Clarence stared at the flyer the church lady had just given him. The words at the top of the piece of paper read, Christmas brings hope. Hope? Clarence thought, there was no hope for him anymore. Did the church even know what hope was all about? Did they know that he hadn’t slept in days? Did they know that his addiction had taken away all hope from him? Did they care that he had just been evicted and had no place to go? Did they care that his stomach was empty and growling. Did they know that he planned to end his life tonight, on Christmas Eve?
“Sir,” the voice startled him back into reality, “would you like to join us at our church this evening? We have a hot meal being prepared right now and a special Christmas Eve service. We would love for you to join us.”
Clarence muttered something unintelligible for a few seconds before his stomach reminded him that he was hungry. “Yes” he replied, “show me where to go.
Nicole led him into the church, Clarence looked around in amazement. It had been at least 20 years since he had been in a church building. This church, New Hope Community Church, was decorated beautifully for Christmas. There were lit stars hanging from the ceiling, greenery was draped around the columns and a banner with the words, Christmas Brings Hope, was prominently displayed on the wall behind the pulpit. The flickering candles in the windows made the stained glass seem to come to life. As he walked to the front of the church, Clarence noticed that there was a wooden altar. Engraved on the altar were the words, Bring Your Burdens to God. Something inside Clarence began to stir and for the first time in a long time, he began to feel a ray of hope.
Smelling the aroma of strong coffee and roasted turkey, Clarence walked into the large room that was in the other part of the building. The dining room was full of people feasting on turkey and all the trimmings. Teenagers were taking food orders and serving the plates of food. Nicole led him over to an empty chair and gave him a smile and said Merry Christmas. Clarence felt a lump form in his throat. Again, the words flashed before his eyes, Christmas brings hope. What exactly did that mean?
As he devoured his plate of food and drank mugs of hot coffee, he began to hear Christmas carols playing in the sanctuary as the pre-service began. After finishing the reaming crumbs of his pumpkin pie, along with another mug of coffee, he along with dozens of others made their way into the sanctuary. The service was just starting and the pastor was welcoming the congregation. Then the singing started again. They began to sing some song that Clarence had never heard before.
“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. Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth Thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
As the singing continued, Clarence began to review his life. He thought again of the sad days of coming home from school with no parents to welcome him. He remembered the fighting that seemed to happen every night between his dad and mom. He reflected on the time he tried alcohol and drugs for the first time in an attempt to shut out the noise and hurt of life. And how he wished he would have stopped the drugs and alcohol before he wasted his life.
He noticed Nicole, the lady who had invited him to the meal and service climb the steps of the platform and began to sing in what sounded like an angelic voice to Clarence, these old words.
“Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!”
Tears started to stream down the rough cheeks of Clarence. Hope. Was there really hope for him? Did a person who had lived the type of life that had deserve a second chance?
The pastor got up again and began to tell the Christmas story. He told the story of how the world that the nativity story was set in was a world filled with despair and anxiety. There seemed to be no hope. Clarence understood that feeling. The pastor continued, “but into that dark depressed world, a baby was born who would change everything. Christmas is the celebration of Jesus being born and offering hope to the entire world.” Clarence was intently listening as the pastor shared how the Christ of Christmas could change lives. Clarence was ready for a change. In fact, he was at the point of either changing or ending his life.
It was the end of the service, as the congregation stood, the pastor uttered those words again, Christmas brings hope. He invited anyone who wanted to change their lives to come up front to the altar to pray. Clarence pushed past the people in his row and stumbled forward to the altar. With tears streaming down his face, he tried to pray, but didn’t know what to say. Several individuals gathered around Clarence and explained to him what it meant to give his life to Christ and offered to show him how to pray. As he prayed to God, Clarence felt the years of hardness, bitterness and anger disappear. It was replaced with love, the love of God. For Clarence, this Christmas, hope came alive to him personally.
Christmas brings hope!
Thanks for reading my first short-story. I wrote this to read to my daughters this Christmas Eve. But I thought that I would share it with you too.
Clarence’s story is fiction, but it is based upon many stories of redemption that my family and I had the privilege of watching among our friends in Lebanon Pennsylvania. We have been forever changed as we watched God’s transforming power change lives.
ⓒ 2013 Robert W. Booth