Christmas is my favorite holiday. Its place in Christianity is second to Easter because of the resurrection of Jesus. I endorse this view. However, the celebration, the traditional festivities all contribute to the happiness and joy in celebrating the Christmas season.
In my 90 years I cannot remember a time when Christmas was not celebrated-even during the Great Depression. The tree, the gifts, the music and the message always thrill and inspire me.
Strange as it may seem the humor in the Season has always impressed. I’ve collected many of the humorous tidbits. Most of them have a religious content. For example, this story happens in a Christmas children’s program. Johnny has a “part” and is ready.
His mother is sitting in the front row. As a four-year-old he is simply to recite, “Jesus is the light of the world.”
At the appointed time, with lights low and spotlight on him, he stammers, stutters and forgot the words. His mother, sensing the dilemma whispers, “I am the light t of the world.” He doesn’t get it, so she whispers it louder.
Finally, he gets it, and repeats loudly, “MY MOMMA IS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.”
This short story is my favorite. The setting is the Nativity Scene outside a traditional Church. It depicts the three Wisemen, four Shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus.
The morning of Christmas Day has a very disturbing scene. The baby Jesus is gone. It is a mystery. Then the crowd is amazed when a five-year-old little boy, pulling a red-wagon in tow comes by. Baby Jesus is in the wagon.
He is asked why he took the Baby Jesus. He said, “I PROMISED JESUS THAT IF I GOT A RED WAGON FOR CHRISTMAS, I’D TAKE HIM FOR A RIDE IN IT.”
The next two stories are true. One involves me and in the second I’m a worshipper. The first happened in Tunis, Tunisia. I was Chaplain and Counselor.
The year was 1969 and I was on the Hope Ship for the second time. Upon my arrival in Tunis, a delegation came aboard and wanted to see me. They were members of the Anglican Church, which was the only Christian Church in the country.
Their priest had become ill and had returned to London. I was asked to conduct a service each Sunday while on the ship for four months. I consented. After two months, it was Christmas Eve.
I conducted a 5:00 PM service at the Anglican Church; then a Protestant service on the ship at 7:00 PM; at 11:00 PM I assisted the Catholic chaplain at the midnight Mass.
The service with the Anglicans is very memorable. As I concluded my sermon, I repeated the words to the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” To my surprise the entire audience stood in tribute-as was and is the custom when it is sung or played.
The next morning, December 25, 1969, I became Santa Clause, beard, and red suit complete. The staff and crew had brought about 100 children patients into one ward for a Christmas party. I startled the group by Ho-Ho-Ho-ing loudly. The kids didn’t know what to do. They were all Muslims; so, I explained-with an interpreter-the story of Christmas and Santa.
The staff and crew had a gift for each child and as I called each name, someone took it to the child.
Unfortunately, one child in a body cast had been brought to the hospital ship the night before. She could not move and suddenly I thought that I did NOT have a gift for her. I could see the tears in her eyes as I came to the bottom of Santa’s bag.
To my amazement, the staff had placed a special gift for her and I gladly placed it on her cast.
That was not the end of my happiness. I was 10,000 miles from home. We were about 10 hours ahead of my church in Fullerton. But with the help of short-wave radio I surprised Pam, Deb and Doris. From the ship’s radio to London, then to New York, then to L.A., and then to Fullerton; a phone message went to the church that had a Christmas Day service.
My associate called them to the phone at the pulpit. I’ll never forget the conversation; I cried, they cried and I was told the congregation cried.
It was a great Christmas.
Now, my second Christmas memory. It occurred on Christmas Eve of 1982 at the Highland Congregational Church. I was the minister. My celebration began at 5:00PM at the Macamul’s home. Joe, Pauline, their 6 sons, and their families. For years they invited friends and neighbors for a feast on Christmas Eve. They served 3 kinds of soup. Chili, clam chowder and oyster stew, plus cold cuts and other foods. I attended for many years. Then I went to the church.
The property was decorated beautifully. Obie Oberhelman had constructed a Nativity scene in front of the church: Wisemen, Shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and the Babe; with lights focused on the scene.
The walkway from the parking lot to the sanctuary was lighted. Lights on the bay trees, and votive candles in paper bags with sand. Ken Gunn, Paul Chandler, Carson Storer, John Yount and Jim Sims did the work of setting them out.
A brass trio greeted the worshippers; Robert Chandler on trumpet, Michael Chandler on trombone and me on the baritone horn.
By the way, every Christmas Eve we had three services.
Services at 7:00 PM, 9:00 PM and 11:00 PM. The first for the children’s Sunday School program; the 9:00 PM for the musical Cantatas, and 11:00 for a devotional with the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
But, on December 24, 1982 the second service was unusual. I’ll never forget it. The Sanctuary was beautifully decorated with candles, poinsettias and two Christmas trees in the Chancel.
By 6:30 PM the Sanctuary was packed and chairs up and down the aisles. People were even sitting on the stairs going up to the bride’s room. Chairs and a sound system were set up in the Fellowship Hall. It was also filled. Scores of people were standing and seated on the lawn outside the Sanctuary.
The Music Committee of the Church: Professor Michael Ross, Dr. Virgil Neilson, Susan Thomas and Carolyn Mathers had planned a presentation of Handel’s great Oratorio, The Messiah.
The church choir of 25 singers plus 10 imported singers from Loma Linda and an orchestral ensemble from Loma Linda University were tremendous.
The climax of the service was “The Halleluiah Chorus” being sung and accompanied by the organ and ensemble. Spontaneously the audience stood immediately in tribute to the Messiah. King of kings and Lord of lords, Halleluiah.
I have heard this Oratorio many times, but never was I as thrilled by it as I was on December 24, 1982. By the way, I was so thrilled I forgot to take the offering.
What a service and what a memory for me.
STELLA AND I WISH EVERYONE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS.
Amen. Selah. So be it.
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