Like an ugly ornament that I cannot bear to throw away is the following retelling of a Christmas Concert from just a few years ago.
In December of 2007 my wife and I went on a Christmas date to get the season started off right, but I am not sure it was anything depicted by Bing Crosby singing White Christmas.
We started the evening off with a nice dinner at a local steak house in front of a roaring (gas/fake) fireplace as the temperature outside was moving down down down that Minnesota winter night. After dinner we were off to downtown Minneapolis to the Pantages Theatre to listen to an A Cappella group called the Blenders for their Christmas concert.
The Weather Outside? frightful & freezing..
Did I mention it was cold out? It was as my protestant friends would put it.. “BLESSED COLD!” and parking was not a simple task. There was a downtown Christmas parade in progress so after driving in a slow moving automotive circle/parade consisting of a series of one-way right hand turns for about 30 minutes we completed what was in affect a 360 degree oblong circle where we parked about 4 blocks from the theatre.
Then.. we began our Frozen Mecca to the Pantages Theatre walking into the wind. Air temp was about 2 below zero and wind chill we heard (and felt) was about 14 below. I was not wearing a hat, and my coat was was not a great coat for MinneFROZEta. So the weather outside was as the ol Christmas song goes.. FRIGHTFUL.
Along our walk we passed by several downtown establishments.One was a gay bar and then we passed a club advertising topless girls, with the words.. hot, hot, hot over the topless ad.
Now this is where I was tempted.. not to see topless girls.. but I asked my wife since they were hot maybe we could go in for a moment and warm ourselves by the heat. Ok, honestly there was no temptation here for me, just an excuse for me to share another bad pun with my wife so she could roll her now frozen eyes at me.
Pantages here we go..
We arrive about 15 minutes before the concert began. Shivering and frozen we bought a $3 cup of coffee from the cash barin the lobby which my wife and I took turns holding it to keep warm. When another couple entered the theatre and sat next to us visibly cold too, I offered to let them hold my coffee for $1 apiece. They both laughed, but I did not see what was so funny.
Let the Show Begin..
So inside we go and the concert begins. The Blenders are very good and for me, one evening with an A Cappella group is enough. The Blenders are 4 guys I would guess their mid to late 30s in suits with choreographed movements like four Caucasian Temptations.
professionals on parade..
To add to the atmosphere there was a group of well dressed professional looking people taking up a large block of seats in front of us. I am guessing they were part of a company holiday party. That was fine.. I GUESS.. but this brought back bad memories of when I was part of a now defunct consulting firm that liked the look & style as only young professionals can. All in suits and dresses looking and ACTING the part of Type-A schmoozers without their ritalin. PLEASE PASS THE BUCKET. Ooops, sorry.. I guess I wrote that.. OUT LOUD.
Being what I would describe as a blue collar person trapped for years in a white collar job I find that I loathe this kind of behavior. Shallow, notice me people that stood at intermission in front of my wife and I til I found myself again appreciating my departure from corporate America to my world of people wearing stripped shirts (not prison inmates, but referees)
For those of you in corporate America.. let me offer both my apologies for my biased views, and my condolences for you being a part of it.
Let's have a drink.. NOT
Then to add to their festive corporate schooze, was the booze. Besides the cash bar in the lobby there was one young good looking guy dressed and acting the part of this corporate love fest passing a flask with something that I am pretty sure was stronger than 7-Up.
My Night in a Nutshell..
So here is my big Christmas night out with my wife.
I may make fun of my Friday evening out, but that is what I do. I am Christian who SMIRKS. I did have a good time with my wife.. I was cold.. but to be with the woman I love and to take time to be with her and appreciate her was a great way to start Christmas.
The next night..
was more low key as we spent it with our son Nate and his then girlfriend Kendra, and our daughter Erin with her boyfriend. We listened to Christmas music, made gingerbread cookies, and played the protestant approved game of cards.. Rook. It was a great evening which included a mini-fight with flour while making cookies.
IF.. IF by chance anyone from that corporate America party in 2007 reads this email about my great Saturday night making cookies you can thank God instead for your night out schmoozing sipping from your flask, with NO gingerbread cookies, flour prints on your $300 suit, or gingerbread crumbs stuck in your cleavage while donning a black backless & low cut dress that you bought special for this occasion and certainly NOT from the local JC Penney.
