A Short Story for Christmas-Time Reading
Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. Ps 30:5b NIV
CHAPTER NINE (click here for earlier chapters)
The Dodson’s pulled into their driveway about ten-thirty and by the time they got all their snow boots, mittens, and hats removed, it was nearly ten-forty-five. Pastor Bruce stuck his head into the refrigerator, looking for a bit of food. With the emergency at Mary’s duplex, he didn’t have a chance to eat dinner down at the shelter. Carol took the kids upstairs to cleanup and put on some fresh clothes. Pastor Bruce found a leftover chicken leg and a piece of cheese, and just as he was pouring himself a glass of milk, the phone rang.
“Bruce, this is John,” the caller said. “Bad news. We’re over here at the church and the police are here. Somebody broke in, Bruce. They stole the music instruments. They’re all gone. All of it. My drum set, the keyboard, Dave’s guitar. They even took Dan’s bass. I’m afraid it might be my fault, Pastor. After you left, Dave, Andy, and I went down the street to grab a bite to eat. I think I might have left the back door unlocked while we were gone. The police say a neighbor saw an older man with a white beard, getting into a moving truck parked in the church lot about a half hour ago. Some woman was driving the truck. The police are checking it out, but…”
“OK, John,“ Pastor Bruce said excitedly. “I’ll grab Carol and the kids right away and we’ll be right there.”
Pastor Bruce slumped down in a kitchen chair as he hung up the phone. The chicken leg no longer looked all that appetizing. He took another drink of milk and then walked slowly up the stairs to break the news to Carol.
Now I have to be totally honest with you here and tell you that Pastor Bruce was pretty angry when he heard the news about the break-in. Music was such an important part of every service at the church, and without any instruments, it was pretty difficult to imagine having much of a church service, let alone at Christmas. While the thought of a Christmas program without music kept the entire Dodson family pretty quiet as they packed into their van, it was made worse by the unspoken worry that rolled around Pastor Bruce’s mind. While he never spoke it out, could it be that Nick might somehow be involved with the church break-in?
Hopefully the police report was wrong, but Pastor Bruce just couldn’t shake his unspoken fear that somehow Nick would not be at the midnight service like he promised. Maybe he had terribly under-estimated Nick’s situation. Why did he choose to trust this total stranger he had met only a few hours earlier at the shelter? While Nick seemed like a very nice, caring man, maybe Pastor Bruce had been way too trusting of him. Well, time will tell. But now, the big question is what to do with the Christmas Eve candle light service?
By the time the Dodson’s pulled into the church parking lot, Bruce and Carol had pretty much decided that the program had to go on as planned. Sure, it would be hard to pull off the entire service without the instruments, but fortunately, the Dodson’s were pretty fair singers. With the help of Andy, who was a good singer as well, Pastor Bruce hoped the congregation could make it through at least Joy to the World and Silent Night.
John, the drummer, was the first to speak. “I’m so sorry, Pastor. I never thought this would happen. Do you suppose that Nick guy had something to do with this?”
“John, shame on you.” Carol snapped back. “How could a musician with that much talent be that evil?”
“Well, guys, I guess we’ll know in about twenty minutes.” Pastor Bruce said. “People are starting to arrive. Let’s get our heads together here and see what we can come up with without the instruments.”
Pastor Bruce and Andy huddled over in the corner, attempting to put together a tentative program that was long on talk and short on music. Edward and Joy were standing with Carol at the door of the church, handing out candy canes and programs to all the parishioners. About eleven-forty five, in walks Nick. Joy was the first to say hello.
“Howdy, Joy.” Nick replied with a smile. “Merry Christmas everyone. Hope I’m not too late. I ended up talking to some of the folks down at the shelter, and well, you know me and people!”
Halfway across the room, Pastor Bruce noticed that Nick had just walked in. He was admittedly surprised to see Nick. “Maybe he’s returning to the scene of the crime,” Pastor Bruce thought to himself, “just so no one would suspect him.”
Pastor Bruce walked down the aisle to the back of the church, meeting Nick near the last pew.
“Well, Nick, bad news.” Pastor Bruce said with his voice near a whisper.
“Bad news? What’s up?” Nick replied.
“The church had a break-in tonight. All the music instruments are gone. Including the bass.”
“No, Pastor, no. How in the world?…”
Pastor Bruce cut Nick off, “The police said a neighbor saw an older man with a beard getting into a truck. Some gal was driving. You didn’t see anything did you Nick?”
“Pastor, you know I was over at the shelter. You don’t suspect me, do you?”
“Of course not, Nick,” Pastor Bruce said, turning his attention to the growing crowd. “Just asking. I suppose if we don’t have any instruments tonight, you won’t need to stick around if you don’t want to.”
“Pastor, I just don’t know what to say.” Nick replied. “I really hope the folks that stole those instruments get their just dessert. There is way too much lack of caring in this whole world. Stealing music instruments from a church. Just think of it. Coal people. That’s what we call ’em up north. Just bad ‘ole coal people. Seems like there are more coal people every year, don’t it, Pastor.”
“You’ll have to excuse me, Nick. We have a service to plan.”
Realizing he was just in the way, Nick stood at the rear of the sanctuary, looking sadly at the empty stage. His first thought was to slip out the door and leave the situation alone. For the first time since he found himself sitting at the long wooden table at the shelter, Nick, or should I say, Santa, was now wondering what this whole evening was all about.
“Why am I here?” Nick whispered to himself. “Is this just a bad dream? How can I just wake up and get out of this mess?”
