(Many of you will recall this, a Christmas blessing in our family from 2004.)
"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy" (Matthew 2:10).
In recent years, the beginning of every Christmas season reminds me of a particularly vivid display of our Lord's faithfulness that took place at the retirement community where we conduct services.
One of Frances's childhood Christmas memories involves an album by the singer Tennessee Ernie Ford that her family listened to every year. "The Star Carol" contained many of the traditional favorites of the season, along with a song called "Some Children See Him" that Ford's version actually popularized. As is so often the case with Christmas music, the album held great sentimental value for Frances, and sweetened her memories of the past with her family.
After we were married, she mentioned the album and her feelings about it to me. Naturally, I set about to obtain a copy, thinking there would be no problem in doing so. I discovered, however, that The Star Carol had long since been out of distribution, and I could find no used copies of the album anywhere. For many years, every Christmas season involved the search for The Star Carol, and more importantly, prayer that God would provide in His time and way.
In 2004, the answer came. We were conducting services at the retirement community one Tuesday afternoon. I was preaching that day, and my friend and ministry partner Jack was singing a hymn before I spoke. I was sitting by a piano listening, and happened to glance at a record rack that contained numerous old albums enjoyed by the residents of the facility. My glance turned into a stunned double take as I realized that sitting on that rack, just waiting for me and for Frances, was the answer to several decades of prayer. In the very front of the stack of records, with what seemed like either neon lights shining on it, or perhaps a ray of glory from Heaven, was a copy of The Star Carol.
This was one of those moments for which no words are available, or possible. I'm not even sure I could think "Thank You" upon my first realization of God's blessed provision and answer. I was scheduled to speak, however, and quickly realized that the Lord had handed to me my sermon for the day on a black vinyl platter. I picked up the album after Jack finished singing, stood before the people, and held up The Star Carol for them to see. "Do you know what I am holding in my hand?" I asked rhetorically. Before anybody could answer, I said, "What I am holding in my hand is the answer to a prayer and the expression of God's perfect faithfulness!" I then shared the story of Frances's history with The Star Carol, my long search, and the blessed moment when a glance became a blessed opportunity to gaze into the glory of God.
The next step was the request to borrow the album from the facility. The nurses on duty that day, however, presented the album to me as a gift. One more hurdle then remained. We had no record player. This challenge was quickly met when I remembered that the year before, we had given our partner Jack a device that played CDs, tapes, and of course, old fashioned vinyl albums. Jack was happy to loan me the unit, so I made plans to surprise Frances with a blessing from her childhood, and from her God. That night, I led her into our living room, turned out all the lights but the Christmas tree, made her close her eyes, and then turned on the record player which I had hidden in a corner of the room.
You can imagine her reaction. It was kind of like my glance and double take upon first seeing The Star Carol on the record rack at the facility. I still think back on that moment with great gratitude, and it was a joy to share with Frances how the provision had come about. Along those lines, I will always give thanks that I found The Star Carol at Gordon Oaks (the nursing facility I reference). We have such a special feeling about this place and its people, and as I write this, I recall that most of those wonderful folks who were there on that special day have since gone to be with the Lord. What a joy to have shared that moment with people so dear to our hearts.
Two final blessings awaited. Our dear friend Jay Grelen, columnist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, wrote an article about the experience (a laminated copy of which now hangs on our Christmas tree every year). Subsequently, a family member of Tennessee Ernie Ford who works to preserve his legacy read the column. She was greatly appreciative, and wrote me to express her gratitude for our having shared Ernie's involvement in God's blessing. Needless to say, it was a special time in a special year that revealed a special Lord who "out of His infinite riches in Jesus, giveth and giveth and giveth again."
The latter point is the most important of all. I raised a question the other day in a sermon at Gordon Oaks: "Why does the Bible say that God loveth a cheerful giver?" The answer is simple. Because He is Himself a cheerful giver. Our Heavenly Father loves to provide, He loves to answer prayer, and He loves to reveal His heart by the moving of His hand on our behalf. Certainly we wait on His time and way, and we trust His perfect wisdom regarding how He provides, answers, and moves. Nevertheless, the trusting sons and daughters of God in Christ can have great confidence in the disposition of our Lord toward us. As He told His disciples, "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom," so does His Word declare to us, "God... giveth us richly all things to enjoy" (Luke 12:32; I Timothy 6:17). For our family, The Star Carol sings to us each year of our Lord's greatest gift, and it is itself a wonderful example of it.
"Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given."