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The Reason He Came
There was once a man who didn't believe in the incarnation or the spiritual meaning of Christmas, and was skeptical about God. He and his family lived in a farm community. His wife was a devout believer and diligently raised her children in her faith. He sometimes gave her a hard time about her faith and mocked her religious observance of Christmas.
One snowy Christmas eve she was taking the kids to the Christmas eve service at church. She pleaded with him to come, but he firmly refused. He ridiculed the idea of the incarnation of Christ and dismissed it as nonsense. "Why would God lower himself and become a human like us?! It's such a ridiculous story!" he said.
So she and the children left for church while he stayed home. After they left, the winds grew stronger and the snow turned into a blizzard. As he looked out the window, all he saw was a blinding snowstorm. He sat down to relax before the fire for the evening. Then he heard a loud thump, something hitting against the window. And another thump. He looked outside but couldn't see. So he ventured outside to see. In the field near his house he saw, of all the strangest things, a flock of geese! They were apparently flying to look for a warmer area down south, but got caught in the snow storm. The snow had became too blinding and violent for the geese to fly or see their way. They were lost and stranded on his farm, with no food or shelter. They just fluttered their wings and flew around in circles around the field blindly and aimlessly. He had compassion for them and wanted to help them. He thought to himself, "The barn would be a great place for them to stay! It's warm and safe; surely they could spend the night and wait out the storm." So he walked over to the barn and opened the barn doors for them. He waited, watching them, hoping they would notice the open barn and go inside. But they just fluttered around aimlessly and didn't notice the barn or realize what it could mean for them. So he started whistling and calling to them. He shouted, jumped up and down, waved his arms. They didn't pay attention. He moved closer toward them to get their attention, but they just moved away from him out of fear. He went into the house and came back out with some bread, broke it up,and made a bread trail leading to the barn.
They still didn't catch on.
Starting to get frustrated, he went over and tried to shoo them,run after them, and chase them toward the barn. They only got scared and scattered into every direction except toward the barn. None of his attempts to get them into the barn succeeded. Nothing he did could get them to go into the barn where there was warmth, safety, and shelter;nothing he did could make them enter the one place where they could survive. Feeling totally frustrated, he exclaimed, "Why don't they listen to me! Why don't they follow me! What's wrong with them! Can't they see this is the only place where they can survive the storm! How can I possibly get them into the one place to save them!" He thought for a moment and realized that they just won't follow a human. He said to himself, "How can I possibly save them? The only way would be for me to become like those geese. If only I could become like one of them! Then I could show them the way! Then I could save them! They would follow me, not fear me. They would trust me, and I would lead them to safety."
He stood silently for a moment as the words that he just said reverberated back to himself in his mind: "If only I could become like one of them--then I could show them the way--then I could save them." He thought about his words, and remembered what he said to his wife: "Why would God want to be like us? That's so ridiculous!" Something clicked in his mind as he put these two together. It was like a revelation, and he began to understand the incarnation. We were like the geese--blind, gone astray, perishing. God became like us so He could show us the way and make a way available to save us. That is the meaning of Christmas, he realized in his heart.
As the winds and blinding snow abated, his heart became quiet and pondered this epiphany. He understood what Christmas was all about. He knew why Christ had come. Suddenly years of doubt and disbelief were hattered, as he humbly and tearfully bowed down in the snow, and embraced the true meaning of Christmas.
" We are the reason that He gave His life
A Lesson On Forgiveness
It had been three years since Lisa last opened the box. A sudden move to Boston had kept her from packing it. But now that she was back home, she took the time to look again at the memories. Fingering the corners of the box and stroking its cover, Lisa pictured in her mind what was inside.
There was a photo of the family trip to the Grand Canyon, a note from her friend telling her that Nick Bicotti liked her, and the Indian arrowhead she had found while on her senior class trip.
One by one, she remembered the items in the box, lingering over the sweetest, until she came to the last and only painful memory. She knew what it looked like--a single sheet of paper upon which lines had been drawn to form boxes, 490 of them to be exact. And each box contained a check mark, one for each time.
