We have all read the Christmas story found in Matthew and Luke, but did you know that John has a Christmas story? It is found in the very first chapter: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It is called the incarnation.
Dr. Thomas Tewell tells the true story of a Christmas Eve Service at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. Among the great throng of worshipers who had gathered for the Christmas Eve Communion was a recovering alcoholic named Jim, six months sober. This was his first Christmas since having lost his wife and children.
A family of four sat two rows in front of him. Seeing them there together reminded him of what he had lost, of what could have been his had not his drinking destroyed it. Overwhelmed with the ache in his heart, he decided he couldn’t handle the pain without a drink.
He got up and moved toward the narthex. There he encountered Pastor Tewell who asked, “Jim, where are you going?” “I’m going for a scotch,” Jim replied. “Jim, you can’t do that,” his pastor responded. “Not after six months of sobriety. Is your sponsor available?”
“Pastor, it’s Christmas Eve. My sponsor is in Minnesota. There’s nobody to help me. I came tonight for a word of hope. I wound up sitting behind this happy family and I suddenly realized that if I had my life together, I’d be here with my wife and kids, too.” Pastor Tewell took Jim into the vestry to talk with two other pastors. Then, on his way to the sanctuary, he whispered a prayer, “O God, could you give me a word of hope for Jim?”
After welcoming those who had come and giving directions for the service, he said, “I have one final announcement. If there is anyone here tonight who is a friend of Bill Wilson—and if you are, you’ll know it—could you step out for a moment and meet me in the vestry?” (Bill Wilson, better known as Bill W., is the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous). From all over the sanctuary women, men, college students, stood up and began making their way toward the vestry.
Dr. Thomas Tewell concludes with these words: “And while I was preaching in the sanctuary about the incarnation, the Word was becoming flesh in the vestry. Someone in need was finding help and hope.” And, now, may God bless each of you this Christmas, your home and family and all of those you love. May it be the most meaningful Christmas you have ever known as Christ is born anew in each and every heart.
Rev. Nichols is Minister Emeritus of First Christian Church, Temple, where he was senior minister for 23 years. He writes a religious column for several newspapers.