EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Bruce Mont is the pastor of the First Church of the Resurrection, 901 E. Tuscarawas St., Canton. The Press-News staff thanks him for his heart-warming and inspirational Christmas column. Look for Dr. Mont's photo and more information on Page A3.
Having to get up early on a day off from school would have been inexcusable except for the fact that it was Christmas morning.
In our family my dad, mom, sister and brother celebrated our time together for Christmas on the 24th so that we could be up early for the trek to grandpa and grandma's house for breakfast the next day.
As soon as we got to the parsonage door (my grandfather was a pastor) you could smell the food being prepared inside. I can still smell the sausage, bacon, gravy and especially the homemade buttermilk biscuits. Amazing how the smell of those blessed Christmas mornings can cause your mouth to water even now.
Inside was a chaotic scene with uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents. The parsonage was much too small for such a large gathering, but no one seemed to mind. My grandmother was an excellent cook and the breakfast was delicious, but the kids were wanting to get to the gifts piled under the tree in the living room. So as the breakfast dishes are being taken to the sink, we headed for the tree to find the boxes and wrapping paper that contained our names. Taking the boxes in our hands we shook them to see if there was any clue to what might be inside.
Finally, the adults made their way into the living room, and all would find a seat. Although we were practically on top of each other, we were all glad to be there. Looking back, it was so nice to not have the ubiquitous cell phones. You did not have to get the person next to you to stop texting someone else. We actually looked each other in the eye and had live conversations with the people you said you loved. But that's another story.
Then came the honor that I most remember. I really can't recall any of the gifts received those mornings any longer, but I can remember being asked to do the most important job of the gathering. When I was about 9 or 10 I had the honor of finally reading the Christmas story found in Luke 2:1-20 in the New Testament portion of the Bible. Each year one person was selected to read the story to the rest of the family. I can remember the room growing silent as the familiar story of Mary and Joseph unfolded into the birth announcement of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World.
Even though most of us stumbled through words like Quirinius, governor of Syria, it was such a privilege to be asked to read the narrative that had brought such life to our family. My grandparents would have never dreamed of going any further than breakfast without placing Jesus in the center of our celebration. For the reality of what Christ had come to do permeated what made us a family.
You see my grandfather had been an alcoholic, who was addicted to gambling, when he married my grandmother. After a series of domestic problems, involving losing his paychecks from International Harvester, from alcohol and gambling abuses, my grandmother was ready to call it quits. My grandfather reluctantly agreed to go to an old-fashioned tent revival in South Charleston, Ohio, and he answered a call to commit his life to following Jesus after the Gospel was presented. His life was so completely transformed that my grandmother said, "If there was no other evidence for God other than my grandfather's changed life-- she would believe."
Not only was her marriage saved, but they went on to work closely in the church together for almost 60 years.
So when the grandkids read about the angel appearing to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shining around them, my grandfather would remember about his encounter with the Lord. For the angel said these timeless words, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; you find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests." (Luke 2:10-14)
After the reading, we would tear open the presents and enjoy the things that God had provided. In my mind's eye I can see my grandfather leaning back into his recliner with a peaceful smile, and maybe even with a little tear forming. He would look at his five children and their spouses, his 12 grandchildren and reflect upon the profound blessings that God had given him because of what God had done that first Christmas morning.
Seventeen years ago, my grandfather went to be with his Lord and Savior, and though both of my grandparents are now in Heaven-- I still carry on that most important tradition in my home. "For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6). The One that brought peace to my grandfather's life, marriage and family has also brought peace to mine. So as we get up this Christmas morning, one of my daughters will open the greatest book ever written and say those eternal words that have been a part of my Christmas story for as long as I can remember, "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born."
I want to challenge you this year to open the Bible (dust if off if you have to), and turn to the Christmas Story. Just read it to your family, and ask the Lord to make this story come alive in your family too. Merry Christmas and praise to the joy that has come into the world.