REPOST: The Harmonica: A Christmas Story

The following devotional is a repost from the NHIM archives in 2013.

harmonicaMany years ago, I was deeply involved in mission work in Jamaica. One of the primary ministry points was an extremely needy boys’ home. On one of my initial trips to this home, I was struck by the austere conditions in which the children lived. Months passed, but I couldn’t get those children out of my mind. As Christmas drew near, I worked feverishly and with the help of family and friends, I gathered items to take to the home for Christmas. I didn’t inform the superintendent of my intentions of a Christmas visit. I wanted it to be a complete surprise.

When I drove up in front of the main building at the home, the superintendent came out. I showed him the packages each boy would receive. Each would get a washcloth, soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, underwear, a pair of shoes, and of course some Christmas candy and a small toy. He told me this had been one of the worst years financially the home had ever experienced.  The children had been informed there would be no Christmas party that year. But then he confidently said, “I knew you would come.” I asked, “How could you possibly know I was coming?” The superintendent then shared with me the following account. It was indelibly etched in my mind. 

John’s Story

When I was a boy, about eight years old, I lived in this very home. It had been a particularly hard year for the home. We were often hungry, our clothes were rags, and we had no toys or little else to take our minds off our deprivation.  Then came a sad day when the old gentleman in charge assembled all of us boys in the chapel. With a heavy heart, he told us that there would be no gifts or special celebration because of our dire financial situation. He said he would try to have toto, (a sweet cornbread), half a banana, and some weak tea for our Christmas morning breakfast. He would also try to get some chicken backs, necks, and feet to go with our rice for our Christmas dinner. We were all sad and solemn as we left the chapel.

I slipped away to my bed. Under my mattress, I had hidden a few pages from an old Christmas catalog that I had taken from the book room. Missionaries sometimes brought magazines along with some worn children’s books to put in our book room.  The pages from the catalog had pictures of toys that the white children in America would get for Christmas gifts.  One picture captured my attention. It was a little boy about my age playing a harmonica. The picture showed the notes rising in the air as the boy played. The boy’s family was gathered around the Christmas tree and were singing together. I dreamed of getting a harmonica for Christmas.

We had been taught that Jesus loved children and heard their prayers. With all my heart, I prayed. Hoping against hope, I prayed and believed Jesus would see to it I got the harmonica. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning. I didn’t sleep much that night. Before daylight, I searched all around my bed and couldn’t find it. My fear increased as the minutes passed. Then I thought maybe the harmonica had been placed far back under my bed so no one would see it and take it. My hope began to rise as sunlight filtered into the dorm room and I was better able to see. I slipped quietly out of bed and searched under and all around the bed. There was no harmonica! At breakfast, I was hungry and the meal was meager, but I couldn’t eat. I had never known disappointment and sadness so deep. I asked to be excused and walked down the drive to the big entry gate by the road. I sat in the shadow of the gate with my back to the home so none of the boys could see me. I cried and cried. There was no harmonica and Jesus didn’t care about a poor Jamaican orphan.

Through the sobs and tears, I heard noise down the road toward the banana fields. I looked up and saw a dirty old man in tattered, stained clothes step out onto the road. He labored beneath the large stalk of bananas on his shoulder.  He slowly made His way up the road and stopped by the gatepost where I was sitting. He looked into my tear filled eyes and asked why I was crying. Through the sobs, I told him what had happened. I told him that I didn’t get the harmonica and that not even Jesus cared for me on this Christmas day. The old man told me not to cry and tried to reassure me that Jesus really did care. He gave no other explanation or comfort and gradually walked on.

Just before he disappeared from view, he turned around and called out, ‘little boy, come here.’ Still crying, I got up and walked up to him. He reached into his old shirt pocket and pulled out a shiny Harmonica, like the one I had prayed for. He handed it to me. Without another word, he walked on and disappeared from my view.  Could this have been an angel? (Heb. 13:2)

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform (Cowper).

~ Brother Roy

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Freedom – A Christmas Gift

born to set thy people free

In December 1745, Charles Wesley published a two-verse prayer that has become a beloved Christmas hymn:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free,
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

For Wesley, Jesus was born for this purpose. As these beautiful words rang out through our congregation during Sunday worship, ‘my heart was strangely warmed’. My mind held on to the the phrase, “born to set thy people free”. I thought, Here is the true reason for the season. He came to set us free! 

Oh, how the human heart longs for freedom. This great country was founded on a human quest for freedom. Our forefathers were seeking religious and political liberty when they framed our Constitution and Bill of Rights. No other country on earth has provided the degree of political freedom and personal choice as has the U.S.A. Our national anthem proclaims that America is the “Land of the Free”. 

