On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.Matthew 2:11
This one is kinda long, folks. But I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad if you read ahead. The picture above is me in the easy chair I sit in every morning to drink my coffee. Why not grab a cup, sit back, and read a Christmas story that’s bound to give you a mild case of the sniffles.
Last night, I received one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten. I want to tell you all about it, but I need to explain a few things first.
This fall has been pretty tough on me. Mental and Physical exhaustion led to a 6-week medical leave, all in preparation for heart surgery coming up a week from now.
It’s a condition called Hyper Trophic Cardio Myopathy, which means part of my heart wall has gotten too thick and isn’t letting the blood move through at an appropriate rate. Mostly, it leaves me dizzy, out of breath, and sensitive to sunlight.
I’ve been back at church for a few weeks, getting a couple Sundays in before the big day, but last Sunday was just too much. I decided I just can’t do the 19th. It’s the day before my surgery, and I can’t tax myself that hard.
Although having a Sunday off sounds like something a pastor would love, I’ve had too many! So I was pretty bummed. Especially because I wouldn’t get to finish my advent sermon series “Redeeming Christmas”.
This year, we’ve talked about Christmas as God redeeming God’s people through Christ, and along the way I’ve “redeemed” some pretty annoying Christmas Songs: Wham’s “Last Christmas”, Mariah Carey’s “all I want for Christmas is you,” and last Sunday, I even redeemed “Grandma Got run over by a reindeer.” (If you’d like to watch the sermons, you can check them out on our facebook page: Facebook.com/wamegoumc. )
For next week, I was going to redeem a song that people either love, or love to hate: The Christmas Shoes. The word that comes to me when I hear this song is maudlin. Do you know that word? Oxford’s definition is: self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental,
How couldn’t you call “The Christmas Shoes” anything but maudlin?
Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my mama, please
It’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size
Could you hurry, sir, daddy says there’s not much time
You see she’s been sick for quite a while
And I know these shoes would make her smile
And I want her to look beautiful if mama meets Jesus tonight
I mean, give me a break! The song is obviously designed to be manipulative, eliciting unwelcome tears from the listener. I was going to have a field day with how this song tries to force Christmas sentimentality down our throats.
But then this happened:
My dog, Tom Petty, is pretty special. He’s super smart. We’ve counted at least 30 English words he knows and responds to. He is a full member of our family, and certainly knows how to give and receive love and devotion.
Yesterday, when I decided I couldn’t preach on the 19th, I got very discouraged and frustrated. There were more than a few tears. Tom jumped on the couch, put his face right next to me, and proceeded to lick the tears from my face. Awww!
Then, a little bit later, he asked to be let outside. When he returned a few moments later, he had a giant bone in his mouth. This was a bone Jan had given him earlier in the week.
He hasn’t had a lot of bones before, but when he received this one, it was at if his instincts just kicked in. He carried the bone around the house, looking for a place to bury it. Eventually, he took the bone outside, and we watched him, for the first time, actually dig a hole in the backyard and bury the bone!
Fast-forward to last night, after my moment of defeat. Tom appeared at the door, with his prized possession in his mouth. The bone is about the size of his head, and we laughed at our cute pup bringing the bone back in. I didn’t think much of it, until…
Now, say what you will, but I can only interpret this one way. My dog knew how much I was hurting, so he went outside, dug up his precious bone, and left it for me in my chair. A Christmas gift to cheer me up.
If a dog like Tom can be that giving and caring, maybe there’s hope for us humans. Maybe I can face each tough day to come with a reminder that I’m loved.
Now if that doesn’t bring a few tears to your eyes, I’d be surprised.
Which brings me back to “The Christmas Shoes”. I feel like I just lived out my own version of the song, and the tears Tom’s gift brought to my eyes could only be rivaled by the expression on the face of that boy’s mom when he brought home some special shoes for her to wear.
I’ve decided. I don’t care if the song is a little maudlin. My dog taught me that I don’t think “The Christmas Shoes” needs to be redeemed at all. A heartfelt gift at Christmas time is nothing to snort at.
Or, maybe, for you, it is. That’s fine. All I can say is, someday circumstances may change, and you may end up
Changing your tune.