By Rev. Jim Riley
I first met Esther in the hospital. Recurring benign lumps would appear in her arms that had to be removed. I had a good time visiting with her because she wasn’t really sick. She had friends in our church and once I asked her why she didn’t come to church. She told me, “Some people thinks I’m a little coarse.”
She was a little coarse. The place she lived a few miles out of town hadn’t seen paint in years, and the small, front porch was sagging. The barns were in better shape. There were still tree limbs strewn about her front yard and pastures from a tornado that had happened a couple of years before our family moved to the community. The tornado hadn’t damaged the buildings.
Esther loved her cattle. She had seen enough years with strong cattle prices, that she was known to be quite wealthy. She also owned some mining property in South Dakota that she had to go look after now and again. She liked being a western woman in something of a rough and tumble sense and she could put me in mind of Calamity Jane.
The thing Esther loved to do with her money was to take long trips. She enjoyed England with its royal traditions and its history. She loved Australia even more. She told me she loved to board the train in Sydney and travel to Perth just to watch the animals in the outback. The kangaroos delighted her when she saw them as they fled from the train and ran through the open countryside. Something she told me she liked even better was “traveling with the doctors, lawyers, bankers, and such types as taking those kinds of trips.” She loved to tell them stories and keep them entertained with her smart remarks and ways of doing things. I remember one time in our own town when she rode in the back of a pick-up dressed as a kangaroo for a community celebration. She had a big time calling out to people who knew her.
Somebody told me that if I ever heard Esther play the piano, I would love it. She could really pound out the tunes. They also told me I would never get in the door of the house. It was a big mess, and she didn’t want people to come.
One time when I saw Esther in the hospital, she was a little blue. It was probably about a month before Christmas. I mentioned Christmas because I thought it would be something to talk about. She told me, “I just don’t get excited about Christmas. Nobody thinks about me; I don’t think about them. Nobody has ever brought me a box of cookies and such like they do other older people.” I would have thought Esther would be offended if somebody did bring her a box of goodies as they did for other older people.
Esther went on, “And when we had that tornado a few years ago—they went and helped everybody around but me. Nobody came to my house to pick up sticks and branches. They don’t care, and I don’t care. No, I don’t even like Christmas very much. I lost my husband on Christmas day, so it has never meant very much after that. It’s kind of a sad time. I would just rather be out in my barn with the animals.”
That’s pretty much where we left the conversation. I did leave the hospital with an idea. The young adults would have their Christmas gathering at just about the right time to fix a box for Esther. I thought it would bring her a little Christmas cheer.
After the young adults came back from caroling we settled back into a cozy living room with a tree and lights. We had more food than we needed with our cocoa. It felt good to swap tales about our kids and things that went on at school and Sunday school along with a little speculation about how the bowl games would come out.
Finally someone mentioned taking boxes to a few of the older people. I mentioned Esther. Conversation stopped. The room turned cold. One good friend looked at me and said, “Esther?”
I said, “Esther. Why not Esther? I was talking to her the other day. She told me nobody came to help her after the tornado. She was a little hurt.”
The guys looked at me and proceeded to set me straight. One said, “There’s a reason nobody goes to Esther’s house. She carries a gun. She told us she will use it.” Men in the group delivered propane gas to Esther’s farm. She had let them know she wasn’t kidding with her threats when it came time to straighten out some business details.
One of the women spoke up, “Don’t get us wrong. We will be glad to fix a box for Esther.”
Another one of the men told me, “You will be the one to take it to her house!”
I said, “I can do that. Let me know when the box is ready. I’ll take it.” I tried to put aside my misgivings about the gun.
A couple of days before Christmas I got the call that the box was ready. When I went to get it, the box looked like it was wrapped in love. When I got it home I opened the box to see what was inside. It was lined with colorful Christmas napkins, and there were several kinds of decorated cookies and some candy. I thought it should bring a little joy to Esther’s heart. I wanted to add a note of my own, and I knew the card I wanted to use.
The picture on the card was one I especially liked. It depicted the Holy Family back in a cave like stable away from the viewer. They were kind of alone, but the livestock was close by, and there was a lot of warmth. I wrote a note to go with it:
I knew another woman once by the name of Esther. After she lost her husband, she was having a hard time with Christmas. Then someone told her, “You have to remember that this is your husband’s first Christmas in heaven. Think of the good time he’s having.”
You have to remember that the very first Christmas was in a stable with the animals close by. So when you are in the barn with your animals this Christmas Eve, I hope you’ll remember where the first Christmas was and let the love of Jesus come into your heart.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Jim and Young Adults at the Church
I called Esther to ask when I could bring the box. She let me know she was too busy to be at the house, and she didn’t much care whether she got a box. You can guess that I had a few thoughts. I don’t remember what I said. Esther told me, “Just leave it in the mailbox then.”
I said, “I think the mail carrier will have a problem with that.” You don’t want to know what Esther told me about the mail carrier. I told Esther about what time I would come by and leave the box so she could pick it up.
Esther told me, “Okay.” I took the box that afternoon.
The thing everybody loves about Christmas Eve candlelight services is when we start lighting the candles and the church grows brighter and brighter as each person lights the next candle. When we did it that Christmas Eve I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of Christmas Eve Esther was having. I wondered if she had gone out to spend a little time with her animals in a dimly lit barn. I wondered if our Christmas box had brought a little Christmas light into her life.
Esther called the day after Christmas. I could tell from her voice that there were tears in her eyes. She told me, “Pastor Jim, thank you for that box. I had never thought of Christmas that way before. It meant so much to me.
I said, “Esther, you’re welcome. Merry Christmas.”
I don’t always get it right when I try to convey the love of God to somebody else. I couldn’t have gotten it right that time without the help of the young adults at our church. I only hope that “Esther’s Christmas” will inspire you to think of somebody whose life is a little dark sometimes. There may be a way for you to take the light of God’s love into a dark place. A lot of these things go better when the church works at it together.
It’s almost time to sing “Silent Night,” and light your candle from the Christ candle. Let the light bring the love of God to life in your heart as you remember the birth of Jesus. Let the light of Christ inspire you with love for somebody in a darker place, and may God show you a way to take the light of Christ to somebody else.
May the peace of God be with you. Amen.
This story is written for a Christmas Eve service where candles are lit at the close of the service. It could be read for a smaller group or family who might want to light candles. Sometimes individuals enjoy lighting candles for personal devotion; the story is appropriate for your personal use as well. The story is intended to bring light into people’s lives with or without candles.
All rights are reserved to the author, Rev. James C. Riley. Permission is given to copy the story for individual or group use, but not for publication. Copy Date December 1, 2004