Chinnor Community Church, High Street, Chinnor, OX39 4DH

An unexpected gift

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Christmas can still arrive when you least expect it, sometimes in the most unexpected manner.

Dr. James Dobson relates a story of an elderly woman named Stella Thornhope who was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died just a few months prior through a slow developing cancer. Now, several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal weather system. She felt terribly alone. She decided she was not going to decorate for Christmas that year.

Later that afternoon the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery man with a box. He said, “Mrs. Thornhope?” She nodded. He said, “Would you sign here please?” She invited him to step inside and closed the door to get away from the cold. She signed the paper and said, “What’s in the box?” The young man laughed and opened up the flap, and inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador Retriever. The delivery man picked up the squirming pup and explained, “This is for you. He’s six weeks old, completely housetrained.” The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity.

“Who sent this?” Mrs. Thornhope asked. The delivery man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, “It’s all explained here in this envelope. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you.” The delivery man then handed her a book, How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.

In desperation she again asked, “Who sent me this puppy?” As the delivery man turned to leave, he said, “Your husband. Merry Christmas.”

She opened up the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.

She wiped away the tears, put the letter down, and then remembering the puppy at her feet, she picked up that golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbour’s house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.” Suddenly Stella felt the most amazing sensation of peace washing over her. Her heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than her grief and loneliness.

“Little fella,” she said to the dog, “It’s just you and me. But you know what? There’s a box down in the basement I’ll bet you’d like. It’s got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there’s a manger scene down there. Let’s go get it.”

God has a way of sending a signal of light to remind us that life is stronger than death. Light is more powerful than darkness. God is more powerful than Satan. Good will overcome evil.

Well, following on sharply behind Christmas is New Year. What are we to make of 2016 as it draws ever closer. I’m reminded that just as Abraham laid down his Isaac, we must be prepared to lay down our “Isaac” and remember the words of Andrew Murray: “God is ready to assume full responsibility for the life wholly yielded to Him.”

Bruce Larson tells how he helped people struggling to surrender their lives to Christ:

“For many years I worked in New York City and counselled at my office any number of people who were wrestling with this yes-or-no decision. Often I would suggest they walk with me from my office down to the RCA Building on Fifth Avenue. In the entrance of that building is a gigantic statue of Atlas, a beautifully proportioned man who, with all his muscles straining, is holding the world upon his shoulders. There he is, the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand up under this burden. ‘Now that’s one way to live,’ I would point out to my companion, ‘trying to carry the world on your shoulders. But now come across the street with me.’

“On the other side of Fifth Avenue is Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, and there behind the high altar is a little shrine of the boy Jesus, perhaps eight or nine years old, and with no effort he is holding the world in one hand. My point was illustrated graphically.

“We have a choice. We can carry the world on our shoulders, or we can say, ‘I give up, Lord; here’s my life. I give you my world.’”

Whatever 2016 brings, it brings 365 God-soaked days of opportunity to get on board with the Great Commission Jesus tasked us with. And that reminds me of the story told regarding Hudson Taylor – the great Missionary.

One day Hudson Taylor was traveling on a Chinese junk from Shanghai to Ningpo. He had been witnessing to a man named Peter who rejected the gospel but was under deep conviction. In the course of events, Peter fell overboard, but no one made any effort to save him. Taylor sprang to the mast, let down the sail, and jumped overboard in hopes of finding his friend. But no one on board joined Taylor in his frantic search. Taylor saw a fishing boat nearby and yelled to them to help, but they wouldn’t do it without money. Finally, after bartering for every penny that Taylor had, the fishermen stopped their fishing and began to look for Peter. In less than a minute of dragging their net, they found him, but it was too late. They were too busy fishing to care about saving a drowning man.

We can easily condemn the selfish indifference of those fishermen, but by indicting them, we may condemn ourselves. Are we too busy with our jobs and other activities to take the time to rescue those who are perishing without Christ?

So let me wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Joyous New Year. Will you join me in 2016 with renewed energy to let Jesus hold the world in His hands, and instead of trying to do so ourselves, let us go fishing for the souls of the not-yet-believers here in our community.

Pastor Kenn

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