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Our Current Virtual Church Message

Going Home For Christmas

Roberta is 88. Her eyes glaze over like those of many her age. Her eyes glaze over because of all the illness, pain, suffering, joy, and memories, both good and bad, she must now carry. Her eyes glaze over because, frankly, she is too tired to live. However, live she must. She lives in a little house in Florida with a little porch facing west. Her husband built the house decades ago before Florida became such a megalopolis of people from other places. Every evening Roberta goes out to her little porch and watches the sun go down over the horizon. She sits there in the fading shadows with no thoughts. She sits in the fading shadows waiting for her life end.

Roberta does not know anyone in her neighborhood and no one knows her. She gets her groceries from a delivery service. She gets to the doctor on a van from the community center.

She does not know it yet, but for Roberta, this day will be different. For some reason she cannot explain, on this day, the 20th day of December, she goes out to her porch in the early afternoon. Sitting in her daze, with no thoughts, not even memories, Roberta stares off into space. However, there is a new sound on Roberta's street. The sound is like the clop, clop, clop of horse's hooves on the asphalt. Then she notices a horse, a big white horse pulling a wagon-like thing. It is a wagon-like thing resembling a peddlers wagon she has only seen in the movies. Indeed, it is a peddler's wagon. The wagon is old in appearance. On the side of the wagon is painted, "Smythe Pots, Pans, Utensils, and Gadgets For The Home. Established 1882." The peddler's wagon pulled up in front of Roberta's porch. Roberta no longer sat in her daze with her eyes nearly closed. Roberta now sat with eyes wide open. Roberta sat with eyes nearly bugging out. There was on this wagon, a driver wearing a black stove pipe hat and attired in something like a black tuxedo out of the 1800's. Not only was the wagon unusual, but the man in the black outfit, he seemed to have some sort of extra large backpack under his black attire as well. Once the wagon had stopped, the man bounded down off the wagon as if he defied gravity. It was as if gravity did not exist for this man. In a flash, the man stood before Roberta and said, "Madam, I am Mr. Smythe, and I am here to bring you the world's greatest cooking appliances. Let me show you what I have. First, this pan, this small pan is great for baking radishes. Next, this large pan, this skillet among skillets, is great for cooking ice cream. Next we have one of my favorites, the cornbread baker ideal for cooking a salad." Roberta had been silent but broke the silence with slight cough. Then Roberta spoke, "Sir, who are you and what in the world do you want with me. I am an old woman, I live alone. I no longer cook much. Where did you come from? What are you about? Although I don't know much about cooking, I know you don't bake radishes, you don't cook ice cream, and you don't cook salad. Are you here to play some kind of joke on me?" Smythe responded by saying, "Madam, I have come to deliver to you the world's greatest opportunity to own the world's greatest pots and pans." Still a bit stunned by his appearance, his wagon, his horse, and his little presentation, Roberta said, "Do you know what a salad is? Do you know what ice cream is?" Smythe replied, "Well, uh, well, not, uh, not exactly, you would say." In amazement, Roberta now said, "You don't know about salad? You don't know about ice cream? Where are you from?" Smythe replied, "Well, I am not from here. I am from over there?" There was a long pause while Roberta tried to collect her thoughts. Then Roberta said, "Mr. Smythe, I am an old woman, but so far, I am not crazy or at least I didn't think I was crazy until a few minutes ago. Now, I am not so sure. In the last three or four minutes, you have started to drop little cotton-ball things on my yard and the cotton-ball things are coming from under your pant legs and from under the sleeves of your black jacket. Please sir, tell me what is going on or please leave."

Smythe replied, "Oh my. This does not look good. Something appears to have gone wrong in the descendent processes. You have, dear lady, sort of found me out. Now I must reveal to you the whole story. I must reveal to you what was supposed to be hidden. Madam, I am not of this world. I am a creature few people of this world ever get to see. Madam, if I tell you who I am and what I am really about, do you agree not to tell?" Roberta, shaking her head in disbelief said, "Right now, if I told anyone about you, no one would believe me. Besides I do not know anyone to tell anything to. Smythe continued, "Madam I am an angel. I am not of the highest order of angels. At the rate I am going today, I will be part of the comedy band. However, I am indeed an angel. The big bulge coming from under the back of my black jacket, well, my wings are rather large and are not detachable. The little white fur balls, uh, well, it is sort of like dandruff, if you will. I am from the heavenly realms. You know, 'over there'. I have come here today to ask you to do a favor. Here is the favor. There is, on this street, a young man named 'Robert'. He is, at this time, a fine young man. However, he is being pressured to join a gang. It is critical he not join a gang. There is upon this young man a great destination for his life. This young man, given he makes the right choices, will be able to help save the world. Christmas is approaching. Robert has never celebrated Christmas. No one has ever given him a present. Robert does not know the full meaning of Christmas. Robert does not know about the meaning of love. Madam, my assignment is to bring Robert to your home and once he is here, to inspire you to give Robert a gift for Christmas."