Just as Nick was about to turn around and walk out, Joy came running down the aisle. Tugging at Nick’s baggy red pants, she motioned to the pews. By this time, the sanctuary was nearly filled. Nick looked up at the clock on the side wall. Eleven fifty-seven.
Who would have ever dreamed that Santa, or should I say, Nick, would be standing in a church sanctuary at 11:57 on Christmas Eve? On any other Christmas Eve over the last 1,700 years, he would be standing tall in his gift-laden sleigh. The reindeer would be pawing the ground, snorting with anticipation to hear Santa’s famous charge, “”Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
But tonight everything is different. Tonight Santa Claus sits in the back pew of a small quiet church in a small town, somewhere in the middle of an American state, called Iowa.
It was a beautiful Christmas Eve. One of those picture-perfect moon-lit evenings when the fresh-fallen snow hangs so gently from the boughs of the evergreen trees. Everyone in town, except those at the Christmas Eve candlelight service, is now tucked warmly in their beds, awaiting their annual midnight visit from ‘ole Saint Nick.
With Joy, and now Edward, standing beside him, Nick turned his attention to the stage. Carol had turned off the sanctuary lights and the only light in the room emanated from the four Advent candles that decorated the church altar. Nick and the children quickly took a seat in the back pew, just as Pastor Bruce was stepping up to the microphone. He opened the evening’s activities by welcoming the people and then telling them a little story.
“You know, folks. Tonight we were planning on having a wonderful candle light service with lots of music. As those of you who attend church regularly here know, we really love our church music around this place. As a matter of fact, our band had an absolutely marvelous music rehearsal tonight around eight o’clock. You should have been here. John, Dave, and Andy were cooking right along with some wonderful new arrangements of a few of your favorite Christmas carols. Dan, our bass player, was not able to be here with us this evening, and in a way so typical to God, we had a wonderful gentleman named Nick volunteer to play bass for Dan tonight. As a matter of fact, I see Nick sitting back there in the back pew with my daughter Joy, and son, Edward, right now. Welcome, Nick! Glad you are here with us tonight. Welcome to Christmas eve in Iowa.
Carol and I met Nick tonight over at the shelter. He was helping us serve Christmas dinner to our wonderful guests. A call came in from Mary Willson. Some of you know Mary. She works down at the hospital, helping manage the cafeteria. Well, Mary was having some heating problems over at her new home and Nick and I were so blessed to go over this evening and help Mary get her fireplace going. In the process, I got to know one of the most generous souls I think I’ve ever met. Nick not only got Mary’s fireplace up-and-running, but he also gave my kids one of the biggest Christmas lessons they’ll ever learn in life.
You see, Christmas is all about serving others. Jesus came to serve, not to be served. Our God loves us so much, that He sent His Son to serve us, to love us, to nurture us. In the process of serving, Jesus of Nazareth, about three hundred years before St. Nicholas ever existed, set in place a model for all of us to follow. Tonight, I had the extreme pleasure of seeing what one man can do when he sets out to do one thing only: faithfully serve God and others.
Now, as I was saying…tonight, we had planned to open our service with a wonderful new arrangement of Silent Night, Holy Night. There’s only one problem with that plan. It got interrupted. Earlier this evening, I failed to lock our back door, and unfortunately a couple of needy people came in and apparently borrowed our music equipment. I’m assuming they will be bringing them back to us when they’re done with them, but for tonight, I guess we’ll just have to make do with the very best of instruments that God has given us…our human voices.
As we sing Silent Night tonight, let me remind you (motioning to Nick in the back pew) that the very first time this song was song back on December 24th, 1818 was at the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria! And as the story goes, the words to Stille Nacht were written by Father Josef Mohr and the melody by headmaster Franz Gruber. Apparently, the church organ was not in good working order for the Christmas Eve service, so Father Moher asked Mr. Gruber to compose a melody with guitar accompaniment so the congregation would have a Christmas carol to sing that evening.
Well, friends, in that tradition, since our musical instruments are apparently ‘out of order’ tonight, let’s sing Silent Night, Holy Night…acappella. For those of you who don’t speak Italian or Latin, that means voices only.”
As Andy and Pastor Bruce began to sing, Carol Dodson took a single candle from the Advent candles on the church altar. Holding the candle carefully, she walked over to Pastor Bruce who lit his candle from the one Carol held. Together they walked down the church aisle, lighting the candles of those who stood nearest the center aisle. Within minutes, everyone and everything in the sanctuary was emitting a bright yellow glow. Pastor Bruce finally reached the rear pew where Joy, Edward, and Nick stood together hand in hand. Pastor Bruce smiled at Nick and lit his candle. Nick leaned over and finished the candle lighting ceremony by touching the wicks of Joy’s and Edward’s candles with the flame of his.
Just as their candles started to burn ever so brightly, Nick reflected upon his evening and Pastor Bruce’s little story of the familiar Christmas hymn, Silent Night, Holy Night. Holding Joy’s little hand in one hand and the bright candle in his other, Nick joined in the song with his fine bass voice blending with the familiar harmonies of this age-old hymn. It’s at this very moment, Nick, or should I say Santa Claus, closed his eyes, and whispered, “God, please encourage us tonight. Give us Your peace. Amen.”
The town hall clock struck midnight and just like that, the jingle of sleigh bells is heard in the distance. Soon every home will have been visited by Santa Claus and his famous reindeer.
Copyright & All Rights Reserved December, 2016