The Christmas Stockings
Well, it’s that time of year when we dig out all of our stuff: Christmas decorations, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, Christmas recipes, Christmas cards, Christmas movies, Christmas books, and my favorite, the Christmas socks. As I dug mine out of the storage box and smiled at how they made me feel to put my little piggy-toes in them at Christmas time 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 nobody’s business, 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 each of them excel at what they did best.
One Saturday afternoon game, it was 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 to home base. 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, while the outfielders were searching frantically in the bushes for the ball.
“Run! Run!” James kept on running. He tagged second base.
The crowd started yelling more and clapping. “Throw it! Throw it!” and “Run! Run!”
John saw the outfielders throw the ball into the short stop player. James kept on running.
“Run, James! Run!” John waved James past third and onto home plate.
James was running and the short stop player threw the ball. James was running so fast, and the ball was coming so much faster. Instead of the ball going into the catcher’s glove it hit James right in the head, and knocked him out cold. He ended up in a coma and after six days, 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.”
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 would be known as 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 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 us contemplate what we are holding on to this Christmas. As I started to write out our Christmas cards, 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. It is not about whether or not someone acknowledges the kind things that we do. Kindness can go unnoticed for a lifetime.
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, or when we get so involved in the materialistic things of the season, we lose sight of what is important. This year when you dig out your Christmas stockings think about why you are wearing them and remember WHO the celebration is all about.