Roberta sat in silence. She did not know what to say or how to say it. Finally, with some softness of emotion, she said, "Mr. Smythe or whoever you are, I do not celebrate Christmas. My husband and I had no children. We never went to church. We never celebrated Christmas. My father was a minister so I believe in God but that is about all. Whatever faith I had is now gone. I don't even talk to people any more. I cannot leave my home. What would I give a young man I do not know?" There was another long pause and Mr. Smythe said, in a softer and milder tone, "Madam, Roberta, this will be one of your last deeds on earth. I do not know why you were the one chosen to carry out this task but there must be, of course, an Almighty reason. As you know, time stands still for no one. Perhaps you could reflect upon your father for just a minute." Roberta, for a minute, said nothing, and for the first time in uncountable years had tears. Roberta said, "I never understood my father. He was cold, aloof, and never paid me any attention." Smythe replied, "He had a hard life. His father or your grandfather who you did not know abused him. Your father was afraid he would pass on to you the abuse he suffered. As a gift, your father stayed away from you for fear the evil put upon him would come out and hurt you. Your father loved you beyond words. Please, I implore you, please do this last deed for this young man named Robert." Roberta, certainly no longer sitting in a daze on her front porch consented. Roberta said, "Send Robert to me. I will find something to give him." Mr. Smythe replied, "Thank you. It will be done. Please remember you are never to tell about me." Roberta agreed and said with a slight smile, "I will never tell. Besides, if I told, they would put me away for sure."

In a minute, Mr. Smythe had bounded back atop his wagon, the wagon pulled away, and Roberta sat transfixed on her front porch. Trying to take it all in, a football came flying into the yard. A young man, maybe 15 or 16 years of age, came into the yard and grabbed the ball from in front of where Roberta sat. Roberta said, almost in a whisper, "Young man, is your name Robert?" The young man looked up, and said with a startled expression, "Yeah, yeah, I'm Robert. How'd you know?" Without directly answering, Roberta said, "Take the ball back to your friends and send them away. Come back here and I will give you a Christmas gift." Robert stood silent for just a moment and said, "OK, I'll be back."

In a few minutes Robert came running back. Roberta said to the young man, "Robert, my name is Roberta. I have something I want to give you. Sit down here on the porch. I will be back in a few minutes. Robert sat down on the porch and waited. In a few minutes, Roberta came back carrying a box about four times larger than a shoe box. The box smelled of cedar because the box had been kept in Roberta's cedar chest for decades. Roberta had never opened the box but knew of its contents. Roberta handed the box to Robert and said, "Here, this is a present from me and from my father. My father was also named Robert." Robert said, "Your dad named you after himself. Didn't he?" Never in all her eighty-eight years had Roberta ever thought about it, but indeed, her father had given her his name. Roberta replied, for the first time ever in her eighty-eight years, with love in her voice, said, "Yes, my father gave me his name. Christmas is coming soon. I am giving this gift to you. This gift belonged to my father. My father was a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. On Christmas, we will celebrate the birth of Christ. There are things in the box that tell you more about Christ and about His work on earth." Robert pulled the box open. Inside was a well-worn Bible with markings and notes written in the margin of nearly every page. There were also papers. There were very yellow papers with black ink handwriting inside the box. Roberta said, with great emotion, "Those papers were some of his sermons." Robert looked through some of the papers, leafed through the Bible, and said, "OK, I'll read these. Thank you very much. No one ever gave me a present before. My grandma is poor and she never had any money." Roberta said, "Robert, make me a promise. Promise me you will read this Bible, read those papers, and never join a gang." Robert smiled and said, "You sound like my grandma about that gang thing. Yeah, I promise. I will read and never join a gang." Roberta said, "In the box is a paper called a deed. It is a paper giving you ownership of my house. Your grandma will know what the deed is about. You can go now. Merry Christmas, Robert." Robert stood up and said, "Merry Christmas to you, Roberta." Robert ran off carrying the box under his arm like a football.

On Christmas Eve, Robert went to see Roberta. Robert walked up to Roberta's front door and there was a note on the door. The note said, "Come on in, Robert." Robert walked into the front hallway of the house and found the house was empty. There was no furniture in the house except a small table in the middle of the living room. On the table was a note that said, "Robert, I have gone home to see my father and my Father for Christmas. I will not be coming back. The house and all my worldly wealth is yours. I have left my estate to you and your grandmother. Merry Christmas."

Epilogue: Robert read the Bible and the sermons. He gave his heart to Christ and followed in the footsteps Roberta's father, also named Robert. There was also sort of a legend about Roberta and her house. It seems, on December 23rd, thirteen junior high kids were in the street playing near Roberta's house. Every one of those kids claims to have seen Roberta climb up on a large wagon-like thing pulled by a white horse. All the kids claimed the horse, the wagon-like thing, Roberta, and a guy wearing a stove pipe hat sort of floated off into the sky. Of course, it is only a story and you know how kids make things up.

Whenever you read this, Merry Christmas to you and all those you hold dear.

Luke 2:1-52 (NIV) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. [2] (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria .) [3] And everyone went to his own town to register. [4] So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David , because he belonged to the house and line of David. [5] He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. [6] While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, [7] and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. [8] And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. [9] An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. [10] But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. [11] Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. [12] This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." [13] Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, [14] "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." [15] When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." [16] So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. [17] When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, [18] and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. [19] But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. [20] The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. [21] On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. [22] When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [23] (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), [24] and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." [25] Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel , and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [26] It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. [27] Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, [28] Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: [29] "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. [30] For my eyes have seen your salvation, [31] which you have prepared in the sight of all people, [32] a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel ." [33] The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. [34] Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be spoken against, [35] so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." [36] There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, [37] and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. [38] Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. [39] When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth . [40] And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. [41] Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. [42] When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. [43] After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem , but they were unaware of it. [44] Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. [45] When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. [46] After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. [47] Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. [48] When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." [49] "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" [50] But they did not understand what he was saying to them. [51] Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. [52] And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (NIV)

This facetious story first appeared in December, 2006, in the Virtual Church web site at http://www.findthepower.com

 

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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (RSV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Copyright © 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Shepherd's Care Ministries author and webmaster, Rev. Patrick Kelly, is affiliated through ministerial ordination with Church of God Ministries, Anderson IN 46018