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Sermon for December 31, 2007

To all five of my faithful readers: Have a wonderful New Year!

Here is a transcription of my latest "Letter from Home" from my Aunt Georgia:

Dear Matt,

It was nice of you to finally write back to me. You know, most people return letters after a few weeks. It’s called good manners. When you write back it shows that you care enough to think of someone else beside yourself, bless your heart. Even though you can’t manage to write a proper note, I hope you and your family had a good Christmas. I bet your kids was excited to unwrap presents. And if history repeats itself, I bet you took a long nap on Christmas day.

I spent Christmas with Willa Broadfoot and her family. I really shouldn’t call them her family. They aren’t blood family. After she left her husband Roddy a few years back, it came out that Roddy had a first wife that he never told Willa about. And didn’t that just crack her yaller! Her name is Nadine. I guess Roddy met her in his old wild-oat-sowin’ days when he worked as a sheepsherder in Texas. Roddy brought Nadine back up to the Ozarks where they set up a home in Chigger Falls, the county seat. Some people think Nadine is about as strange as a three dollar bill. Roddy left her after she claimed to see Santy Claus on a Christmas many years ago. Roddy claimed she was crazy and dangerous and he left her. Truth was, he was cheating on her with Willa, but neither Nadine nor Willa never knew the truth about each other. Well, one day Willa was shopping in Wal-Mart with Roddy, and as they was turning out of the hunting and camping aisle, they ran into Nadine. Nadine started throwing hugs on Roddy, and Willa couldn’t figure why this strange woman was grabbing at her husband in the test-line aisle. I guess it was all a little awkward. Roddy lives by a simple philosophy: Don’t complain, don’t explain, and for sure, don’t never confess! But standing there with Nadine huggin’ on him and Willa lookin’ on in a disapproving sort of way, Roddy realized that he would be better off trying to cross Hell while walkin’ on quicksand. He finally ‘fessed up and blubbered to Willa that Nadine was his ex-wife. If Willa was shocked, she never showed it. Being a woman of good manners, who always thinks of other people first, she invited Nadine over for coffee the next day while Roddy was at work carving walnut bowls in the factory. They got talkin’ about Roddy, and why he left her.

Well, wouldn’t you know, Willa and Nadine really hit it off. Nadine might be crazy, but she sure is fun. Well, Willa and Roddy eventually split, for reasons I won’t get into right now. But Willa and Nadine stayed friends. We’ve all been meetin’ and eatin’ together on Christmas day now for 15 years. I haven’t seen Santy Claus, but we sure have fun, Willa, crazy Nadine, and me. They invite me, the old widow along out of pity.

Christmas day is the best time of year for us. Dinner is always a turkey. The past few years I’ve brought a roast or ham to eat with it. Nadine’s mom and brother come over with her brother’s three kids. Roddy, the common ex-husband has not been welcome for 5 years now because of past hurts and problems, but this year I think Willa and Nadine may be on the verge of getting past all of that. Roddy and his new girlfriend and her kids may be invited to a New Year’s bash to try to mend some old fences. At Christmas we all converged on Willa’s house like the circus coming to town!!! Then the fun starts. We cook all day, with occasional breaks for beer, tea, stories, and general tomfoolery. We feast on turkey, roast beast, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, home made cranberry sauce (the canned stuff just won't do), Nadine’s famous Fig Newton salad, fresh rolls, followed by coffee and at least 2-3 desserts. It's generally ready by mid-afternoon, giving us plenty of time to relax for awhile before we start cleaning up the kitchen. Dress is ALWAYS casual. I wear my pants with the elastic stretch waist so’s not to suffocate after dinner.

There are times I really miss your Uncle Slim and the rest of my blood family, you know, my parents and sister, my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and my nieces and nephews. So many are gone now. Died or moved away. I’ve had to learn to find another family out here in the country. After dinner, we're all fat, dumb and happy. Willa’s Christmas tree looks beautiful. We dim the lights so’s the room is lit only by the blinking tree lights. Then we listen to Nadine tell the story of how she saw Santy Claus while we all flop out on the floor, couch, chairs, where ever there's room (and there's not much with that many people so we tend to lay/sit real close to each other). She tells it the same every year:

