Note: The following is not an actual dream or experience, but simply the use of a story to convey certain thoughts.
THE CHRISTMAS JESUS CAME TO MY HOUSE
by Carl T. Knott, Jr.
illustrations by Emily R. Knott
It was the first morning of the Christmas holidays. My wife and children had just left for some last-minute gift shopping. I sat quietly at my desk addressing Christmas cards while "Silver Bells" played on my stereo. It was then that I heard a knock on the front door. I put down the pen and listened. There it was again. Who could that be? A friend dropping by for a visit? Maybe bringing a gift? The mailman with a holiday package? One of the neighborhood children? I turned down the stereo, walked to the door, and opened it. There He was. He didn't look like the Bible storybook pictures of Him. He was different, yet, somehow I sensed instantly who He was. Maybe it was the look in His eyes. But when I extended my hand to shake His, I was absolutely certain... nail prints! "Lord!" I fell on my face in awe, surprise, humiliation, and worship. His hand gently touched my shoulder and He spoke in the most loving voice. "Arise, do not be afraid. Let's go in - I've come to visit you today." What else could I do but stand up?
My mind was filled with a thousand thoughts at once as the Lord came in. Suddenly I felt a flush of embarrassment as my eyes caught sight of the big plastic Santa I had put on the front porch the day before. He glanced back at it as He stepped inside. "Who's that?" He asked. "Oh - that?" I stammered. "Well, uh, you know - Santa Claus - it's just something for the children, you know how kids are." "Yes," He smiled as He replied, "I was one once, you remember, but things were a bit different then." I hurried to shut the door before He could comment on the bright red foil covering topped by a wreath and bow.
"Carl," He said, "I'm here to visit you today. To see what you and your household do to remember My coming into the world." He smiled so tenderly... why did I feel butterflies in my stomach? Why didn't I feel "gloria in excelsis Deo"? I guess it was because I knew I was going to be looking at Christmas from a different perspective - the eyes of Jesus. I cleared my throat nervously, "Well, Lord, please sit here - it's the best place in the house! What an honor! My house is your house! Can I get you something to drink, or a snack?" He just kept smiling at me and sat down - not where I had indicated - but right next to the Christmas tree, of all places!
I sat on the edge of the sofa, wishing my family were there to go through this experience with me. He read my thoughts, just like in the Gospel accounts. "Carl, you know you're the head of your household, and I prefer to be alone with you today for that reason. You're the responsible one, just like you teach others in your classes on the Christian home. I wanted to have some time with just you. So don't worry about your family - they'll return after I leave." "Oh," I uttered weakly. I remembered what Genesis 18:19 said about Abraham, "I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord." I had just taught that in class the week before.
As His eyes slowly swept across the room He asked, "Carl, do you ever think much about why you celebrate Christmas the way you do? I mean, do you have specific reasons for everything you do at this time of year?"
His words were so full of grace. He sat there so patiently, as if inviting me to think a while before answering Him. I thought. I didn't want to be rash with my mouth. There were times when I'd had fleeting thoughts about all the commercialism, and why the unsaved got as much out of Christmas as believers. But I couldn't honestly say that I'd ever questioned or changed anything about my celebration of Christmas by making it relate directly to the Incarnation. The edge of the sofa was getting a little uncomfortable. Finally I answered, "Well, maybe a little, but, well, not like I should, Lord, but..."
"Mmmm," He began, "take those colored lights hanging on your porch and on the bushes in the front yard." I fidgeted on the sofa as He pointed out the front window. "How do they help a person think about Me and why I came to earth?" He waited quietly again while I thought. I was thinking more now than I ever had before in my life. My eyes fell on the family Bible that sat on the coffee table. It was open to Matthew chapter 1, marked with a big strip of red velvet. I scanned the page in silence. Nothing there about colored lights. I was thinking to myself - wondering how we ever got started using them - when He said softly, "I was born in a stable and laid in a manger, you know."
He turned to look out the front window. "Who lives across the street?" "Oh, the Joneses." "I see, and are they believers?" "Oh, no, Lord - but I've been witnessing to them during the church's evangelism outings. They're nice, but they're not really interested in..." I stopped because He was staring out the window with His brow furrowed. "What's wrong, Lord?" "Oh," He replied, "I was just noticing the Joneses decorations, they're just like yours aren't they?" There seemed to be disappointment in those tender eyes. He sighed slightly as He turned His attention back to me.
