A newly ordained young pastor and his wife had been assigned to their first ministry. They would have a project of re-opening an old church located in urban Brooklyn.
Arriving at their destination, the couple was excited to begin with the opportunity before them. The old church building was very run down and much in need of rejuvenation. They set a goal to have the project completed in time for the first worship service on Christmas Eve.
They both worked hard, repairing the pews, plastering walls, painting and other fix-up chores. On December 18, they felt that they had accomplished enough to be ahead of schedule and were almost finished with the major remodeling project.
The following day, December 19, a terrible tempest, a driving rainstorm hit the Brooklyn area and lasted for two days.
On December 21, the pastor went over to the church to make preparations for the first worship service. After entering the church, he looked toward the sanctuary and what he saw made his heart sink to his feet. The driving rain had worked its way under the old shingles on the roof, causing it to leak through to the plaster. An area of about six feet by eight feet of wet plaster had fallen off the front wall of the sanctuary, just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high.
The pastor cleaned up the mess of soaked plaster strewn on the floor. Not knowing what else to do at the late date, he decided he would have to postpone the Christmas Eve service, as there wouldn’t be time to make necessary repairs in only a couple of days. In disappointment, he left the church to return home.
On his way home, the pastor noticed a local business was sponsoring a flea market-type sale with proceeds to be given for charity. Being curious, he stopped and entered the store to view the many items on sale.
As he walked past the tables of merchandise, he saw a beautiful, hand-made ivory colored crochet table cloth with exquisite workmanship. It was done in fine colors and right in the center of the cloth was an embroidered Cross. As he held the cloth up, viewing it, he knew it was just the right size to cover up the large hole on the wall of the sanctuary.
After purchasing the crochet cloth, the pastor headed back to the church.
By that time, it had started to snow. An elderly woman was running from the opposite direction, trying to catch a bus. She arrived at the bus stop just as the bus pulled away into the traffic. Seeing her disappointment and knowing the next bus would arrive 45 minutes later, the pastor invited her to wait in the warmth of the church.
The pastor went about the plan he had formulated for the recently purchased crochet cloth. The lady sat in a pew, lost in her own thoughts as the pastor brought a ladder, hammer, nails, hangers, etc., needed to hang up the table cloth to be used as a wall tapestry. With the preparations finished and the tapestry in place, the pastor stepped down and moved back, a ways to view the wall covering. He could hardly believe how beautiful the tapestry looked and it covered up the entire problem area perfectly.
Standing there, he soon heard footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw the elderly woman walking down the center aisle, toward him. Her face was as white as a sheet.
“Pastor,” she said, “where did you get that tablecloth?” The pastor explained that he had purchased it at a nearby flea market sale. The lady then asked him to check the lower right corner of the cloth to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into the cloth. Checking the corner of the cloth, yes, those initials definitely were on it. The initials were those of the woman. She had made the tablecloth 35 years before, when she was living in Austria.
The woman was stunned, fining it hard to believe when the pastor told her how he had purchased the tablecloth nearby only minutes before coming into the church. The woman then explained that before the war, she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, during World War II, she was forced to leave the country. Plans were that her husband would follow her the next week. She was captured, sent to prison and never saw her husband or her home again.
The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth, but she refused and insisted that the pastor keep it for the church. The pastor insisted on driving her home, as he felt that was the least he could do for her. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and had been in Brooklyn only for the day to do a house-cleaning job.
The Christmas Eve worship service went on as scheduled and what a wonderful service it was. The church was almost full of people who came to worship. The traditional music, singing and spiritual feeling of Christmas were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door as they were leaving. Many of them said they would return to attend worship services in the future.
One older man, whom the pastor recognized as being a resident in the neighborhood, continued to sit in one of the pews, staring at the sanctuary. The pastor wondered why the man wasn’t leaving. Approaching him, the man asked the pastor where he had gotten the crochet tablecloth which was hanging on the wall. He said the cloth was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war. He asked, “How could there be two tablecloths so identical?” He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety. He had planned to follow her, but he was arrested and put into a concentration camp. He never saw his wife or his home again for the 35 years since.
The pastor asked the elderly man if he could take him for a little ride in his car. The man accepted the invitation. The pastor drove them to Staten Island and to the same house where he had taken the elderly woman three days earlier. He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment. The pastor knocked on the door and then witnessed the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.
(This is a true story, as shared by Pastor Rob Reid on the internet. As many of us read this story, I am sure we would agree this miracle wasn’t only by coincidence; there was a more powerful guidance that made it happen and fall into place as it did. D. Z.)
Christmas Traditions & Legends
LEGEND OF CHRISTMAS CANDLES
It would be astonishing, indeed, if no candles appeared in homes throughout the nation on Christmas Eve. The legend which surrounds the custom is believed to have started in Ireland.
