not finding it, I realized I had given it away when we decided to sell all of our stuff to go over the road. I was sad and mad that I had given my favorite sweater away. Then I found the scarf that Bear used to wear at Christmas. Our blind dog in the picture above. I started to really get sad and thought about how depressing Christmas is for a lot of people.
Then I recalled a story about two brothers named John and James.
John, the older of the two, and James played on a little league baseball team many years ago. Even though the two played on the same team they both were in competition with each other always trying to be better than the other one. James could hit a home run like it was nothing, and John could pitch strikes all day long. James couldn’t run and John couldn’t catch, but the coach always did his best to help them each excel at what they did best.
One Saturday afternoon the game was at the bottom of the ninth and the brother’s team was down by two runs. There were two men on and James was up to bat. John was coaching at third base. If James could hit the ball far enough into the outfield he could have plenty of time to run the bases and make it home. He stepped up to the plate and the crowd was cheering him on while others were making fun of him because they knew he couldn’t run that fast. He whacked that ball as hard as he could, and it flew right out into the bushes at the edge of the outfield. “Run! Run!” everyone was yelling. James took off running, tagging first base, and the outfielders were searching frantically in the bushes for the ball. “Run! Run!” James kept on running and tagged second base.
The crowd started yelling more and clapping. “Throw it! Throw it! Run! Run!” John saw that the outfielders threw the ball into the short stop. “Run, James! Run!” John waved James onto home plate. James was running and the short stop threw the ball and James was running so fast and the ball was coming so fast. Instead of the ball going into the catcher’s glove it hit James right in the head and knocked him out cold. After six days in a coma, his parents took him off the life support and he died without ever waking up.
John grew up always feeling responsible for his brother’s death. Even though he married and had children of his own, he missed so much of their lives because he spent more time in the bottle than he did at birthdays and other memorable occasions. Eventually his wife divorced him and he grew into a lonely, grumpy old man.
One Christmas Eve, John was by himself as usual, when a knock came on his door. It was one of his grandsons. Ironically it was the one named after his brother, James. He came in with a book in one hand and a thermos in the other. “Grandpa, I have to share something with you before it’s too late.” The old man gruffly said, “I don’t want to hear it.” But James was persistent and he took two mugs down from the cupboard and filled them with hot chocolate from the thermos. Then he opened his Bible and he spoke.
“One night there was a bright star which guided three men who were the three wise men to the birth of Jesus, who later in life became a carpenter and a fisher of men and souls. He had twelve apostles who spread the Word of Christ. But on one black day of hatred, envy and death, He was crucified. He shed His blood for us to purify and save us. He rose and is now in Heaven seated with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He did all of this because of His great love for us.”
“Grandpa, everyone says you’re a mean old man because of what happened to your brother. What happened to him is not your fault and Jesus loves you and forgives you. You don’t have to feel like it’s your fault, just talk to Jesus and tell Him how you feel.”
Of course John, being the grumpy, old drunk that he had grown into wasn’t going to listen to what anyone had to say and he kicked his grandson out of his house and told him if he was going to preach to him not to bother coming back again. That night, John died in his sleep.
There is a lot more to that story, but that is enough to make one contemplate what they are holding on to this Christmas. As I started to write out my Christmas wish on Facebook for those I didn’t have addresses for to send a Christmas card, I thought about whom I had to forgive and who I needed to speak a kind word to. There is so much stuff that gets in the way of our lives that sometimes we lose sight of the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas. It is not about the stuff.
This little baby boy born in a manger came to live a sinless life only to die a brutal death on a Cross in order for us to have eternal life. We celebrate His birth for that. When we get “wrapped up” (no pun intended) in all the other stuff, when we forget to forgive someone, when we over eat or over drink or over spend, when we get so involved in things, we lose sight of what is important. This year when you come together to celebrate Christmas think about why you are doing it and remember what the celebration is all about.
(I know I’ve shared this story before. I wrote it in 2011 and every time I read it, it brings a tear and a new prayer in my heart. I hope it does the same for you.)