"Carl, what does this mean?" He asked as He pointed to the Christmas tree. Well, I knew that was coming. Still, somehow, I couldn't think of anything good to say to Him. I remembered a conversation, or should I say - argument - that I'd had with one of the young zealous disciples in our assembly last week. He had asked me a similar question and I'd given him a piece of my mind - reminding him that people don't all have to be the same - there are alternative acceptable lifestyles - and he should learn not to be judgmental. I knew I couldn't give the Lord that same kind of reply. I knew He wouldn't be interested in hearing about tradition, and it wouldn't do for me to say, "It's just part of what we do at Christmas," or "There's nothing wrong with it - no verses say you can't have a tree," or "It is harmless fun and it would be cruel to the children to take their tree away." So I just sat there, looked at Him, gave Him a weak smile, and shook my head back and forth in surrender. "Where did you get it?" He asked. I was wanting to change the subject, but I answered, "Oh, there's a church group that sells them each year to raise money. I always buy from them!" I added with a bit of pride. "Buy?" He questioned. I felt as if I'd been pinched! "How much does one of these cost?" "Well, there are more expensive ones than this, Lord. It only cost 40 dollars." Suddenly I couldn't help thinking about the 10 dollars I'd given to missions last week. It seemed pretty small now. "How long do you keep it?" He continued. "Till about New Year's day." "Then what?" It was getting warm in the room now, at least to me. "Well, uh - then we have to throw it out - once it gets dried out it becomes a fire hazard. You know, it would burn up in a couple of minutes!" He repeated the words after me, "burn up." I knew what He meant.
"And what do these mean?" He asked as He fingered first the tinsel, then the ornaments and lights. My palms felt sweaty. "Do you have to pay for these, too?" He continued before I was able to speak. "Yes, but I forget how much, really Lord." He stood up and silently looked at one of my biggest and most expensive ornaments. It came from one of those mail-order houses, and looked like a globe of the Earth. He seemed deep in thought. I heard Him say softly, "For God so loved the world." There was emotion in His voice, and as He turned I could see tears sparkling in His eyes. "So many people in the world, Carl, so many needs. They are hungry, thirsty, without necessities of life, and most of all they are lost. My heart aches for them." Now my eyes began to feel teary, and I hung my head in silence. We both just stood there for a few minutes. The clock ticked loudly in the quiet room. My heart pounded in my chest as I felt He was sharing with me some of His love for the world. I remembered that verse we'd studied in adult training class last Sunday, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor" (2 Cor. 8:9). Thoughts flooded my mind of all the people who hadn't yet heard of Christ or His gospel. I let my eyes wander around my comfortable, middle-class living room - so brightly decorated in red and green, and silver and gold. It was pretty clear that although I'd talked a lot about the grace of God I hadn't become poor so anyone else could hear of it. I felt ashamed as I realized that in spending most of God's blessings on myself I was actually contradicting the grace of which I loved to speak.
Once again I glanced at the Christmas tree. Somehow it looked different to me now. I could see that the money I'd spent on it could be put to much better use for the Lord. "I wonder," He said, "if a person could live a normal life without one of these?" I knew which person He was talking about! "Yes," I replied as I shook my head vigorously and wiped the tears from the corners of my eyes. He smiled again in that wonderful way of His. It brought comfort.
"Whose are these?" He asked as He pointed to the mountain of presents erupting from underneath the tree. I sighed, "Ours." "Oh, are you having some birthdays?" "Well, no Lord, but we give Christmas presents to each other to celebrate Your birthday." Those words sure didn't sound very logical or convincing as they came out of my mouth in His presence. I tried again, "Giving gifts is what we do remind ourselves of God's, I mean, Your great gift." "Oh?" He echoed. "And do those unsaved folks across the street, I think you said the 'Joneses', do this, too?" I slumped on the sofa again and answered a weak "I think so." My reasons weren't faring too well. More like excuses. "Well, Carl, maybe you've forgotten that to celebrate My birth the wise men gave gifts to Me, not each other."
"And what's in these boxes?" came the next question. I never knew questions could make a person feel this way, but I sure wished He hadn't asked that one! I thought about all the toys, games, jewelry, cologne, and clothing hidden beneath the bright wrappings. Before I could speak He continued, "I suppose you need these things, huh?" It was the way He said "need" that bothered me. Those words, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15), came to mind. I'd just memorized them last week, but never had thought they applied to me, at least not like this.
My thoughts went back to last week's prayer meeting where we learned about missionaries who were lacking necessities of life in foreign lands. I remembered the mention of their need for money to print the Scriptures and gospel literature in new languages. The mountain of presents was looking less attractive all the time. The Lord interrupted my thoughts by saying tenderly, "I know, you really look forward to getting these things, don't you?" "Not that much," I thought, but the words stuck in my mouth as my gaze fell on the particularly large slope of gifts that were mine.
He walked across the room to the kitchen door. I took one last look at the tree as I followed Him, and thought, "Boy, you just wait till He's gone!" "Oh, whose are these?" His voice echoed from the kitchen. I took a deep breath and went in to see. "These" were coloring book pictures of, of all things, Frosty the Snowman, Santa, elves, and reindeer. My children had colored them and I'd stuck them up on the refrigerator door with magnets... right under the Bible text that read, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world" (1 John 2:15). Why hadn't I noticed that contradiction before? It stuck out like a sore thumb now!
I wanted to change the subject. "How about something to drink, Lord? You must be thirsty." "Thank you," He replied. "We have hot cider with cinnamon sticks, hot chocolate, eggnog, fruit nectar, or cola, and how about some..." My voice trailed off at the end as I decided not to ask if He wanted some Christmas cookies. It suddenly didn't seem appropriate to be offering cookies shaped like Santas, Christmas trees, or sleds. He said in a most pleasant voice, "Actually, a glass of cold water would be just fine." So I had a glass of water with Him. Funny... I never knew before how good a glass of water could be! He put down the empty glass and looked out the windows of the breakfast nook while I finished. "Why do you have candles in your windows? Isn't the lighting very good in here?" I looked up at my cut glass chandelier with mistletoe suspended beneath it. Before I could answer He stood up and walked off slowly through the house. It was just as well. I had nothing profound to say about candles in windows at this point. At least He didn't ask about the mistletoe... that would've been embarrassing.