How ironic it is that so many use this freedom to dress themselves in the chains of sin. Multitudes of people combine their God given ‘free will’ with the freedom our government provides and engage in destructive lifestyles. Rather than independence, they find themselves in bondage. In many ways, the bondage to sin is far worse than the iron chains and bars of a physical oppressor. The headlong pursuit of self-pleasing brings fetters of addiction to drugs, alcohol, gross sexual misconduct, dishonesty, etc. The misguided search for this faux-freedom has reached epidemic proportions. God’s word says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

We need to hear the Apostle Paul’s words to the Church in Rome, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” (Romans 6:12-18).  God’s word proclaims, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another(Galatians 5:13). Jesus was born to set us free. Hallelujah!

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”

MERRY CHRISTMAS

~ Brother Roy

One Foggy Christmas

rudolph fogI suppose all of us at one time or another have had the words of a song ‘get stuck in our minds’. The day after Thanksgiving a local radio station was playing Christmas music, including “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”. I never particularly liked the song, but the words kept replaying in my mind. The words “Then one foggy Christmas Eve” would not go away. So I started thinking about ways to shake the words. I wondered if the Lord was trying to speak to me.  I searched my memory for fog events and one prominent fog event came to mind.

The event is rooted in New Hope’s ministry in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, after Hurricane Katrina (2005). During our ministry there, we stayed nearby on Dauphin Island. Many early mornings on Dauphin Island, I would walk out on the deck to find the entire area engulfed in fog. At times the fog would be so thick that it obscured familiar landmarks.

I am not an expert on fog, but let me share a few things I do know. I know with heavy fog, you can walk through it, talk through it, throw a rock through it, but you can’t see through it. It can conceal things that are right before you. There are events in our personal lives that may obscure our view of things that are eternal. Because of spiritual fog, we can lose sight of Jesus. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist” (1 Corinthians 13:12a, MSG).

THINGS THAT CAN OBSCURE JESUS FROM OUR VIEW THIS CHRISTMAS SEASON:

  1. Preoccupation with self, personal problems, illness, family problems, broken relationships, financial woes, and “getting older” can crowd our minds. Fog creeps in.
  2. Over commercialization is obscene! Yet, most of us get caught up in it to some degree. We spend ourselves into debt to buy things that are not needed. Fog rolls in.
  3. We are supposed to be a Christian Nation, yet Nativity Scenes are being banned in public places. Businesses are restrained from wishing you a Merry Christmas, etc. Santa is welcome, but not the ONE whose birthday we should to be celebrating! More Fog!
  4. Inside the church world, theologians and critics dismiss the Virgin birth, the Star, and the validity of the Scriptural accounts. Many ministers are too often taught in seminaries that The Bible is not necessarily the inerrant, infallible Word of God. Dense Fog!
  5. There are problems with busyness. “As Thy servant was busy here and there, he was gone” (1 Kings 20:40). This is one of the busiest times of year. Heavy Fog.
  6. Family gatherings, important as they are, may be elevated to a position above the Family of God. True worship is shoved to the sideline. Thick Fog.

As the days progressed on Dauphin, the sun would cause the fog to lift. May the Son of God help the spiritual fog of this Christmas season lift so we can clearly see Him.

 “But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing Him directly just as He knows us!
(1 Corinthians 13:12)

~ Brother Roy

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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For centuries they waited.  The children of Israel longed for the Messiah, long prophesied.  Isaiah declared that one day a virgin would conceive and bear a son, and His name would be called Emmanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

Perhaps nothing has more perfectly captured the longing of God’s chosen people than the 12th century hymn, based on an 8th century poem, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

It is difficult for us who live on this side of the incarnation to understand the depth of emotion held in the sentiment expressed in that lyric.  Many of us were raised in Christian homes and were taught from a young age who Jesus is and what His birth meant.  And we indeed rejoice that Emmanuel has come.

But just because we know that Emmanuel has come, it does not diminish our cry for Him.  No matter how we were raised or what we were taught, each of us was born in need of a Savior, and each of us must invite Emmanuel into our own lives to redeem us from hell and death:

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny.
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

At times, even for the believer, this fallen world is seen for the dark place that it is.  Sometimes our circumstances bring our spirits down, and we struggle to see the light of God.  In those times, we need Emmanuel to minister to our souls:

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Thy people by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

No matter how long we have walked with Jesus, we know that we need His wisdom day by day as we seek to “walk in the light as He is in the light”.  We ask Emmanuel to come along beside us and show us the way:

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things far and nigh.
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We see all around us the effects of sin.  Our country is sharply divided, and conflicts rage around the world.  We try our best to address these problems through government and social outreach.  But the truth is that there is no peace without the Prince of Peace:

O come, Desire of Nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease;
And be Thyself the King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

In this advent season, as we remember how Jesus came to fulfill the longing of ancient Israel, let us pray that Emmanuel would meet the needs of our world – for salvation, for comfort, for wisdom, and for peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

~ Matt Kinnell, NHIM Board Chairman