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It was a cold wintry Tennessee afternoon when our family set out in search of pinecones and greenery for our Advent Wreath. Our 9-year-old was startled by what he saw. It was a broken-down house that appeared condemned with three children out in the yard. They were barefoot and had no coats, not even sweaters. They seemed to be looking for something on the snow-covered ground.
Kimball rolled down his window and asked, “What are you looking for, children?” One of the boys looked up and said, “Just kindling, Mister. Just kindling … we ain’t got no coal,” and went back to his task. Our hearts stood still as we felt their pain.
Christmas is a wondrous and joyful time of great HOPE! Hope can turn a weary life into a wonderful life. This story did not happen at Christmas time, but it reminds us of what Christmas is all about and that God wants the Christmas spirit to live in us all year long.
I served with the Missions Area of the Ontario First United Methodist Church as they reached out to the marginal and homeless people of the Inland Empire. This was a quarterly event that included dinner, singing, worship, and arts and crafts with the children. During one of these events, we became aware that there was a need to give special attention and hope in the weary worn community we were serving.
We invited a homeless family to our home in Mt. Baldy for a few days to get them out of the rat race of seedy hotels, lice, and discouragement. The children, ages 6, 4 and 3, could not play outside because it was too dangerous.
In those three days in Mt. Baldy, the parents washed dirty clothes that were piled high in the trunk of their car, enjoyed a few walks by themselves, dreamed and made plans for their lives. The children squealed with happiness as they splashed in the creek, climbed up in the treehouse, hiked to the orchard with Charlie, our neighbor’s Border Collie and picked fruit, played ball in the front yard, and made cookies for the first time in their lives. They also took baths. The little three-year-old took four bubble baths in one day! Her sparkling clean soft curls bounced as much as she did.
They all helped with meals and ate as though they never would again. They were eager to hold hands and say grace before eating.
Tears flowed from their Daddy’s eyes when he came in from a walk and heard his children singing and laughing. He asked me if I knew some of the hymns his grandmother had taught him as a child. I did and he joined us in singing those hymns. It surprised his children to hear their daddy sing and that he knew about God and Jesus. I believe he surprised himself and felt better when he remembered he had a foundation of faith that would help him.
The children were tucked into beds with clean sheets each night but on their last night, they wanted more. They asked Pam and me to tell them a story, teach them how to pray bedtime prayers and sing a goodnight song like we did with our grandchildren. Their mama and daddy joined us.
All scrubbed and clean, tummies full with a hearty breakfast, plus a bag of goodies prepared for each of them, they left the mountain with hugs and kisses and a sheer pleasure, but most of all, with a sense of hopefulness instead of hopelessness. We discovered that it’s not only adults who need hope in their lives, children also hunger and thirst for hope. The next week we went to the motel to see them, but they were no longer there. We prayed they had begun life anew with hope.
God sent the Christ child to give our weary world a thrilling sense of hope. Giving HOPE to others is one of the greatest gifts we can give at Christmas.
It was the year of 1978 when Christmas Eve came on a Sunday ~ actually, a good day to stop the madness of last minute shopping and take time to be still and truly prepare for the birth of Jesus.
The sanctuary was decorated with fresh greenery, holly and ribbons of red ~ the Chrismon Christmas tree stood in beauty ‘neath the choir loft. The Advent Candles flickered above the manger scene where only the animals had gathered. The Children, Youth and Sanctuary choirs sang with joy as they led us into stillness, an almost silent moment. Kimball stood in the pulpit of our church, El Monte First UMC. His Christmas message was powerful yet tender, as he touched the core of our hearts. He challenged us to welcome the Christ child with gifts wrapped in patience and servanthood as we reached out to welcome strangers in our midst. He told us to ribbon the gifts with the peace, joy, hope, and love in our hearts.
Earlier that evening, Kimball was gathering his things together for the Christmas Eve Service when the phone rang. I was putting out leftovers from lunch for our supper when I heard Kimball say, “Yes, I am Rev. Coburn, how may I help you?” The man calling sounded weak and weary and may have been crying. “Can you help my wife and me get to Phoenix to see our son and his family for Christmas?” Kimball asked him where they were. “We are at the El Monte Bus Station,” the man said. Kimball told him he would be there in a few minutes.
