UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Unexpected gifts

By John T. Harries

It was a mid-1970s Christmas Eve. I was putting on my clerical gown for the midnight communion service at St. Andrew’s United in North Bay, Ont. Choir members were lining up in the hallway. The organist had begun to play a medley of carols.

Suddenly, a police officer with bits of ice in his moustache walked in the side door. He kicked the snow off his boots and removed his fur hat. “There has been a terrible house fire down on Lakeshore Drive,” he whispered. “The parents and their three young children have lost everything. Next-door neighbours have taken them in. Stores and social services are closed. Your church lights were on, so I decided to try your door. I was wondering if St. Andrew’s could assist in any way?”

I looked at my watch. It was a few minutes to 11 p.m. The service was about to start. “I’ll do what I can,” I replied. The officer handed me the family’s address and information and disappeared into the downtown darkness as quickly as he had arrived.

I was glad that we sang all four verses of the first hymn, O Little Town of Bethlehem. It gave me a chance to mull over what to do. I decided that the worship should proceed as planned. I didn’t want to begin a joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth with such sad news.

The service drew to a close just before midnight. The sanctuary was aglow with candlelight as we sang Silent Night. Before the benediction, I told the congregation about my unexpected visitor and the family’s heartbreaking circumstances. You could have heard a pin drop. I invited those who were able to return to the church with Santa Claus gifts, clothing and food. Packed pews emptied slowly. At the front door, there were the usual seasonal greetings, handshakes and hugs. Strangely, the fire was never mentioned. I wondered how the police officer’s plea would be answered.

After everyone left, I went to my office, paced and looked out the window. The telephone was silent. I tried to tackle the paper on my desk, but my mind was elsewhere. I remember thinking about the holy couple in the stable and how they must have said their prayers. I closed my eyes. “God of Advent, I lift up my prayers of concern for this homeless family. . .”

As I waited, snowflakes piled up quietly on the windowsill.

About 1:30 a.m., I heard the unmistakable whirl of snow tires. Bundling up, I hurried outside. A cavalcade of cars was pulling up along the curb. Within minutes, boxes and bags were being carried downstairs to the auditorium.

This unforeseen mix of Christmas-morning caregivers knew exactly what to do. Sorting, wrapping and labelling began; gifts, enough food for two weeks, winter wear and bedding. I stood there in utter amazement, especially when Tom pulled up with an empty truck. It was his first Christmas on his own. Within an hour, his vehicle was packed and ready to go. Three teens were on board who had volunteered to assist. As Tom pulled away from the church, he rolled down his window. “Merry Christmas, John,” he shouted. “Merry Christmas, Tom. Merry Christmas to you all,” I called back.

I took my time walking home. Snow was crunching underfoot. I was tired. I needed some time to think about this eve of Christmas. But one thing was as clear to me as the stars that glistened overhead: we had just been to Bethlehem to see the Christ child.

Rev. John T. Harries is retired and lives in Aurora, Ont.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: A Tale of Two Cancers

by Observer Staff

Catherine Gordon's October 2017 feature for The Observer, 'A tale of two cancers,' recently caught the eye of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his Washington, D.C.-based team, and inspired a short documentary. Gordon talks about the experience of writing the article and participating in the film.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image