Merry Christmas to all of you TOO who were on display at the Pantages Theatre Saturday night BLOCKING MY ‘BLESSED’ VIEW OF THE BLENDERS!!!!
Jeff (frozen in the back pew) Larson
Every year during the Christmas season I take out and share this Christmas story like I do other Christmas decorations. I pray you enjoy.
I am not in the traditional workplace anymore, but I remember the coffee maker was the gathering point for socializing with coworkers. While pouring a refill there was talk about family, upcoming vacations, sports, or the ever popular grumbling in hushed tones about the boss.
So imagine.. the buzz around the coffee maker in Heaven a little over 2000 years ago when God’s plan for saving mankind was 'leaked out' around Heaven's coffee maker where Betty and Larry the angels meet to fill their morning cup of Heaven's finest brew. <pause> I am talking COFFEE not BEER just to be clear.
Betty: “Hey Larry, did you hear about the plan the 'boss' has for saving the world?”
Larry: “No, so what’s the scoop?”
Betty: “Well rumor has it, God's son Jesus will come to earth as a child born of a virgin in a barn and sleeps in a feeding trough for animals. His birth will not be proclaimed to the world to kings but to .. get this.. shepherds.“
Betty: “No really it’s true. , and Jesus will be raised by a common carpenter and his wife” and for the next almost 30 years in rural Israel.
Larry: “ Good one Betty, and so being a carpenter.. I suppose he will then build his father’s kingdom?” LOL!
Betty: “I know this sounds bizarre, but I heard it all from a very reliable source. And THAT'S NOT ALL. Next, Jesus will choose 12 men to assist him as key members of his kingdom movement.”
Larry: “You mean like a presidential cabinet of sorts comprised of priests, rabbis, maybe a few influential politicians, and seasoned military leaders would seem reasonable selections.
Betty: “No, .. they are mostly fishermen.”
Larry: “I see.. fishermen… So far we have Jesus born in a barn in obscurity except to shepherds, his critical years of development to be the King and Savior are spent as a carpenter instead of seminary? Yes, yes.. this makes ‘boat loads’ of sense…. NOT!”
Betty: “I know, I know.. BUT THAT'S NOT ALL... Next Jesus takes on the established religious community. He will challenge, and mock their rules and motives.. which of course flies like a politically and religiously incorrect Lead Balloon.“
Larry: “Now who is it you said you heard this all from? You were not talking to Cliffy from the mail room again were you? I know this is Heaven, but Cliff is full of it.”
Betty: “No .. it was not Cliff, it was from a very reliable source. Now be quiet for a minute and let me finish.. then you can let your jaw drop to the floor… because THERE IS MORE!”
Larry: - [ Larry motions that he is zipping his lip and smiles.. in silence ]
Betty: “All of this leads to a final week when the salvation message is realized. Jesus in this unconventional plan lulls the leaders of the day into .. falsely arresting him, mocking him, he is beaten and whipped to the point of death. Then to a jeering crowd he is lead up to a hill where he is ultimately crucified as a common criminal while he is rejected by the people he came to save… JUST THE WAY HE PLANNED IT ALL ALONG.”
Betty: Of course Jesus will not stay dead, but is RISEN from the dead, but not everyone will witness this.. and so believing in Jesus, and accepting his free gift of salvation will still be a matter of choice and requires a personal faith in things not seen or every fully understood.
Larry: [still silent, Larry stands with his arms crossed]
Betty the Angel: “That’s it Larry, believe me or not.. this is the God’s honest truth (no pun intended).”<pause> “Ok, now you can speak.”
Larry: I don’t know who put you up to this.. but I would NOT tell these wild tales to anyone else… This is all CRAZY TALK.. and I have better things to do with my time. Next time you have anymore ’Revelations’ .. get it in writing on God’s very own BLESSED executive stationary!! Next time consider your sources before swallowing a whopper like this one hook line and sinker. You are just soooo gullable.”
[Larry then walks back to work leaving Betty looking exasperated]
Ok maybe it was not quite like this, but I don’t think this is a story line embraced in Hollywood. Kings, great rulers, and most certainly saviors would be scripted to be spectacular and not born in a barn, surrounded by sheep, raised as a poor carpenters boy to be the ONE challenging the motives ot the established church, stirring the hearts of the people, who is ultimately crucified as a criminal, but rises again our savior.. Then again.. Hollywood’s vision of drama is Law & Order reruns and ’passion’ is a steamy Hollywood 'love' story.
