My grandmother smiled with delight as she gave my three-year-old brother and me two shiny nickels.
"I know what I'm going to do with my nickel!" I proudly announced. "I'm going to get me one of those toys out of the plastic bubble machine at the MARKET."
My mom wouldn't give me a nickel for the bubble machine. "You'll have to earn your own nickel if you're going to waste it on junk like that," she'd told me.
Well, now I had my own nickel! I would get my own toy out of the cool bubble machine! Right?
"That's not exactly what I gave you the nickel for," Mama Faye told me. "I was hoping you'd save them up and buy something special." Yeah, right. That nickel was burning a hole in my pocket, and saving it wasn't part of the fire!
I don't know what I dreamed that night, but I can tell you that I woke up a maniac. As the ladies were preparing the Thanksgiving meal, I took my nickel off the dresser, grabbed my brother's nickel and shoved them in my pocket, then took my brother by the hand. We headed out for a long walk...
... a very long walk.
... to the MARKET.
I put my nickel in first. Crank, crank, crank, clink, clink, clink, plop. Out it popped. I don't even remember what it was. Nothing as neat as the toys on the front of the bubble machine. Not worth a six-year-old boy's only nickel, that's for sure.
My brother put in his nickel. Out popped a miniature set of false teeth. He got the cool bubble! G-daddy, my dad's father, had false teeth. When the women weren't looking, he'd let us watch him take them out and wash them. That was way cool and now my three-year-old brother had some miniature false teeth. Double cool!
We made the long walk back home. As soon as we hit the front yard, mom asked, "Where in the world have you boys been?"
"We just went for a little walk," I said in my most innocent voice. It was a simpler time and little boys could roam the neighborhood. You didn't have to worry, especially when your little boys were good. Of course, I was a good little boy...
... most of the time!
As we sat down for our Thanksgiving meal and that special Kodak moment where we join hands and give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings he has given us, my brother Byron was suddenly reminded of his latest blessing. He dropped Mama Faye's hand, reached into his pocket and proudly announced, "Look what I've got. False teeth just like G-daddy!"
All hands dropped. Suddenly I was the only one in the mood for prayer. At this moment, I desired a very long prayer.
My mom then uttered the words I hated to hear: "Phillip Dixon Ware, what have you done?"
Mama Faye exclaimed as she inhaled, "Oh my goodness, you boys were on the Houston highway. You could have been killed!"
My other grandmother, Granny, pleaded for mercy, "Don't spank them Al, please don't spank them. It's Thanksgiving."
My dad's face flushed red. The vein in his neck popped out and I could see his heartbeat pounding in the vein in his temple. About that time he said ...
Don't you hate it when you go to a movie and the story doesn't end? When you're left with all those loose ends and have to decide for yourself how it's all supposed to finish? I hate that. But I'm going to leave you with this story dangling because I want to make an important point.
When you open up the Gospel of Luke and read the birth story of John the Baptist and Jesus, you come to familiar lines that get repeated nearly every year. They become so much a part of our holiday experience that we view them pretty much as holly and twinkly lights. But for those who lived this story, it was much different.
For hundreds of years, the Jewish people had lived with the last word of the Old Testament ringing in their ears. Go look in Malachi, the last book of our Old Testament, and notice that it ends on the word: "Curse."
You see, their story didn't have an ending. They were the people of God's great promises; made first to Abraham, preserved through the deliverance of Moses, and reiterated again to David. But the promises lay there like a dead corpse, lifeless, and barren.
These were the people of God Almighty, who humbled Pharaoh in the plagues and destroyed his army in the Exodus through the Red Sea. Their God had helped them conquer the Promised Land and destroy the mighty cities of Canaan. But where was this God now? Where were his mighty deeds to save? For hundreds of years they had been a people in bondage to one nation after another, suffering humiliation again and again.
Their God had thundered his Word at Sinai. He had spoken powerfully and shaken kingdoms through the voices of his prophets. But now, just as Amos had predicted, there was a famine in the land. Not a famine for bread, but a famine for the Word of God. For hundreds of years there was no great prophet. No more Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, or Jonah. Most of all, no sign of Elijah, who was to make his grand return in preparation for the Messiah.
God's people sat there in the barren dust of their existence, waiting for an end to their story. Hoping, praying, and dreaming of the day for God to say, "Your long wait is over. Let me tell you the rest of the story."
When you pick up your Bible and read Luke chapters 1 and 2, remember this is more than just a quaint little tale to dust off at Christmas time when you bring the ornaments down from the attic. This is a story of people who had waited a very, very long time to hear God finish their story and change their mourning into joy and their curse into Christ.
... about that time my dad said, "Boys, we're going to the bathroom."
My brother Byron was always dramatic in moments of discipline. He screamed like a stuck pig headed to slaughter. "No daddy, no daddy! I'm sorry. Please, I'm sorry. Phil made me do it, daddy..."
"Please, I'm sorry. Phil made me do it, daddy..."
"Phillip!" My dad only called me that a few times and I remember each of them well! "I'm going to make you watch me discipline your brother first because I want you to know that your actions have consequences on others. I watched: my eyes locked on his as he gave my brother three soft swats and let him go. Byron's cries ceased as the bathroom door closed. I was left alone to face the "LECTURE." "Phil, I'm disappointed in you." For a neurotically responsible oldest child, these words were crushing. Then he went on to enumerate my sins, holding up a finger for each of my transgressions:
- You directly disobeyed what your mother told you.
- You snuck off and involved your little brother in this deception.
- You disappointed your grandmother and hurt her feelings.
- You risked both of your lives by walking along the highway.
- You bald-faced lied about it.
At that point, he didn't say his usual, "This is going to hurt you worse than it hurts me." No, he took those five points and applied them to my backside. One for each point, and then one to grow on. When I left the bathroom, dad stayed in there a few minutes and cried — nobody told me, I could see it in his eyes when he came back to the table. I got less than I deserved!
God let Israel wait a long time for the Messiah. When he came, there were angels and babies and shepherds and all sorts of wonder and awe. Most of all, there was an end for the story. In the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, God chose to enter history and turn our barrenness into his blessing and our curse into his Christ. Why? Because we all deserved punishment for our rebellious sins, but rather than take us to the bathroom, God chose to visit us in a manger so he could...
... give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace (Luke 1:77-79 NIV).
The following questions are for your personal thought and for you to share in discussion of this article and its ideas with others. I'd also love to hear from you on my blog: http://www.heartlight.org/thephilfiles
What is your most memorable Thanksgiving for good reasons?
What is your most regrettable Thanksgiving?
Most of the time, we talk about Thanksgiving as the holiday that is good and Christmas as the one that is commercialized.
- Why do think this is so?
- Which holiday do you like better and why?
- How can you make Thanksgiving more full of the joy of Jesus' coming and Christmas more full of thanksgiving for what God has done for us?
- Why are both celebrations important for us as God's people?
What can you do to prepare your heart and your family for a more proper approach to the Christmas season?