Having just hung up the phone, Kimball said, “My goodness, I forgot to get the man’s name! How will I know who to look for?” But as he pulled up to the curb he noticed an older gentleman with his arms wrapped around an older woman. Seeing their weary faces, he asked them if they were the ones who called about needing help to get to Arizona. “Si, Senor, we are!” they said excitedly. With a warm smile, Kimball invited them out of the cold and into the car. The gentleman told Kimball his name was Joe and his wife was Mary. Their son was very sick, and they knew they must see him and his family. They wanted so badly to go but their car was too old for that kind of trip. Their plan was to ride the bus from East LA to the El Monte Bus Station and catch a Greyhound Bus to Phoenix. However, when they got there, they realized they didn’t have enough money for the bus tickets. But they knew they must find a way. After praying together for an answer, Joe looked through the phonebook hanging in a phone booth for the only place he thought might help them – the churches. El Monte First UMC was the only church that had a home phone number for the pastor and that’s why he called him.
Since the bus they had planned on taking had already left, Kimball invited them to our home for dinner and to come to our 11:00 PM Christmas Eve Service. He explained that he had to get back to the church to finish plans for the service but assured them that the children and I were looking forward to having them in our home. And that we were. The boys put more wood in the fireplace and a favorite Christmas album on the record player. The girls set the table for supper and cut a bouquet of flowers to make it special. They arrived to find a warm welcome, complete with hugs, from our entire family and our dog who was named Christmas Angel. After washing up, the kids invited them to the table for supper. It was most humbling to listen to them tell us about their only son and his family. Joe and Mary had two little granddaughters, ages 3 and 4, who they had never seen. More than anything they wanted to be with their family this Christmas. They asked about our family, and when the children spoke, they listened to their chatter with smiles. Mary offered to help me wash dishes after supper and Joe helped the boys bring in more logs for the fireplace.
Kathy and Cari went to their room in hopes of finding something for Joe and Mary to give to their granddaughters for Christmas. On the top shelf of their closet, they found a couple of Holly Hobby rag dolls they had outgrown. They wrapped them in tissue and put them in a Christmas bag with ribbons and cards for Mary to sign. Kimball Jr and Collie found a stocking hat and gloves for Joe and I found a scarf and gloves for Mary, plus a box of goodies and an Upper Room book of Christmas meditations for their trip to Phoenix. The children filled extra Christmas stockings with candy and fruit and hid their gifts in a box in the back of our station wagon. It had been an unexpected evening of sheer goodwill as we drove off to church for more memory making.
Joe and Mary seemed a little embarrassed that they might not look good enough to sit in church with us, but our children quickly grabbed their hands and introduced them to folks. They were surprised to see little children in their PJ’s and mamas, daddies and grandparents in their work clothes. As the organ began to play “O Holy Night” they scooted right in with us feeling very much at home. In his message simply titled “Hope”, Kimball shared that Christmas had come to us early with a phone call from strangers in need. I couldn’t help but notice tears in the eyes of those around us, especially Joe and Mary.
A Christmas Eve tradition at our church was to end the service with the lighting of candles and singing “Silent Night”. As we sang, we moved out of the sanctuary and into the courtyard to represent going into the world with the light of Christ. We encircled our little garden and sang at the top of our lungs, “Joy to the World” to let our community to know that Christmas was here!
While folks wished each other Merry Christmas, our children and I slipped into one of the Sunday school rooms and took the little Christmas tree that was decorated and put it in the station wagon. Kimball took Joe and Mary into his office and told them he had vouchers for them from the El Monte Ministerial Association for a night’s stay at a motel and breakfast in the morning. Some of the folks from church chipped in to buy two round-trip tickets to Phoenix and back to Los Angeles. Kimball arranged to pick them up and see them off in time to be in Phoenix by 2:00 in the afternoon for Christmas with their family.
“It is Christmas!” all eight of us exclaimed, as we crammed into the station wagon and took them to the motel. While Kimball was helping Joe and Mary check-in, the children and I quickly ran the big box from the car to the room the motel had left unlocked for us. Out came the decorated tree! Gifts were scattered beneath it and the stockings were hung from the dresser knobs with care! And as Joe and Mary opened the door, the Christmas tree lights clicked on! Smiles, tears, hugs, kisses, thanks, and Merry Christmases were shared by all.
A tired Coburn family drove in the parsonage driveway around 2 AM. Our children got into their PJs, Kimball stoked the fire, and I brought out mugs of hot chocolate and Santa’s plate of homemade Christmas cookies. We gathered around our tree and were warmed by the glow of the fireplace as we talked about this Christmas Eve. Kathy questioned her dad, “This morning you told us we are to welcome strangers in our midst. Daddy, do you think God sent Joe and Mary to us?” Children have a wonderful way of seeing things that cause us to ponder their questions. Although we never heard from Joe and Mary again, we hoped they felt welcomed and loved this Christmas Eve and that it was truly a Holy Night for them, as it was for us.
