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Christmas Is All About Giving
Christmas is all About Giving
Charles and Wesley
Wesley heard the door bell ring and sang out: “I’ll get it!”
He opened the door and had to catch his breath as the cold rawness of the late December day invaded.
On the stoop stood a ragged looking boy who appeared to be the same age as Wesley. He had a pleasant manner, but his worn clothes could not have provided much protection against the miserable weather.
“May I help you?” Wesley asked.
“Yes, thank you. My name is Charles and I am here to collect for the newspaper.”
“Collect what?” Wesley asked.
“The money for the subscription. I collect every month.”
“Just a minute,” Wesley said turning and starting to close the door.
As he did so, another gust of frigid air whipped by and made him gasp. He looked back and noticed Charles was shivering.
“Why don’t you come inside and wait while I get my father?” Wesley asked.
“That would be nice if you’re sure it would be all right.”
Wesley held the door open for Charles and then closed it behind them.
“Please wait here. I’ll be right back.” Wesley said. Charles seemed uneasy, but nodded.
Wesley started off down the main hallway that led from the front door to the living room.
Just before the living room, another hall branched off which led to his father’s office.
Charles watched Wesley disappear around the corner. As he did, his eyes fixed on the most glorious thing he had ever seen. It was a tree, covered with lights and decorations. Without realizing it, Charles walked slowly down the hall, staring at the magnificent tree.
When Wesley got to his father’s office, he was seated at his desk writing. Wesley knocked gently on the open door and said: “Father.”
Wesley’s father continued to look at the paper he was working on for a few seconds. Then he looked up and smiled. “Wesley, how are you? Are you enjoying your holiday?”
“Oh, yes father. Father, there is a boy here collecting for the paper.”
“Oh! Right. Where is he?”
“I asked him to wait in the hall by the door. That’s ok isn’t it? It was so cold outside?
“Yes, yes, yes, of course!” his father said rising from his desk and starting down the hall.
Wesley trotted after him but as they rounded the corner no one was there.
“Where did he go?” Wesley asked.
“Beggin' you pardon!” came a sheepish voice from behind them.
Turning around Wesley and his father saw Charles standing in the living room next to the Christmas tree.
“I told you to wait by the front door!” Wesley said crossly.
“Sorry sir! But I happened to see this wonderful tree, and my feet just kinda carried me here without me tellin' me them to.” Charles said plaintively.
When Charles mentioned his feet, Wesley looked down and noticed that Charles was very nearly barefoot. What shoes he was wearing were so worn that they barely held together.
“Now, now, no need to worry.” Wesley’s Father said in a pleasantly comforting way that put Charles at ease. “My son says that you are here to collect for the paper. Is that right?”
“Yes sir!” Charles replied. “Ten cents if you please sir.”
Wesley’s father stood regarding Charles for a moment. “You look familiar to me. Is your mother’s name Martha?”
“And your father’s name was Bob?” Wesley’s father asked with a sense of hesitation in his voice.
Charles looked away and then slowly lowered his eyes to the floor and nodding slightly whispered, “Yes.”
There followed an uncomfortable silence which, though brief, seemed to allow some of the chill to invade the house.
“Well,” Wesley’s father said brightly, “here’s a dollar.”
Charles took the dollar, carefully folded it and placed it in his pocket. From his other pocket he withdrew a handful of dimes, counted out nine and offered the change to Wesley’s father.
“Now, why don’t you just keep the change?” said Wesley’s father.
“No sir, I couldn’t do that. The paper company wouldn’t like me takin' extra money.”
Wesley’s father shrugged, reached out and took the handful of dimes from Charles. “I have some work to finish. Wesley, will you see Charles out?”
“Certainly father.” Wesley replied.
“This way.” Wesley said motioning in the general direction of the door.
Charles hesitated slightly, then said: “May I ask you a question?”
“I guess so.” Wesley replied.
“Why do you have that tree in your living room?”
Wesley choked on a laugh. “What! That ‘s our Christmas tree.”
“I know that it’s a Christmas Tree. I’ve seen them in stores and on streets before but why is it in your house?” Charles asked.
Wesley realized that Charles was serious and replied: “Well, it’s a decoration. Everybody has a Christmas tree. That’s where the presents are left. Right?”
