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Like a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot tea, the year has melted away. One more time, the tree’s been placed, the lights have gone up, and holiday music fills the rooms. It’s Christmas time again. For the rest of my days, there shall never be another story that shows forth the meaning of Christmas more than the one I will tell you now. If I were to recount it in a biblical narrative, it would go something like this…
“It came to pass that there was, in a small, American town, a family of modest origins and means. They numbered six, that family did—a father, a mother, and four sons. Hard-working folks, they started a business, maintained a stable home, and trained their children in the ways of God. They were not perfect parents, a truth they well knew, though such was their heartfelt desire.
“As time went by, troubling signs began to appear. The oldest son was struggling. They prayed. Hard and often, but the years scrolled by, and the spiral continued and deepened. Nothing they did could stop his slide. Fear was a constant companion.
“In desperation, the father and the mother raised their faces to the Almighty. Individually, he began to work within their hearts, freeing them from their own sins and healing their own inner crippling. He began to strengthen them up. Their sons, looking on, could see the change.
“Meanwhile, the crisis deepened. By now, the prodigal son was addicted, lost, missing in the world of the streets. The father’s heart was broken, and so he announced one day. ‘I am going to look for him. I have to know that I tried.’
“With the help and company of a close friend, the father set out. Far, far away from their clean and cozy small-town worlds, the two entered the filthy, dangerous world of the homeless. From dawn to near-midnight, they searched every day. ‘Have you seen my son?’ the father would ask everyone they met, and he’d hold out a heart-wrenching photo.
“For six long days in the searing heat, they looked. Stepping over feces and used needles, they saw other people’s children passed out, folded over, shooting up, but in all the hell of the encampments, they could not find the son.
“Now it just so happened that on their final day of searching, the Almighty spoke to the mother at home who was waiting. ‘They will not find him,’ he said, ‘but it will do the greater work if he hears that his father came looking for him.’ And the heart of the mother felt peace.
“Just as God had said, it came to pass. They returned home without the object of their fevered search, but a mere seven days later, he was found by two policemen who surely saved his life. From their pillows that dark midnight, the two exhausted parents gave thanks. The prodigal son was done running at last.”
This is a tiny piece of our story. As I write today, our oldest son (the “seven egger”), is home for Christmas. He is healthy and strong, clean, and of sound mind. He lives and works at the rehab facility from which he graduated. He’s a blessing to other men who are walking the path of recovery. We’re so grateful.
There shall never be a Christmas that I don’t think of this, for my husband’s search for our son is a beautiful illustration of the Christmas story. When a child went missing, his father went to find him. The horror of his circumstances was no deterrent; nay, it was, rather, the attractor that drew him to search for his son. It was his paternal love that compelled him, the attitude of his heart that propelled him.
So it is with us. Our own estrangement and besetting sins are no deterrent to God. Rather, they are the great attractors. We are in need, and he knows it. Lost, and he’s come to save. Estranged, and he’s come to reconcile us despite our filth and our mess.
This is the great wonder and hope of Christmas. This is why Jesus came. No matter what we’ve done, no matter where we’ve been, we have a family that invites. A perfect father, a perfect savior and brother, a perfect counselor and guide. The three in holy trinity await our full ‘yes.’
Meanwhile, as we live on this side of heaven, we have hope, consolation, peace, and joy in all things. The truth of Christmas does not erase all hard things. It provides us with everything we need in the hard things.
For those who shall face empty chairs this year, please hear this small, curly-headed mother speaking. I have prayed for you, that the divine Presence would occupy the empty chairs, those spaces left by loss. I have prayed that you will feel it, hear whispers, see glimmers of him throughout this holiday time. That you will know that he can be trusted. That you will know that you are loved.
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas! I’ll see you in the New Year.
Rhonda, America’s small, caffeinated mom
Every Saturday morning in the 9:45 a.m. segment, you can hear Rhonda and Bo Snerdley talking about the week’s essay. You are welcome, friend, to listen in on 77 WABC.