Pastor's Comments

Pastors Comments

A CHRISTMAS TRADITION REMEMBERED

My late father was always grateful for the people who had influence in his life, particularly in relation to his employment. He never took them for granted. He was appreciative and expressive toward them, in response to having confidence regarding his loyalty and determined work ethic. As an expression of his appreciation, I remember his gestures of gratitude, and his sharing of “simple gifts.” Once a year in the summer, he would purchase and hand deliver a dozen of the most beautiful softshell crabs from the Piankatank River to the home of his late boss in the Willoughby section of Norfolk. For dad, it was not a matter of seeking to get ahead, or scoring points with the boss. Rather, it was an expression of appreciation conveyed through a spirit of sincere gratitude and kindness. Additionally, he enjoyed the surprise and delight of the receiver, knowing it would bring spontaneous joy and happiness to them. Yes, joy and happiness!

These expressions of grace continued, particularly as one of the traditions of Christmas. Annually, from my mother’s kitchen to the front door of his friends and co-workers, he would hand deliver her assortment of baked goods. Her assorted plates contained fruitcake, pound cake, chocolate cake, and a blend of wonderful cookies. Butter cookies, pecan ball cookies covered in white sugar, and of course, oatmeal raisin! My delight was in relation to licking the batter from the bowls. The subsequent delivery of these goodies was rather simple, not extravagant by any means, certainly not by UPS or Fed-Ex standards. Dad, sometimes accompanied by me, made these deliveries in his green Chevrolet pick-up. His truck of choice was always green and always a Chevy. With plates covered in aluminum foil or Saran Wrap, he would gather them reverently, akin to a faithful church usher walking offering plates to the altar.

I never really understood the impact of these deliveries until over 40 years later at a funeral home. Upon reading the obituary of another former “boss man” of my father’s, one who had outlived him by many years, I decided to represent dad by attending his funeral. Before the service began, the family was greeting guests in the parlor of the funeral home. Certainly, his wife and her children did not recognize me after all these years. Yet, upon reintroducing myself to his wife, calling forth my being the son of the late Mr. Chapman, I could not believe the expression of this grieving widow when I said my father used to work for her husband. With elation and joy, she immediately remembered my dad, calling her children around her saying: “This is Mr. Chapman’s son,” and the first thing her children remembered and spoke of was the delivery of the Christmas cakes and cookies by dad to them at Christmas. We often take for granted the simple gestures from heart and home. The communal impact of such gifts of grace cannot be measured by any means.

Beyond the “news-making” event of the scriptures, such as the birth of Christ, the crucifixion of Jesus, or the resurrection story, I remain fascinated by the small details, often accompanied through a few words of the writer, making their way into the description of what happened. Take for example the accounts from Luke and Matthew: “The angel said to her ... ” (Luke 1:30), “Mary said to the angel ...” (Luke: 1:34), “... there were shepherds living in the field ...” (Luke 2:8), “So they went with haste...” (Luke 2:16), “... ahead of them went the star ... (Matthew: 2:9), “... they knelt down and paid him homage” (Matthew 2:11). No doubt, these are deliberate details, yet simple accounts, called into extreme significance by the gospel writers, intended as a means whereby these stories capture the revelation of God through ordinary human activity. This is how God still shows up today, perhaps with the exception of an angel here and there. And still, unbeknownst to us, angels do have a way of appearing.

My father has been deceased now for 34 years. To this day, I can smell his lingering presence around the “work bench” in the garage. I see him standing in what was an adjacent garden. I recall his mannerisms and expressions through words such as “Capt’n,” or his humming a tune. I can sense a glance, hear a chuckle and feel his surrounding me when I sit in his worn, beat-up chair when visiting mom. Recently, upon returning to the 75th anniversary of my home church, I was reminded of how our church sanctuary was the place we gathered every Sunday. We sat together, and worshipped God, just like we do at Chestnut. I even recalled the day of his funeral, our being surrounded by mourning family members and friends. Cleaning out his pickup truck, removing his belongings: a jacket, a pen, loose change, some papers, and a pouch of Red Man tobacco, was one of the most difficult things that I have ever had to do.

As everyone knows, we live in a world of constant change. This fall has been a time of heightened nuclear threats, acts of terrorism from Las Vegas to New York, and weather-related disasters revealed in floods, hurricanes and wildfires. And despite these events, we are called to worship God, remain faithful and surround each other with love. In keeping with our tradition at Chestnut, there will be a number of services, whereby we mark time, beginning on Christmas Eve morning. We will sing hymns penned centuries ago such as Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” (1734), “Silent Night, Holy Night” (1818), and “Away in a Manger” (1887). We will read the sacred word from the ancient scriptures, celebrate Holy Communion and light candles. I take great delight in seeing the children and grandchildren of our faithful when they visit and worship at Chestnut during the holidays. I am also reminded that Christmas is not the same this year as it may have been last year, with the passing of a loved one, or a divorce no one in the family was expecting.

Through the meals we share, the stories remembered, the pictures taken, and the cookies we bake, the Christmas season and the beginning of a new year are important markers for us, and not to be taken for granted. The deposit and impact of these moments, perhaps not realized at the time, have the potential of being imprinted indelibly upon us. We can never underestimate the importance of “small gifts,” and how many years later, at say a funeral home, as when young adults, mourning the passing of their father, remember with fondness the delivery of homemade baked goods from one of his employees over 40 years ago. Perhaps for them, those cookies and slices of cake, delivered by a grateful hard-working blue-collar worker, connected them with a sense of communion within their own family. And as in the spirit of my father, I remain grateful to the Chestnut congregation for your support and encouragement in our sharing of “simple gifts” with one another.