Charles did not make any reply. By now they had reached the front door. Charles braced himself as Wesley opened the door and the damp cold shot in again. It caught Wesley off guard, but even though Charles was expecting it they both gasped. The cold air blew down the hall, rustling something along the way, momentarily distracting Wesley. When he turned back, Charles was gone, lost in the gathering foggy darkness of that cold Christmas Eve.
Wesley slowly closed the door, turned around, and leaned against it, then walked down the hall into the living room and surveyed the scene. It was a nice tree; tall, fragrant, and full. He reached out and touched the soft needles of the Frasier fir. They yielded gently to his touch and then sprang back into place. The steady colored lights illuminated the branches and reflected off the ornaments making the tree seem to twinkle.
Under the tree were a few presents scattered about. Wesley knew that the next morning, the scene would be very different. The few presents there now would be joined by so many others that it would be difficult to walk around in the room. Wesley mentally reviewed the list of things that he had asked for. It was a long list, but Wesley did not feel that it was extravagant, in fact, the thing he was looking forward to most was a football.
Wesley’s reverie was interrupted by the appearance of the cook announcing dinner. He walked to the dining room and took his usual seat across from his mother. His father was at the head of the table.
“Wesley, good. Let’s have the blessing and eat.” His father said. “Heavenly Father, we thank you for the bounty of this table, and for the many ways that you have blessed us. But most of all we thank you for the gift of your Son whose birth we celebrate this night. Amen.”
When the prayer was finished, the cook quickly placed steaming bowels of soup in front of each of them. Wesley picked up his spoon and absently stirred the soup.
“Something wrong with the soup?” his father asked.
“No father.” Wesley replied. “I was just thinking about that boy.”
“What boy?” his mother asked.
“A boy, Charles, came today to collect for the newspaper subscription.” Wesley replied.
“What about him?” his father asked.
“Well, he was surprised that we had a Christmas tree in the house. I thought everybody had a Christmas tree.” Wesley said.
Wesley’s father put down his spoon, intertwined his fingers and rested his elbows on the table which caused Wesley's mother to frown.”
Wesley, it takes money to buy a tree and all of the decorations.” he said.
“Yes, I know.” Wesley replied. “But Christmas trees don’t cost much.”
“They do when you don’t have much.” Wesley’s father remarked. “The paperboy was Charles Starling.” Wesley’s father said in way of explanation to his wife.”
“Oh, I see.” she replied softly.
“Wesley, a few years ago, about this time of year, there was a fire in the middle of the night across the street from where the Starlings live. Bob Starling heard someone screaming. He ran outside and saw his neighbor standing in the street hysterical because her children were trapped inside her burning house. He ran inside and came out with her two youngest children. Then, even though he was badly burned the first time, he ran in again for the oldest. He never came out. They found his body and the body of the oldest boy a few feet from the front door. They almost made it out.”
“It was eight years ago.” Wesley’s mother said quietly. “I remember, because that was the year that Wesley was so sick. It was a horribly cold and I was up all night with him. In the middle of the night, I could see the light from the fire in the distance. When I heard what happened…well, it was very sad.”
“Yes it was.” Wesley’s father said. “The Starling’s never had much money. But after Bob’s death I heard that things got tight. Judging from the way Charles looked today, they must really be struggling.”
The dinner table was silent.
“Father, mother, would you excuse me please? I’m not hungry.” Wesley said after a few minutes.
“OK son.” Wesley’s father replied.
Wesley walked slowly to his room, fell down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. It didn’t seem like Christmas to him anymore.
Wesley got ready for bed but he couldn’t go to sleep. That wasn’t unusual for Christmas Eve, but this year was different. His restlessness wasn’t because he was excited, but troubled. When he did sleep, he dreamed of fires and worn out shoes.
Morning announced itself by a pale glow through the frosted window of his bedroom but Wesley didn’t get up. Even when he heard his parents moving around he continued to lay in his bed. Finally, there was a gentle knock and his door swung open. “Wesley,” his father said.
“Yes father,” Wesley replied.
“Are you getting up?” his father asked.
“Yes, sir, I’m coming,” Wesley replied.
He got out of bed, slipped his feet into his slippers, put on his robe and headed for the living room.
It was a magnificent sight. The Christmas tree glowed merrily floating on a sea of presents, most of them intended for Master Wesley.
“Wesley, what’s the matter?” His father asked. “Don’t you want to open a present?”
“Yes, well ah, no. Well, it just doesn’t feel right somehow,” Wesley stammered. “I mean, we have all of this, and Charles didn’t even have decent shoes. It just makes me feel sad.”