I tried to wake up Roddy, but he was arranged on the bed like he was sleepin’ the sleep of death. Except he was snorin’ so loud, he could raise the dead. So I took matters into my own hands. I grabbed Roddy’s shotgun and went out the back door of the trailer. I looked up at the roof an’ I'll be darned! There was an old fat man and his munchkin friend climbin' into a big ol’ sled that was hooked up to a bunch of elk or caribou or somethin’. I mean, them suckers was a lot bigger than them stuffed ones that I seen at the Bass Pro museum in Springfield, and their antlers was huge. I think one of 'em might-a-been sick, though, cause his nose was all swollen an’ red. An I’ll be darned if didn’t think, “That big guy and his little friend are trying to rob us.” Jes' as I was raisin' the ol' 12-gauge to draw a bead on ‘em, ol' fatso started a hollerin' at his elks -- "On Dancer an' Prancer an' Donna and Quicken," or somethin' like that, anyhow – an’ then they done started flyin' off my roof!!! Now I ain’t no rocket scientist or nothin’, but I’m a educated lady an’ I know that stuff like that just ain’t s’posed to happen. But sure enough, them dudes was a flyin’ away like it was nothin’. It was a purty amazin’ sight, to tell ya’ the truth. With ol’ fatso an’ the munchkin an’ all them elks all flyin’ away there wasn’t nothin’ much else to see, so I done gone back inside to try to figure this whole situation out. I got to cogitatin’ about it over a glass Pepto Bismal on the rocks and fingered it might be best if I jes’ kept my mouth shut about it to Roddy. I mean, I jes’ fingered that he’d tell me I been drinkin’ too much (not that he don't do that a might already). An’ jes’ as I was figurin’ on convincin’ myself that maybe I jes’ had a little too much Pepto to drink an’ that maybe I jes’ imagined the whole thing, I swear I heard ol’ fatso say somethin’ off in the distance – “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” That’s when I couldn’t keep it to myself anymore. So I woke up Roddy and told him what happened. I guess I spooked him, ‘cuz he left a few weeks later, shakin’ his head and tellin’ folks that I ain’t got all my cups in the cupboard, if you know what I mean.

After hearing the story, and belly laughing for a few minutes, nobody wants to move, but eventually we have to clean that darn kitchen!!! Then we all go home with another day of warm memories to hold in our hearts until the next time. That’s Christmas with my Ozark family. Probably more than you wanted to know but you DID ask when you bothered to write me last.

Of course, we always take time to tell the real story of Christmas. The Bible says in the fullness of time Jesus was born into a difficult world. In other words, at just the right time, when God knew best just what we needed, God sent a Son. Pastor Sanford at the Jerico Springs Progressive Church of the Ozarks teaches that the Jewish people was expecting a Messiah –– someone to rescue the people. They was pregnant with hope that someone would step onto the scene to save them from day-and-night persecution and troubles. I guess it wasn’t easy being a Jew in those days. They was subject to Roman authorities. They was always kept a little bit apart and always treated like second class citizens or outcasts. But their faith told them that it was not always going to be like that and God was in the process of saving the people of Israel. The new Messiah, powerful and strong, would send the Romans running away with their tails between their legs

Can’t you just picture this Messiah? I would doubt that anyone had given much thought to the Messiah’s beginning, and if they had it would be like this: The Messiah would come with an army and wipe out the enemies of God. But God thinks and acts in ways that we can’t even imagine. A little baby to be the Messiah! Who knew? A child who would depend on his mother and father for all of his needs, for life itself, for the first several months of life, as all human babies do? A little ankle-biter who could not even be born in a room of a hotel, but in a barn full of animals?

Jesus came to the low folk. He came to plain ol’ ordinary people, like us. I guess that’s why I like to spend Christmas with run-o-the-mill folk like Willa and Nadine. They remind me of God’s grace. Being with them reminds me that when God sent us Jesus, we also gave us a chance to be part of a new family. Being with Willa and Nadine reminds me that God gave us a chance to forgive one another, and celebrate new life together. I don’t always have to be with my blood family, because God has put me in a new family. You see, Matt, baby Jesus is God’s free gift of love. The Savior was born, lived and died, and rose again so that we might be able to go right up to God and call him our Daddy. That same free gift of love claims each of us as God’s own children. Isn’t that amazing? God calls us part of His family. At times this is still too much to understand. So God sends the Holy Spirit to remind that we are children of God. We are part of the new family.

Anyway, you probably know all this. Send my best to your family from their crazy old Auntie in Jerico Springs.

Love,
Aunt Georgia.

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