"How many times must I forgive my brother?" the disciple Peter had asked Jesus. "Seven times?"
Lisa's Sunday school teacher had read Jesus' surprise answer to the class. "Seventy times seven."
Lisa had leaned over to her brother Brent as the teacher continued reading. "How many times is that?" she whispered. Brent, though two years younger, was smarter than she was.
"Four hundred and ninety," Brent wrote on the corner of his Sunday school paper. Lisa saw the message, nodded, and sat back in her chair. She watched her brother as the lesson continued. He was small for his age, with narrow shoulders and short arms. His glasses were too large for his face, and his hair always matted in swirls. He bordered on being a nerd, but his incredible skills at everything, especially music, made him popular with his classmates.
Brent had learned to play the piano at age four, the clarinet at age seven, and ad just begun to play oboe. His music teachers said he'd be a famous musician someday. There was only one thing at which Lisa was better than Brent--basketball. They played it almost every afternoon after school. Brent could have refused to play, but he knew that it was Lisa's only joy in the midst of her struggles to get C's and D's at school.
Lisa's attention came back to her Sunday school teacher as the woman finished the lesson and closed with prayer. That same Sunday afternoon found brother and sister playing basketball in the driveway. It was then that the counting had begun. Brent was guarding Lisa as she dribbled toward the basket. He had tried to bat the ball away, got his face near her elbow, and took a shot on the chin.
"Ow!", he cried out and turned away. Lisa saw her opening and drove to the basket, making an easy lay-up.She gloated over her success but stopped when she saw Brent.
"You okay?", she asked. Brent shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry," Lisa said. "Really. It was a cheap shot."
"It's all right. I forgive you," he said. A thin smile then formed on his face. "Just 489 more times though."
"Whaddaya mean?" Lisa asked.
"You know...what we learned in Sunday school today. You're supposed to forgive someone 490 times. I just forgave you, so now you have 489 left," he kidded. The two of them laughed at the thought of keeping track of every time Lisa had done something to Brent. They were sure she had gone past 490 long ago.
The rain interrupted their game, and the two moved indoors. "Wanna play Battleship?" Lisa asked. Brent agreed, and they were soon on the floor of the living room with their game boards in front of them. Each took turns calling out a letter and number combination, hoping to hit each other's ships. Lisa knew she was in trouble as the game went on. Brent had only lost one ship out of five. Lisa had lost three. Desperate to win, she found herself leaning over the edge of Brent's barrier ever so slightly. She was thus able to see where Brent had placed two of his ships. She quickly evened the score. Pleased, Lisa searched once more for the location of the last two ships. She peered over the barrier again, but htis time Brent caught her in the act. "Hey, you're cheating!" He stared at her in disbelief.
Lisa's face turned red. Her lips quivered. "I'm sorry," she said, staring at the carpet. There was not much Brent could say. He knew Lisa sometimes did things like this. He felt sorry that Lisa found so few things she could do well. It was wrong for her to cheat, but he knew the temptation was hard for her.
"Okay, I forgive you," Brent said. Then he added with a small laugh, "I guess it's down to 488 now, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so." She returned his kindness with a weak smile and added, "Thanks for being my brother, Brent."
Brent's forgiving spirit gripped Lisa, and she wanted him to know how sorry she was. It was that evening that she had made the chart with the 490 boxes. She showed it to him before he went to bed. "We can keep track of every time I mess up and you forgive me," she said.
"See, I'll put a check in each box--like this." She placed two marks in the upper left-hand boxes. "These are for today."
Brent raised his hands to protest. "You don't need to keep--"
"Yes I do!" Lisa interrupted. "You're always forgiving me, and I want to keep track. Just let me do this!" She went back to her room and tacked the chart to her bulletin board. There were many opportunities to fill in the chart in the years that followed. She once told the kids at school that Brent talked in his sleep and called out Rhonda Hill's name, even though it wasn't true. The teasing caused Brent days and days of misery.