“I understand son, but we can’t cancel Christmas,” His mother said.
“No, I know, but I was thinking…What if we take our Christmas tree and some presents over to the Starlings?” Wesley said excitedly.
His parents looked at each other.
“That’s a nice thought Wesley,” his father said. “But I’ve heard that Martha Starling is a proud woman.”
“Well, couldn’t we at least try?” asked Wesley.
His parents exchanged glances again, and then, as if of one mind, the three of them began excitedly casting unopened presents aside until a neat pathway was cleared from the tree to the hall.
Wesley’s father grabbed the tree, quickly unplugged it and headed for the front door sloshing water along the way.
Meanwhile Wesley was burrowing through the presents looking for something. Finally, he found one that was about the right size. He held the brightly wrapped package up to his nose and inhaled. Yes, the unmistakable smell of leather, this was the football. He held the package under his arm and headed for the door.
“Wait a minute!” Wesley’s mother exclaimed patting her hair with her hands. “We can’t go like this. We aren’t dressed!”
Wesley and his father stopped dead in there tracks, exchanged looks and the three of them started laughing as they headed for their rooms to change.
At the Starlings
“Merry Christmas mom!” Charles said as he kissed her on the cheek.
“Merry Christmas son!” Martha Starling said kissing him back.
“It’s nice and cozy in here this morning,” Charles said.
“Yes, I lit the stove at dawn. It is Christmas after all,” Martha said.
“That’s fine mom because last night Mr. Mendel's son, at the newspaper office said that I should take some firewood home with me. It should last all day. And, I got a Christmas present for us too.” From behind his back Charles produced two large, plump oranges.
“They’re beautiful! Where did you get them?” Martha asked.
“Old man Cummings, the fruit vendor,” Charles replied.
“Charles, you know I don’t like you taking hand outs,” she said.
“Mom, I know, and I didn’t. Old man Cummings said that I should take them, but I told him that I couldn’t take them without paying for them and that I didn’t have any money. So he said if I helped him put up his stock I could have them in payment. So I did. And, Mr. Mendel's son said that the supplier delivered too much fire wood and it was blocking the alley so I should take some so he didn’t have to pay to have it hauled off.” Charles said. “You know, it’s funny, this is the third year in a row that Old Man Cummings needed help putting his stock up on Christmas Eve and just happened to have two, and only two oranges.”
“Yes, and shouldn’t Mr. Mendel’s son get a new firewood supplier? He certainly seems like he gets a lot of over deliveries of wood,” Martha said.
Charles was quiet for a moment, then said: “You know mom, people remember what dad did.”
“We make our own way,” She replied. After a brief pause she added: “I have a present for you too. I have biscuits ready to bake, fresh butter and some strawberry jam, your favorite. And, I’ve got a soup bone and a little beef and vegetables so we can have a nice hot dinner later.”
“I love jam and biscuits,” Charles exclaimed. He gave his mother a hug and then started toward the counter intending to sample some of the jam when he was startled by a knock on the door.
“Who could that be?” Mrs. Starling asked.
Charles went to the door and opened it. What he saw took him completely by surprise. “Mom, come here, you’re not gonna believe this,” Was all he could say.
Martha hurried to the door. There, just outside was a fully decorated Christmas tree with a large brown box next to it.
Charles walked outside and looked up the street, then down the street. No one was there.
“Well Mom, I don’t think we can just leave this here on the street, can we?”
“I guess not,” She said.
Charles grabbed the tree and carried it inside. Then he went out and got the box. The tree took up half of their living room area.
Martha bent over the box and started removing things. There were two pairs of boy’s shoes and several pairs of socks, a boy’s jacket, some shirts and pants. There was also a lady’s jacket and a couple of dresses. None of the items were new, but they were clean and in very good condition.
At the bottom of the box was half a roasted turkey (still warm), some dinner rolls, and an oddly shaped, wrapped present with a tag that said: “For Charles”.
“We can’t accept this stuff,” Mrs. Starling said.
“Mom, come on. How can we give it back? And,” Charles hesitated, then looked at his feet and continued: “I know Christmas isn’t just for getting presents, but we can never afford anything. I need shoes, and socks, and clothes, and a jacket, and so do you.”
“I know it’s been hard.” Mrs. Starling said. “I guess that we have no choice since we don’t know who left it.”
Charles looked at the tree, then away. He didn’t say anything, but he had a pretty good idea who left the stuff. He’d seen that tree before.
