Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Christmas Eve Story

It was a Christmas Eve about fifteen or so years ago. My family and I lived in the parsonage of St. John United Church of Christ in Cannelton, Indiana, which was located within spitting distance of the church building. Obviously, since I lived in the parsonage, I was the pastor of the church.

Christmas Eve services have always been uniquely special to me. The liturgies that I have written almost always consist of scripture readings of the Christmas story alternating with carols. The service ends with the singing of Silent Night, with the first verse sung in the original German—Stille Nacht—because of the congregation’s German heritage. As the hymn is sung, the lights in the sanctuary dim and candles held by each worshiper are lighted. By the final verses, the entire sanctuary is aglow in candle light.

I, too, am aglow with the light of the spirit of Christmas, as are the majority of those in the sanctuary. There are quite a few smiles and a bunch hugs as I stand of the steps of the church wishing each person a blessed Christmas.

That Christmas Eve fifteen or so years ago I followed my family the few steps from the church to the parsonage. It was a cold, freezing night. On the porch of the parsonage I noticed some white ice. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered what had formed the white ice. But it was no mystery I wanted to solve on a Christmas Eve; my family and I had other wonderful things to do.

As I entered the front door, I heard my wife’s voice, somewhat louder than usual, exclaim. “The ham’s gone!” In the kitchen I found my wife and sons standing by our open refrigerator door. A quick inventory revealed that not only was our Christmas ham missing, but so was a plastic gallon of milk. That explained the white ice on the porch: the thief must have dropped the milk while leaving the parsonage.

The four of us stood in the kitchen without speaking. Each of us thought about the Christmas Day meal that we had been anticipating. The warm glow of the spirit of Christmas seemed to drain from us.

We did a quick inventory of the house and discovered that only the ham and milk were missing. All of the Christmas presents remained under the tree. Even my wallet, which I had left on the desk of my study when I donned my alb and stole for the service, had not been touched. Evidently whoever stole from us was hungry.

And that made the mystery even greater. All anyone who was hungry had to do was ask me and from the emergency food closet in the church or from my own larder, I would have given them much more food than a ham and a gallon of milk. I have never understood this theft.

I thought of that Christmas Eve fifteen or so years ago when I read in Mimi’s blog that he house had been robbed the day after Christmas. I identify with her feeling of being violated—a feeling that anyone whose house has ever been burgled must share. That feeling can be especially strong at Christmas time, undermining the warm glow of the spirit of Christmas.

My story of that Christmas Eve has a rather strange ending. Christmas morning, as I was preparing for the Christmas Day service, there was a knock on the parsonage door. Standing on the porch was Hargis, the mayor of the town and president of St. John’s congregation. He handed me a ham—a ham much larger than the one that had been taken from our refrigerator the night before.

Hargis said to me, “People keep giving me these hams and I keep giving them away. I hope you and your family can use this. Merry Christmas, Reverend.”


  1. Can we rule out the theory that the thief stole the ham to give to the mayor as a Christmas present? In any event, I'm glad you were compensated by the kind mayor.

  2. You should send that in to Reader's Digest or something...that's the type of story that people like to read, what with the happy surprise ending.

    Have you ruled out that it WAS the Mayor?

  3. Interesting tale, whatever the reason behind the arrival of the new ham.

    The image of soft glowing light in the sanctuary was beautiful. Think I'll hold on to that for awhile.



  4. Always a good story from you.

    BTW, You have been TAGGED. This one is fun and easy.

    As always; your choice to participate and tag. The rules are to your interpretation.

  5. Nope. Hargis couldn’t have been the culprit. He was sitting in a pew with his family right before my eyes during the Christmas Eve service. Besides, I see no motivation: being a Republican, he was the wealthiest dude in town. Come to think of it, he owned half the town.

  6. Great story, Nick. It's amazing how things happen. As I was reading, my eyes jumped ahead to the name Hargis and for a second I thought there was a Scottish haggis on your doorstep!

    Tell Alex to stop by a new blog called The Kat's Pajamas and check out what's happening at the Hyggehus


  7. God always works it our somehow....I've finally realized this. And I look forward to it!!

  8. God always works it our somehow....I've finally realized this. And I look forward to it!!

  9. It worked out OK! But doesn’t it always?

  10. How sad that someone was so hungry, or had a hungry family, that he/she felt the need to break into your house and take your milk and ham.

    But God does work in mysterious ways. I'm glad you and your family didn't go without.

  11. Maybe the theft was from someone who reall ydidn't know you or your generosity.

    When i worked for Read Canada (a program that gives away books and holds reading circles for children to promote reading) a young girl stole a book our of my bag one day. I caught her, and asked why she stole it when she knew we were giving them away. She told me that everytime she got a book they gave her a book for her age (she was 11) and she was embarassed because she couldn't read. So she stole one of the "baby books" she called them. I felt horrible.. .she just wanted to read. Of course i told her that stealing was never a good solution, and if she really wanted help to learn to read that i would help her privately. Thankfully she wasn't stubborn and took me up on my offer, and i like to thin ki made a difference. She graduated from high school three years ago and sent me a really nice e-mail and picture thanking me. So that's worth it to me.

    But back to my point, she didn't want anyone to know her "secret'. So maybe there was a parishoner that really would have been embarassed to ask. Maybe it was the mayor.. lol...

  12. So everyone got fed.
    Nice story, Nick!
    But they always are!

  13. wow...that's awesome!!! stories like that really get's me...

  14. That is a wonderful tale of grace.

  15. Sometimes there is real shame in being unable to feed your family.

    The mayor sounds like one sweet, thoughtful guy.

  16. You know above and beyond the tale of the ham taken and is your imagry of the service that touches me most...I wish I could have been blessed to attend one of your services Nick.
    You make me keen to go back to church, to our dear Pastor Kevin. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
    May you and the cat who owns you behave and have a great New Year's Eve we will toast some Welch's sparkling grape in your honor at the Bartotto home.

  17. Should you ever be passing along awards I know I'm a little nutty and you know my all time favorite song in the world...."What's the Buzz" from Godspell, no lie there at all.
    I am working on feeling better, found out today my father is diabetic too....guess now that he is sober his body is working differently...something him and I have in common.
    I am sorry Nick I am babbling tonight, I do that when my mind is confuzzled....maybe I need a cat to cuddle....oh yeah cats and I have issues, but I do want to say both Allen and I love your "Have you talked to your Cat about Catnip" graphic....we chuckled over that.

  18. Does this mean the thief is going to bring my Xanax back?

  19. It certainly had a nice ending.

    Happy New Year.


  20. Gracious story, Rev Saint. I can see Hargis giving away many hams. He was quite the politician. You officiated his funeral, didn’t you, with half the state legislature, the governor, and a Congressman or two there? Now, that’s a story you should write about.

  21. You know, the Lord gives and He takes away, but sometimes He does it the other way around.
    Candelight Christmas eve services are the best thing about christmas.
    Hope that You and Alex have a wonderful New year !

  22. Mmmm there's a moral in that story somewhere. x