When I am writing a sermon, I think if I could convince people that God’s love never fails I would give them the merriest Christmas of all. Just think of the words from the Bible, “God’s steadfast love endures forever” or in other words, God’s love surrounds us and never fails.
Christmas is a time of giving and this is the greatest gift of all. We should let God’s gift of love be our example of giving to others. When we love others as God loves us, the circle is complete.
We become one with Christ Jesus and experience peace that passes all understanding. When we stumble, love is there to steady us. When we fall, love is there to pick us up. When we sin, love is there to forgive us. When we are broken, love is there to mend us. When we are discouraged, love is there to give us hope.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” Every time I read or hear these words, I get a lump in my throat. God’s love never fails and endures forever. I know this, I believe this, and I want you to feel the same.
We wish you Love, and the Merriest Christmas of all!
Kimball and Pam
I love my wife in a romantic way. I love my children in a fatherly way. I love you in a humbled servant way. God called me to be a servant evangelist and you have sustained me in this Calling. You have prayed for me. You have supported me financially. You have believed in me and shared that belief with others by inviting me to your churches.
Yes, God started it all, reaching out to me and taking me by the hand. But with the other hand, I began to feel your hands and knew that I was not alone. Now for thirty-six years you have walked and served with me giving me confidence, courage and a renewed commitment to keep on keeping on.
I am deeply honored to call you friends and fellow servants of the Lord. I wish for you and your family a Blessed and Merry Christmas. I love you all more than you can imagine.
Two-thousand years ago, Christmas came humbly in a stable. The light of a magnificent star showed the way to the place where the Christ Child lay. There were gifts to welcome the babe. What gifts, you ask?
The donkey brought the young mother-to-be to the place her child would be born, the lamb warmed the newborn with its woolly coat, the angels kept watch day and night, the shepherds welcomed Emmanuel, the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. But the real gift of Christmas is the Babe himself. He isn’t a gift to a particular people, but a gift to be shared with all the world. This incredible gift has no price tag, but it does have a cost.
If we truly have the spirit of Christmas…if we are to fully feel the love and compassion of Christ’s coming, we must bow like the shepherds. We must come humbly and gently to the stable. We must identify with the poor, the homeless and marginal people of our world. We must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the imprisoned. We must share the simple, yet profound power of Christ’s love by the way we live our faith and invite others to faith.
May Christmas be a time to reignite your desire to be a faithful followers of the Christ Child. That is when you will know and feel the message of Christmas.
God bless you and your family in this season of hope and love. Merry Christmas!
Kimball and Pam
It was to be a cold Christmas high in the mountains of Mt. Baldy. The children wished for snow. The fathers wished for more wood for the fireplaces and potbellies. The mothers wished for their shopping to be completed before the first snowstorm of the season.
It was a time of excitement and busyness. Everyone seemed caught up in the wrappings and trappings of Christmas. The ‘I wanna’s and I gotta haves’ included everything from the largest tree, to the most presents, the best decorated house, the prettiest Christmas clothes…and the list went on. Can you imagine at this wonderful time of the year that people were so busy, busy, busy, getting, getting, getting that they were actually saying they wanted Christmas to hurry and be over so they could get back to their regular pace of life?
But there was one place in the tiny mountain village where the air was filled with quiet beauty and anticipation. There was no hustling and bustling, just great expectation of what was to come. It was the small Village Church that stood next to the creek and just at the entrance to Bear Canyon.
She beckoned the children, their friends and parents to come, but everyone was too busy. Her fireplace burned giving warmth but nobody came to be warmed. Her windows looked out to the stars…one was ever so bright, but no one came to see them. A giant evergreen tree telling of everlasting life stood glowing in the corner, but no one was thinking of everlasting life. They were thinking only of now. The Advent wreath in all of its beauty told stories of faith, hope, joy and love but these weren’t the gifts on anyone’s lists.
Nestled beneath the communion table a crèche scene graced the sanctuary of the small village church. Straw fell from the manger where a tiny baby lay quietly to share his love with the families of the mountain. Would they come? Surely they would come. It’s Christmas Eve.
All of a sudden the doors opened! There was laughter and joyful greetings. There were young and old alike. There were oohs and ahhs. They came to be warmed by the fire. They came to see the star. Did it lead them there? They came to feel the glow of the tree and to know the everlasting power it represented. They came in hopes of receiving the gifts of faith, hope, joy and love. They came because they wanted to share their love with the little one who lay in the manger of straw before them. They gathered around the crèche and sang lullabies of “Away In The Manger” and “Silent Night” to the babe and then silently prayed for their gift of gifts before breaking into a rousing, “Joy To The World.” Love truly came down that Christmas ~ a love for you and for me. It was a Christmas the families of Mt. Baldy will never forget.