If you want a song that’ll put you in a melancholy mood, listen to Mavis Staples sing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" on the album Johnny Cash released just before he died. Mavis Staples sang that song years ago at the Grand Ole Opry with Johnny and his wife June. There’s no doubt that song took on a deeper meaning for Johnny Cash after his wife’s death. It would be no surprise if her death had a lot to do with that song being on his last album.
This Christmas, as with every Christmas, many families experience the pain of the broken circle as someone dearly loved is no longer present due to their death. The season’s colors may be red and green, but many will have their soul dressed in black as they experience their first Christmas without their father, mother, spouse, child, brother, sister or friend. Perhaps preparing for my fourth funeral in six days forces me to be sympathetic with those who through death or distance will find Christmas difficult this year.
This is the sixth year for this little Christmas message. Rather than attempt to be spry and witty or deep and philosophical, may I simply tell you a story this year?
Though my musical tastes have matured, as a little boy my favorite Christmas song was "The Little Drummer Boy." The song tells the story of a child who hears about the birth of a king, worthy of one's finest gift. Like the newborn king, the song says he is "a poor boy, too." Even so, he wants to give something to this special baby. Then it occurs to him. He can play his drum for him, "pa-rum-pum-pum-pum." As he plays, Mary nods, the ox and the lamb keep time, and the little drummer plays his best. Then the baby Jesus smiles at him.
It gives us great joy to see the expressions on the faces of children when they open gifts at Christmas. But it is an even greater joy to witness the unprompted efforts of a child who gives a gift of his or her own. This summer, Marcus Wells, a physical therapist in Moultrie, Georgia, made a trip to Honduras as a part of a medical mission team to assist the poor people near the village of La Esperanza. As he prepared for the trip, he used the opportunity to teach his boys, Reed and Cason, about the people he was going to help. Marcus explained how poor these people were, so poor that the area where he was going didn't even have stores for people to shop.
Cason wanted to know if the boys played baseball. "They probably play soccer but not baseball because they don't have any gloves or bats," Marcus surmised. Cason could not imagine boys who didn't have an opportunity to play baseball. In his world, having a certain toy or sports equipment is only a
Wal-Mart stop away. But Marcus reminded him that these people had little money and no stores. "Some don't even have shoes or decent clothes," he said.
About 30 minutes later, Cason returned to his father. He had been in deep thought about these children who live in a strange world with no money, stores, bats, balls or gloves. "Can you take my glove, bats, and balls and give them to the children?" he asked. Marcus was touched by his son's generosity, but he explained that none of the other kids would have gloves. Besides, all the available room for packing was needed for medical supplies.
Cason walked away but returned again about a half-hour later. He had a solution. "If we could get a Nerf ball and bat, the kids wouldn't need gloves. And besides," he said, "it is small enough to fit in your suitcase."
The Nerf ball and bat made the flight to Honduras. Marcus had no problem finding some boys who had never had a bat and ball with which to play baseball.
Can't you almost hear the rat-a-tat-tat? Cason is a modern-day Little Drummer Boy. He was willing to give what he had to those who needed a gift. He might not realize it, but Jesus received Cason's gift even before the boys in Honduras. Jesus once said, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." Matt 25:40 (NIV)
This Christmas Day, somewhere in the village of La Esperanza, I imagine a group of boys and girls gathering in a small field playing Nerf ball together. There's laughter. There's joy. There's another smile on the face of Jesus. This time he smiles at the little boy who found a way to send the joy of baseball to children he's never met -- "pa-rum-pum-pum-pum."
As 2003 draws to a close, will you make a commitment with me in 2004? Will you give to someone or something who can never repay? If you will, then you will have kept Christmas this year.
God's best to you,
Reverend Doctor Harry Boyd, Jr.