Listen to this devotional:
Listen while you read: "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day"1 (Lyrics)
Psalm 150 – Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. (NIV)
Ernie, my husband of 37 years, died on October 10th. As we gathered in the sanctuary of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on October 19th to celebrate Ernie's life with a memorial service, there was a small Christmas tree sitting on a short table on the platform. Many wondered why it was there until I got up during the service to share some of Ernie's life, which included the story of our Christmas tree.
For years, each Christmas, we have put a small Christmas tree on top of the armoire in our bedroom. Ernie, who had been given two months to live in January of 2011, now spent most of his time in our bedroom. After Christmas last year, I suggested to Ernie that he might like to keep it there all the time, as he often slept with the tree lights on all night. This little 16-inch tree, with its small stuffed birds and other miniature decorations, has two strings of the old kind of miniature lights, all of which go out if one bulb burns out. With God's grace, the top string has never burnt out, but over the year, one by one, bulbs on the bottom string of the tree lights burned out and had to be replaced, until by summer, there were no spares left. I thought of putting a notice downstairs in our apartment building, but, sadly, I did not think to ask God to send me some — but God is good.
One Monday morning last June, I was taking some old clothes to a local Bibles For Missions thrift store. As I went to the back door, I glanced at the stuff that had been left over the weekend and noticed a grocery bag containing Christmas tree lights! There I was, dancing around the parking lot, hands in the air, praising God for His awesome gift! Over the summer, the bottom string burnt out repeatedly and was replaced four or five times, until there was only one string left, which was in an unopened box. That last string continued to burn brightly through Ernie's last days. The little tree went with him for the last four days of his life in the Embassy West Hospice and shone brightly as Ernie, after nearly three years with pulmonary fibrosis and three heart attacks, ascended into heaven to meet his Lord and Saviour, Jesus, in the late afternoon of October 10th. That little tree, lit with its bright lights, stood on the platform of the sanctuary as we gathered on October 19th to celebrate Ernie's life.
Strangely, last weekend, I put up Ernie's tree in my bedroom and plugged it in — nothing. Both of the strings of lights on the tree were burned out!
I've felt nudged lately by the Holy Spirit to share this Christmas tree story about the goodness of God, His faithfulness, and how He gives us gifts without our even praying for them. Even in the poignancy of death, God grants us little touches of His love to soften the blow and let us know that He cares. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants." (Psalm 116:15 NIV)
Prayer: Father, in the name of Your Son, Jesus, we praise and thank You for the life of Your faithful servants who have passed to their reward, and for Your promise to us who believe, that we will spend eternity with You. Help us to live each day as if it were our last. As we enter the season of Advent, guide us in our preparations to celebrate the birth of Your Son, Jesus, who died that we may have eternal life. Help us each to remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. Amen.