I thank God for the beauty of his plan. God's ways are not our ways, and his thought are higher than our thoughts Is 55:8-9.
What a perfect and loving plan to save the world. Just like the wisemen when Jesus was born I pray we all seek to find the Messiah.
May God bless each of you with a great day and may the great news of hope and salvation shared around Heaven's coffee maker over 2000 years ago be realized in each of our lives.
aka.. The Good Samaritan of Northern Wisconsin. This is a story near and dear to my heart reminding me how God works his subtle miracles through 'random' meetings and acts of kindness.
On the roads of ice and snow near Hayward Wisconsin in December 2001 a young mother with her preschool children were heading towards home to the nearby town of Drummond when along the road she sees an older man with the hood up on his car.
This was a typical bitter cold December day, but though she has her young children with her she is impressed to stop and see if she can help.
As she pulls over the old man approaches her car. She cautiously locks her doors and rolls down her window slightly to ask if she can help. The old man does not speak, and tries to open the door, then reaches inside his coat.. making her all the more uneasy.
The old man pulls out a small keyboard from his jacket and types a short message explaining he has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) so he can not speak, and would appreciate a ride into Hayward. The young woman opens her car to the old man and drives him home.
This old man was my father Walter Larson, and the young woman was Jen Herricks. Jen was the the Good Samaritan of Northern Wisconsin 2001. I wonder how many cars drove by before Jen stopped to help. I wonder how many macho northwoods guys in their 4x4 trucks drove by too busy to help an old man in need on a bitter cold winter day? Maybe none, but maybe too many. But no matter, my dad was cared for by someone with a family car, and a kind heart.
Jen later explained to my mom that she thought my dad was an angel. There are a few explanations for this observation but no one before this would have described my dad as an angel. A good man? Yes. An angel.. hmmm. No so much. Maybe there was an angel standing alongside my dad that cold December day. Maybe it was the peace my dad demonstrated in his life just months before passing on to Heaven. Either way it was certainly a divine appointment with an angel that day.
What I know was that this day God impressed on the good heart of a kind woman to be real Christianity that had nothing to do with raising her hands during worship on Sunday morning.
I love the gospel passage that says, “You fed me when I was hungry, you clothed me when I was naked.” Well if the gospels were written today they would also say “you gave me a ride when I was an old man when my car broke down on a winter road in Wisconsin. For when you do these things for the least of my people, you do it for me.”
So Jen gives my dad a ride home. He offers her money, she refuses, and they go their separate ways. NICE STORY, BUT IT IS NOT OVER!.
A few weeks later my folks receive a Christmas card from Jen wishing and praying the best for them. This was nice touch too, but... THE STORY IS NOT OVER!
My dad passed away from his battle with ALS just a couple short months after this December encounter. The funeral is a celebration of my dad and the good man he was, and a celebration of his life now in Heaven. In the mean time, Jen and her family began attending my parent’s home church in Cable Wisconsin not knowing yet the connection.
After a short period of time this became clear to Jen that my mom attends this same church.. and so Jen contacts my mom. This began a friendship that continues today 13+ years after my dad’s passing. even after Jen and her family moved to another city farther away and my mom moved to the big city to be part of our home here in Maple Grove Minnesota.
Now that my mom is 86 and pretty limited mobility, Jen still visits my mom with her kids probably 3-5 times a year. When Jen comes to visit my mom it is with hugs and kisses that are reserved normally for family. Her kids call her Grandma Nell, and this continues to be a special friendship.
God provided for my dad on that cold December road, and he provides for my mom now with the love and friendship of Jen and her family.
Also.. With this friendship God has provided Jen these last 10+ years with my mom as a ‘seasoned’ Christian woman to talk and confide with. My mom does not replace Jen’s real mom, nor does Jen replace my sister or myself, BUT this is to me an amazing example again of God answering prayers that we did not even know how to ask.
I am thankful for that divine appointment with an angel in December 2001. Jen thought the angel was my dad, but I believe maybe she was the angel.
Every year I like to recall this story and reflect on God's goodness to my family through this friendship. We look forward to Jen coming to visit us here in Minnesota and so the friendship with my mom continues to be a true blessing from God. Praise God for His love shown to us through his people.
May each of us slow down at times to realize God’s divine appointments with angels in our lives.
The mutterings on life and faith by cartoonist Jeff Larson