When she realized how cruel she had been, Lisa apologized sincerely. That night she marked box number 96. Forgiveness number 211 came in the tenth grade when Lisa failed to bring home his English book. Brent had stayed home sick that day and had asked her to bring it so he could study for a quiz. She forgot and he got a C. Number 393 was for lost keys...418 for the extra bleach she put in the washer, which ruined his favorite polo shirt...449, the dent she had put in his car when she had borrowed it.
There was a small ceremony when Lisa checked number 490. She used a gold pen for the check mark, had Brent sign the chart, and then placed it in her memory box. "I guess that's the end," Lisa said. "No more screw-ups from me anymore!"
Brent just laughed. "Yeah, right."
Number 491 was just another one of Lisa's careless mistakes, but its hurt lasted a lifetime. Brent had become all that his music teachers said he would. Few could play the oboe better than he. In his fourth year at the best music school in the United States, he received the opportunity of a lifetime--a chance to try out for New York City's great orchestra. The tryout would be held sometime during the following two weeks. It would be the fulfillment of his young dreams. But he never got the chance. Brent had been out when the call about the tryout came to the house. Lisa was the only one home and on her way out the door, eager to get to work on time.
"Two-thirty on the tenth," the secretary said on the phone. Lisa did not have a pen, but she told herself that she could remember it. "Got it. Thanks." I can remember that, she thought. But she did not. It was a week later around the dinner table that Lisa realized her mistake. "So, Brent," his mom asked him, "When do you try out?"
"Don't know yet. They're supposed to call."
Lisa froze in her seat. "Oh, no!" she blurted out loud. "What's today's date? Quick!" "It's the twelfth," her dad answered. "Why?"
A terrible pain ripped through Lisa's heart. She buried her face in her hands, crying.
"Lisa, what's the matter?" her mother asked. Through sobs Lisa explained what had happened. "It was two days ago...the tryout...two-thirty...the call came...last week."
Brent sat back in his chair, not believing Lisa. "Is this one of your jokes, sis?" he asked, though he could tell her misery was real. She shook her head, still unable to look at him.
"Then I really missed it?" She nodded.
Brent ran out of the kitchen without a word. He did not come out of his room the rest of the evening. Lisa tried once to knock on the door, but she could not face him. She went to her room where she cried bitterly.
Suddenly she knew that she had to do. She had ruined Brent's life. He could never forgive her for that. She had failed her family, and there was nothing to do but to leave home. Lisa packed her pickup truck in the middle of the night and left a note behind, telling her folks she'd be all right. She began writing a note to Brent, but her words sounded empty to her. Nothing I say could make a difference anyway, she thought.
Two days later she got a job as a waitress in Boston. She found an apartment not too far from the restaurant. Her parents tried many times to reach her, but Lisa ignored their letters. "It's too late," she wrote them once. "I've ruined Brent's life, and I'm not coming back."
Lisa did not think she would ever see home again. But one day in the restaurant where she worked she saw a face she knew. "Lisa!" said Mrs.Nelson, looking up from her plate. "What a surprise."
The woman was a friend of Lisa's family from back home. "I was so sorry to hear about your brother," Mrs. Nelson said softly. "Such a terrible accident. But we can be thankful that he died quickly. He didn't suffer."
Lisa stared at the woman in shock. "Wh-hat," she finally stammered. It couldn't be! Her brother? Dead? The woman quickly saw that Lisa did not know about the accident. She told the girl the sad story of the speeding car, the rush to the hospital, the doctors working over Brent. But all they could do was not enough to save him. Lisa returned home that afternoon. Now she found herself in her room thinking about her brother as she held the small box that held some of her memories of him. Sadly, she opened the box and peered inside. It was as she remembered, except for one item--Brent's chart. It was not there. In its place, at the bottom of the box, was an envelope. Her hands shook as she tore it open and removed a letter. The first page read:
Dear Lisa, It was you who kept count, not me. But if you're stubborn enough to keep count, use the new chart I've made for you. Love, Brent
Lisa turned to the second page where she found a chart just like the one she had made as a child, but on this one the lines were drawn in perfect precision. And unlike the chart she had kept, there was but one check mark in the upper left- hand corner. Written in red felt tip pen over the entire page were the words: "NUMBER 491. Forgiven, FOREVER."