There on Christmas Eve a large candle was burned which could be snuffed out only by one named Mary. As the Irish put it; “Who knows, on some Christmas Eve, Jesus and Mary and Joseph may come again, not to Palestine, but to the Holy Isle on the farthest edge of Europe?”
Their first use for Christmas is not recorded in the annals of any nation, but that the “Christ Child Candle,” burned in the window of Christmas Eve is, according to an old legend, placed there to light His way if He makes earthly visitation and in atonement for the night of His birth when there was no room for Him.
Also among the legends is one about the bayberry candles burned on Christmas.
During the early history of our country, animal fats were relatively scarce. The branches of bayberry shrub were covered with wax-giving berries and children were given the task of gathering the berries when candles had to be made so that the animal fats could be conserved. According to tradition, one who burned a bayberry candle on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day would have a long life and a happy one.
An old verse reads:
“To earn your luck for year they say,
Burn a bayberry dip on Christmas day.
If the flame burns bright and the light shines clear.
Good luck will be yours throughout the year.
‘GRANDPA FROST WAS PART OF THE RUSSIANS’ MIDWINTER FEST
In Czarist Russia, it was customary for well-to-do families with large homes to entertain lavishly on Christmas day. The invitations were extremely formal and begged the invited to consider that:
“… For thousands of years it has been so; with us it will not cease. Do not,” therefore, disturb the festival; do not bring the good people to despair. Without you there will be no maiden festival at Anna Karpona’s,” who was one of the hostesses.
In planning these house parties, hostesses gave particular attention to the selection of partners for the young ladies. The selection was sometimes very satisfactory and sometimes left something to be desired.
Arrival of the “fair maidens,” each with her mother and retinue, bringing cake and sweetmeats and gifts for everyone, proceeded according to prescribed ritual. It was said the guests would sooner be freezing in their sleds before the gate than to alight before receiving the greeting of the host and hostesses.
Having been ceremoniously welcomed, the guests offered prayers before the icon (sacred picture) and then proceeded to the feasting and festivities arranged for them.
LUCIA DAY IN SWEDISH CUSTOM
Celebration of Lucia Day on December 13 inaugurates the Christmas season in Sweden. It takes its name form St. Lucia, or Lucy, martyred for her faith and virginity in Syracuse in 304 A. D., and venerated by the church each December 13.
The prettiest blonde in every home, office, factory, village and town is elected a “Lucia” and visits the sick, leads carnivals and processions and attends banquets and balls accompanied by her “handmaidens.”
The ancient custom coincides with the winter solstice, when the sun swings toward the Earth once more and the days begin to lengthen.
In addition to beauty, other qualifications for “Lucias” or “light queens” are fair hair, a nice disposition and high character.
Dressed in long white robes, wearing crowns of robes, wearing crowns of lighted candles – the traditional costume for “Lucias,” the girls present gifts of the traditional Lucy day coffee and rolls to hospital patients and others in need. The queen and her maidens, enthroned in a star spangled horse-drawn chariot, lead festive processions around the village squares and through city streets.
Parade participants depict alternate scenes from Sweden’s picturesque Lapland and the Wild West of the United States, while musicians in multi-colored costume alternate playing northern folk tunes and American Jazz.
ENGLAND’S PURITANS BANNED CHRISTMAS AS FRIVOLOUS TIME
Christmas was outlawed in England by the Puritan government of England in 1643. Although the restoration of the Stuarts brought a revival of Christmas customs and traditions, Christmas never regained its former prestige in England.
It is observed religiously in the churches and as a day for family reunions and social gatherings, in contrast to the lavish feasting and boisterous merry-making of old times.
Merry-making and gift-giving take place, however, on December 26, which is Boxing Day. The origin of Boxing Day antedates Christmas and can be traced to the custom of gift-giving during the Roman festival of Saturnalia.
In Christian liturgy, December 26 is observed as the feast of St. Stephen, the Christian martyr. During the centuries when journeymen and apprentices were in the habit of levying upon their masters’ customer, ‘Christmas Boxes’ were collected on St. Stephen’s day.
Thus, the children received their presents, in boxes, as did old servants, the postman and everyone else. Reminiscent of the Roman Saturnalia, householders danced with the servants and toward evening, there was reveling in the streets as groups of merry-makers gathered on street corners or rode about London-town dancing on the “flats” of trucks.
One Solitary Life
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village where he worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty.
Then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
He never wrote a book.
He never traveled two hundred miles from the place where he was born.
He did none of the things one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself.
He was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to a cross between two thieves.
While he was dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing, the only property he had on earth.
When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone, and today he is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress.
All the armies that every marched, all the navies that every sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man on earth as much as that one solitary life.
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