Fourth Sunday of Advent – Love
An Advent Christmas Memory
In 1994, Christmas fell on a Sunday, and the “message” that year consisted of various members of the congregation sharing a memorable Christmas. Evelyn Stribling, then 91, and a thirty-six year member of First Christian Church, Denton, was helped to the pulpit and told the following story, which made a lasting impression upon me.
Evelyn grew up in Oklahoma where winters could be cold. One year Evelyn and her sister Pauline, either older teens or very young adults, decided early in the year to gift their father with a fine wool coat. The two scrimped and saved all year to purchase the coat, and finally did so in time for Christmas. They were understandably excited as they watched their father open his present, for which they had worked so hard. Mr. Middleton was elated to receive such a fine coat, the likes of which he had never owned.
Just after Christmas, a young couple in the community had a baby who died. The very young father constructed a wooden coffin for his child’s body, and a brief graveside service was held in bitterly cold weather. Mr. Middleton, wearing his new wool coat, was among those who gathered at the cemetery seeking to offer comfort to the young man who was suffering so great a loss. As the people gathered and the service began, Evelyn and Pauline watched as their father broke from among the group of people, approached the young father from behind, slipped off his new coat, and placed it instead on the shoulders of the grieving father. Mr. Middleton could not bring back the dead infant, but he could, and did show God’s love in a powerful way that day. And that story, which took place almost 100 years ago, lives on to be told again.
The story paints a beautiful picture of sacrificial giving. Evelyn and Pauline had sacrificed throughout the year to save enough money to purchase the gift for their father. And their father sacrificed by giving his fine new coat to someone experiencing tremendous sorrow and loss. None of the characters in this true story gave out of their abundance. Rather, each of them gave sacrificially. Thanks be to God for those God places around us to teach us “the way.”
Note: Zena Stribling McAdams, currently serving as Interim Regional Executive of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Southwest and a Priscilla of our congregation, is the daughter of Evelyn Stribling and the granddaughter of Mr. Middleton.