Mrs. Starling looked at Charles, then said: “Well, I’ll go get dinner ready, you open your present.”
Charles leaned against the bare wall and listlessly examined the brightly wrapped package he was holding. After a few minutes he put it in his lap and just stared at the tree. Even without lights (electricity was a luxury they could not afford) the tree was beautiful. “That boy, what was his name? Oh, yes, Wesley. This was the tree I saw at Wesley’s house. But why did he give it to us?” Charles whispered.
“Why haven’t you opened your present Charles?” his mother asked.
“I’m just feeling kind of happy and sad at the same time. It just seems like when I open the present, Christmas will be over, and I want it to last as long as possible.” Charles said.
“I know she said, "listen, St. Boniface’s bells are ringing. Come on Charles, get dressed, we’re going to church!”
“But we don’t have anything to wear.” He said.
“Oh yes we do!” his mother replied holding up the clothes from the box.
They quickly put on the clothes, which fit perfectly. Mrs. Starling took the food off the stove, and they headed outside. It was a cold, crisp day. The sun was shining brightly as they puffed along the six blocks to church feeling cozy and comfortable in their new clothes.
They entered the church and were ushered to a pew near the front of the sanctuary, the only space available in the packed church.
Mrs. Starling entered the pew and Charles occupied the space by the aisle. The congregation was standing and singing “Hark the Herald Angel Sing.” The people on the pew moved down a little to make room for the newcomers. Mrs. Starling noticed that the woman next to her seemed somewhat startled when she looked at her. She was a tall woman, well dressed and serene. She handed her hymnal to Mrs. Starling and whispered: “Here, we’re just starting verse 3.”
“Thank you,” Martha whispered back trying to decipher the smile on the stranger’s face.
Martha shared the hymnal with her son as they sang verses 3, 4, & 5 of the hymn and then sat down.
She leaned over and whispered: “The woman next to me gave me the oddest look. It was like she recognized me but I’m sure I’ve never seen her before.”
Charles leaned forward a little and looked at the woman. She looked vaguely familiar but he didn’t exactly recognize her. “Probably someone I’ve collected from,” he thought, "but why would she recognize mom?”
Just then, the man sitting next to her leaned forward and looked straight at him. Charles gasped and leaned back against the pew in a panic. “It’s the man at the Christmas tree house, “ Charles thought. “That must be his wife next to mom. She didn’t recognize mom, she recognized the clothes. Of all the churches to go to, and of all the pews to sit on, we sit right next to them.”
Charles felt sick. He wanted to get up and run. He tried to catch his breath. “This is silly. I haven’t done anything wrong.”
The preacher approached the pulpit: “Merry Christmas!” he said.
“Merry Christmas!’ echoed back from the congregation.
“As I was praying about this morning's message I kept thinking about the conversations I hear leading up to Christmas---‘What do you want for Christmas?’ What did you get him for Christmas?’ and today, I have heard people telling what they got or gave. I kept wondering why there is so much attention focused on giving. Then it occurred to me that Christmas is all about giving. Think about it---if you take the presents away from Christmas, you are left with Thanksgiving. Some would argue that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. But, don’t presents add a dimension of anticipation and fun to Christmas which we would miss? Why is that? Where did the whole gift giving thing come from anyway?’
“The standard answer is that it is patterned after the Wise Men. Those mysterious Magi who show up with precious gifts for Jesus and then disappear and are never heard from again. But the truth is that the Magi did not start the gift giving, their presents merely acknowledged its start.”
“No, it was God who started the gift giving, both by example and by His desire.”
'God gave Zacharias an angelic visitation in the temple and the promise of a son who would prepare the way for Messiah.
'God gave Elisabeth a baby named John in her old age;
'God gave Mary an angelic visit to foretell her miraculous conception.
‘God gave Joseph a dream to mend his broken heart.
‘God gave Elisabeth a prophetic word to greet Mary on her arrival.
‘God gave Mary a safe place to deliver her son.”
Wesley wasn't feeling well. Every time the preacher said the word 'gave' it was like a drum beat in his head. He couldn't shake the feeling that he had stolen the clothes he was wearing. He wanted to jump up and run out. He grabbed the back of the pew in front of him.
‘God gave [boom] the shepherds the sign of the manger.
‘God gave [boom] the Magi a star to follow.
‘God gave [boom] His Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Charles felt like everyone was looking at him. "This is ridiculous," he thought. "I haven't done anything wrong!"
