Category Archives: Advent 2016

Keeping Christ in Christmas: A Remembrance and a Story


Several years ago, maybe close to 15 or 20, our Sunday School Class gathered for a Christmas party at the home of Wayne and Judy Stokes outside Pembroke.  As always, we ate, talked, laughed enjoying each other’s company and thoughts of Christmas.  Near the end of the party, Randa Luttrull brought out a basket filled with oranges.  She gave each of us one and then she told the following story, which I googled today so that I would get it correct:

Jake was nine years old and for as long as he could remember he lived within the walls of an orphanage. He was one of ten children supported by what meager contributions the orphan home could obtain in donations from local townspeople.

Throughout the year there was very little to eat, but at Christmas there always seemed to be a little bit more than usual. The orphanage seemed a bit warmer and there was time for holiday enjoyment. But most importantly there was the Christmas orange!

Christmas was the only time of year that such a rare treat was provided and it was treasured by each child. They each enjoyed their very own orange and prized it as they slowly savored each juicy section. It was truly the light of their Christmas and the best gift of the season. Jake had been looking forward to his Christmas orange all year long!

On Christmas Eve, Jake somehow managed to track a small amount of mud from his shoes onto the new carpet in the orphanage. He didn’t even notice it had happened. But it was too late and there was nothing he could do to avoid punishment. The punishment was swift and grim. Jake would not be allowed his Christmas orange! It was the only gift he would have received from the harsh world he lived in. Now, after a year of waiting, it would be denied him.

Tearfully Jake pleaded that he be forgiven, but to no avail. He felt hopeless and totally rejected. Jake cried into his pillow all that night and spent Christmas Day feeling empty and alone. He felt that the other children didn’t want to be with a boy who had received such a cruel punishment. Perhaps they feared he would ruin their only day of happiness. Maybe, he reasoned, the gulf between him and his friends existed because they feared he would ask for a little of each of their oranges. Jake spent the day upstairs, alone, in the unheated dormitory. Huddled under his only blanket, he read about a family marooned on an island. Jake wouldn’t mind spending the rest of his life on an isolated island, if he could only have a real family that cared about him.

Bedtime came but Jake couldn’t sleep. How could he say his prayers? How could there be a God in Heaven that would allow a little soul such as he, to suffer so much all by himself? Silently he sobbed as he prayed for the future of mankind, that God might end the suffering in the world, both for himself and all others like him.

As Jake climbed back into bed from the cold, hard floor, a soft hand touched his shoulder, startling him momentarily. He was surprised when an object was silently placed in his hands. The giver disappeared into the darkness, leaving Jake with what, he did not immediately know!

Looking closely at the object in his hand in the dim light, he saw what looked like an orange! Not a regular orange, smooth and shiny, but a very special orange. Inside a patched together peel were segments of nine other oranges. Together they made one whole orange for Jake! The nine other children in the orphanage had each donated one segment of their own precious orange to make a whole orange for Jake.

In my head today, if I allow myself to go there, I can still hear Randa’s alto voice telling the story.  At the end she held up an orange like the one Jake received, patched together and yet whole. I have never forgotten how entwined I became with the story and how deeply moved I was by the woman who told it.  I saw Randa’s generous, caring heart over the years, but for me seeing her face and hearing her voice as she told this story captured a moment of transparency and love that has stayed with me.

I feel certain that she is rejoicing in heaven with our Lord.  I also feel certain that her legacy of kindness and grace will live on in her family and closest friends.  May we all be generous and loving with each other this Christmas and in the year to come.



NO STANGER AT THE MANGER–seeking Christ in the midst of suffering

imageI say to God, my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why am I sad and troubled by my enemies?” My enemies’ insults make me feel as if my bones were broken. They are always saying, “Where is your God?” Why am I so sad? Why am I so upset? I should put my hope in God and keep praising him, my Savior and my God.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭42:9-11‬‬

I went looking for the Christ Child today
As the media images made him seem far away
With faces of children lost in the fray
As friends suffer with pain they can’t keep at bay
As unbelievers scoff at my naivity
‘Where is this Christ of Christmas amid such disray?’
My heart broken, I still looked for Christ Jesus today.
Not in the manager set out on display
But deep down in myself not that far away
I felt his anguish, his love, his heart hurting with mine today.
For the suffering that so heavily weighs
On a world that he suffered and died to save
His voice a whisper, I hear him say
Comfort the people I place in your way
And I will be in Christmas Always.


Nck, 2016

No Stranger at the Manger: Zechariah and Elizabeth

More than once scripture shows the heart of God and his power through the elderly, the barren, taking even dried bones scattered on an ancient battlefield to create living human beings.  God delights in using the weakest, the most crippled, the least likely to display his power.  So it is not unusual that he would choose the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth to bring forth a son, who Jesus would describe with these words:  “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  [‭Matt. ‭11:11‬ ‭NIV‬‬]  The angel Gabriel greeted Zechariah by saying God had heard his prayer followed by the proclamation that he and his wife, though old would have a son.

Call me strange, but I expect Zechariah had not prayed for a child in a good many years.  Certainly, it had been the prayer of his youth and maybe well into middle age, but it is highly unlikely that it had been on his most recent prayer list.  Still way back when, God had heard his prayer and NOW was the time for the answer.  As Pastor Dan told us this morning, write down your prayers, your requests so you can check them off when God answers.  Then you won’t be scratching your head like Zechariah, you’ll be checking off ‘Lord, bless Elizabeth and I with a child’ or your equivalent thereof.  No wonder Zechariah scoffed at Gabriel…can’t you hear the touch of sarcasm in his remark,  ‘what? Now?’  Be careful, God closed his mouth until after the answered prayer had been accomplished and named, John.

Now I doubt Zechariah or Elizabeth were anywhere near the manger physically, seeing as how these old folks were caring for their then three month old son when the Christ Child was born.  Nevertheless, this old faithful couple played just the role God chose for them in the narrative of the nativity and the life of Christ.

Watch out for folks who seem cut off from the joy of Christmas.  Speak to strangers.  Offer assistance.  Ask someone older for help or to go shopping or invite someone to share a conversation or a meal.  It is so easy to fall into being with folks we know, that our circle becomes tight and those on the fringes go unnoticed.  Don’t be a STRANGER.  Let Christ be in Christmas through how You and I treat ALL people this season.

And by the way…

Reach out to  the grumpy old people—wait a minute–I am one of those.  That’s ok, sometimes I need a reminder of what Christmas really is about, too.