Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton - December 18, 2005


The night the carolers brought gifts and baskets of food


          Few things excite a preacher more than finding a good story that can “make” a sermon. I have often built a sermon around an inspiring story. Good stories, like “a spoonful of sugar,” help the sermon medicine go down.

          Such a story came to me this week from my friend Ronald Smith. Ron’s common name reminds me of the question asked by Nathanael in John’s Gospel, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" The answer, of course, is yes – Jesus did! God is able to do extraordinary things with ordinary places and people – like the Smith family.

          In his own words, I will let Ron tell about the story of the uncommon Christmas shared by his family in 1965:

          “I was playing baseball in my side yard the day my 34-year-old father was brought home from work. He looked as pale as a ghost. From home, Dad was rushed to the hospital. That day, as a 10-year-old, I nearly lost my father. He had a massive heart attack.

          “My precious young mother faced the crisis of her life in our small industrial town of Millville, New Jersey. My sister Donna was 13, my brother Doug was 4, and my sister Deb wasn’t even one. So mother faced the challenge of becoming the primary caregiver bravely with four young children and a husband who had always enjoyed strength and health but was now in critical condition with a dim prognosis.

          “The heart attack left Dad disabled. My family moved from New Jersey to Ohio so Dad could be near several of his brothers and sisters. It was a great comfort to be near them during this time of uncertainty.

          “At that time no one in my family professed a personal faith in Christ – we were not Christians. My family had respect for Christians and churches, but we had not yet experienced Christ personally. Christmas that year found my mother and father, now disabled from work, in a tiny rented bungalow in eastern Ohio with four children.

          “Since Dad was off work we spent some ‘awesome’ family time together leading up to that Christmas. I am sure Mom and Dad saw life ‘as through a mirror dimly,’ but for the children’s part, our joy grew to have so much time with Daddy face to face.

          “As a family we decorated our tiny new home, making it ready for the holidays. I can still close my eyes and see our Christmas tree in the living room on that Christmas Eve. I still remember the outfit my beautiful baby sister was wearing. I remember the knock on our door that Christmas Eve – it was an unexpected knock. As my father opened the door, a Christmas carol broke the silence on that cold wintry night. The people outside were singing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

          “As the carolers from the little country Methodist Church sang, they brought beautiful baskets of food and some gifts for the children. Even at the young age of ten I could discern from the misty-eyed countenance of Mom and Dad that something overwhelming had entered our home that night. It was the entry of Christmas grace.

          “The carolers were right, the Lord had come. To this day I cannot fully explain why I believe this, but I sincerely believe as a result of that event my family was never the same. Something significant was added to our lives. Through a knock on the door, a carol and gifts of love carried in the hearts of a few country Methodists, love came down at Christmas.

          “Within a decade every member of my family accepted Christ and became actively involved in the Methodist Church. My brother Doug and I became ordained ministers. Mom and a well-recovered Dad are victorious Christians. In hind sight, the knock at the door that night was none other than the Lord who said, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock, if any man hears my voice and opens the door I will come in to him, and sup with him.’

          “The God, who in the spirit of Christmas sends plain country folk from little churches like the Methodist Church in rural Ohio to sing on doorsteps proclaiming joy, laid an eternal claim on my life. The Christmas carol, ‘Joy to the World,’ has become a testimony for me. There is a portion of that song that says, ‘He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.’

          “I still cannot explain the depths of the mystery of Christ’s love. I only know that for a young, lost family ‘cursed’ with a near fatal heart attack living in a financial bind in a strange location in eastern Ohio, the entry of grace made love come down at Christmas.

          “There is no way to measure the value of a Christmas carol sung in the night, a food basket, a good work, ‘cups of water’ given in the name of Christ. But I can assure you of this, 40 Christmases later, in the heart of a seminary president and a family named Smith, the song is still alive.”

          Today Ron is president of Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Ms. I share his Christmas story in the hope that God will do it again! + + + +