‘Jesus gave [boom] obedience to his father.
‘Jesus gave [boom] His life for our sins.
‘Jesus died on a tree.”
The drum inside Charles's head skipped a beat. "A tree," Charles said softly...questioning. "Jesus died on a tree," he whispered.
"That beautiful Christmas tree we enjoy so much this time of year reminds of Christ's birth but it hides a darker truth," the pastor continued. "That truth is that Jesus came to die for me...and for you."
Charles remembered the Christmas tree in their home a short distance away. He pictured it in his mind and as he did so it changed into the beautifully illuminated vision he had first seen at Wesley's house. As he watched the ornaments began to shrivel, slowly at first, then with increasing speed. As each ornament shrank to a certain size it would pop with a sound like that of a drumbeat and release a puff of dark smoke which would form the word: "Lied, stole, cheated, or coveted" and a date. Then the smoke drifted down and gathered at the base of the tree.
Within a few minutes the bulbs were popping so quickly it sounded like a drum roll.
Finally, the ornaments were all gone. Then the branches began to turn brown and wither until they were no longer able to support the lights which crashed down to the floor igniting the cloud of sin and the tree.
Charles walked slowly toward the flames until he was only a few feet away. The tree was no longer recognizable but as the flames died away Charles could see that what was left was a cross. Not one of the pleasant, photogenic crosses he was used to seeing, but an ugly, grotesque cross with a decidedly serpentine sheen.
Charles approached the cross, and reached out to touch it. As his fingers made contact he shuddered as a wave of frigid air invaded his lungs. He looked down. His clothes and hands were filthy. He gasped and was overwhelmed by a sense of guilt and shame.
In the distance, Charles could hear the preacher's voice. "The cross means death. Not just physical death but spiritual death as well."
As the preacher spoke the cross began leaning toward Charles. He backed away, tripped and fell and began crawling backwards toward the door. By now the cross was falling towards him. Charles rolled over and began crawling as fast as he could tearing his clothes to shreds in the process.
"It is God's desire to give you the gift of salvation. Jesus will save you from the cross...," the preacher said.
As Charles crawled the cross increased in size and sprouted long hideous thorns which resembled fangs. Charles stumbled to his feet and began to run. As he did the cross continued to increase in size. It was massive now. Escape was impossible. It was going to impale Charles with the thorns and crush the life out of him.
"Jesus will save you ...if you ask him,"
Just as the cross was about to crush him Charles leaped forward with his arms outstretched and yelled: "Jesus, save me!" He felt two arms catch him and he was back in the pew.
Everyone including the preacher was looking at him. He was soaked with sweat, his arms straight out in front of him. His outburst had not been confined to his dream.
The preacher was smiling at him. "Did he?" the preacher asked.
"Beggin' your pardon sir. I didn't mean to interrupt you."
"Did He save you?"
Charles looked down for minute, then down the pew. It was difficult to describe how he felt. The sense of guilt and shame was gone, replaced by a sense of joyful sadness. Charles knew that he had been saved the instant he cried out and that made him happy, but he was sad that Jesus had to face the cross so that he didn't.
"Yes sir," Charles said. I didn't know what you were talkin' about at first. I've tried really hard to be good and take care of my mother since my dad died and I have been good. But I got to feelin' real guilty about something this mornin'.
"You see," the preacher said "sin is anything we do which doesn't please God, and since God is perfect, and we aren't, we are going to sin, no matter how hard we try. Sin separates us from God and that does not please Him so He provides a way to fix it...Jesus.”
"Christmas trees are all dressed up to be as pretty as we can possibly make them, and they represent the birth of Christ. That sounds all warm and fuzzy, but- it- isn't. Jesus didn't come for a vacation. He came because we are all sinners and we need Him to save us. When we look at Christmas trees we are looking at the cross. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice He pays for our sins and we are born again. Permanently restored to God's presence."
Happy Birthday Charles
Back at home Charles stood staring at the Christmas tree. He had never felt so clean even though it had been awhile since he had a bath.
As he admired the tree something caught his attention.
There, almost hidden among the shinning balls, icicles, and garland was an ugly little cross hanging by a red ribbon. He put his hand out, fingered the cross, then removed it from the tree.
Charles looked down at it and said softly: "Happy birthday Jesus!" He closed his hand around the cross, smiled and added: "And happy birthday Charles!"
Sum n = -1/12
where n are natural numbers.