I followed Him through into the hallway. He seemed to know where He was going - almost like He lived there! I breathed a sigh of relief when He stopped to examine our nativity set. Confidence began to seep back into me as He stood there smiling faintly and looking at the various pieces. I piped up cheerily, "Lord, look, this even came from Israel! I got it in a shop there when I went on a tour of the Holy Land last summer. It's genuine olive wood!" Oh, no, why did I have to say that? I knew what was coming next - sure enough - "How much did it cost?" He asked with raised eyebrows. I didn't want to tell Him, but the words forced themselves out of my mouth. "50 dollars," I said in a small voice, "but I talked the shopkeeper down from 80." He picked up the manger and repeated, "Genuine olive wood... 50 dollars." Those words sounded different coming from Him. As if that wasn't enough He added, "And did you have to pay to get to Israel?" I winced. He read my wince, smiled, and asked, "How much?" Before I could answer He said, "I suppose you had to stay in hotels there, too." The polished olive wood nativity was rapidly losing its glory. I remembered the verse, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Matt. 8:20). Maybe the true nativity wasn't compatible with the expense of luxury tours... the thought never crossed my mind before.
As He continued down the hallway to my study I must admit that I thought, "Relax, no problems in there." After all, that was the room I had for the study of God's Word, preparation of messages, prayer, and counseling. Then, wouldn't you know it, the first thing my eyes saw when I entered was my missionary magazine on the couch, almost completely covered by a Christmas catalogue I'd left there. Oh, brother! Not now... the one time I had something like that out! He stooped to look - "Hmmm, home video games?" Smiling softly He asked, "Are you interested in missions, Carl?" I guess He knew what was under the catalogue. How could I answer His question? If I said yes, well, it would be pretty hard to prove. If anyone else had asked me I'd have answered yes instantly. It wasn't so easy now.
My stereo had been too low to hear until we got into the study, but now we heard clearly the tune, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas." I wondered why the station wasn't playing any hymns, especially now! But He didn't mention it. He sat down on the couch and beckoned me to sit beside Him. Giving me a gentle pat on the shoulder He said, "You're not feeling exactly great right now, are you?" "No, Lord, I'm sort of embarrassed... this hasn't been my day." Another smile. "That's what I end up saying every Christmas, Carl, watching the way most people behave in the name of My birth." I began to understand what He meant, and how He must feel. I saw all too painfully how true it was, in my own house.
"I have a 'dream', too, Carl, but not for a white Christmas. Would you like to know what it is?" "Of course, Lord!" I slipped off the couch and sat at His feet. He didn't seem to mind, and I felt more comfortable there. "It's that all those who believe on Me would remember that I am with them always... even when they can't see Me like you can today. And even at Christmas. That they will grasp what it means to be a Christian and follow Me in My love for the lost sheep of humanity. That there would be a surge, not a trickle, of My people into those areas where spiritual and physical poverty abound. I came to seek and to save the lost, and oh how My heart still longs for those who are not in the fold... that My people, who are called by My name, might live for others, not themselves. That better than the Christmas spirit; it's the Christian spirit!"
"How can I help, Lord? Teach me." I found myself wondering why I had never asked that before... maybe it would have saved me a lot of trouble. "Carl, don't let the world squeeze you into its mold - you know - sentimentalism, friends and family join all society in applying pressure so that you'll go along, and be like everyone around you. They say, "don't rock the boat" but I tell you, "Don't be a slave to the world's traditions. And please don't try to "christianize" what the world does; remember, there is no fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1). It's time to make a break and start a new "tradition" of obeying my Word, no matter what others do! Don't lay up treasures on earth; sell what you can, and give the proceeds to My work. Give to get the gospel to those who don't have it. Make friends for yourself with the mammon of unrighteousness by using it to see them reached and saved. Don't spend it on unnecessary things that are of only temporary value. Necessities are one thing - but all this that you have in your home isn't a necessity, is it?" I knew He was right. "You know, you could start by cutting out all this decor and activity that is unrelated to My birth. Live simply that others might see you don't have to have all these fancy arrangements, like the..." "Joneses," I finished. "That's right. The fact that so many people who neither know Me nor care for Me enjoy all these celebrations as much as you do shows that there's nothing deeply spiritual about it."
Once again I knew He was right. "Lord, is there anything I can do that will please You and make this season more meaningful?" He looked at the picture of my children that was hanging near Him. "Your children are so sweet looking," He said. "So trusting. What do you tell them about Christmas? You don't tell them about Santa do you?" Wouldn't you know that right at that time my stereo began playing:
"You'd better watch out, You'd better not cry,
You'd better not pout, I'm telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town.
He knows when you are sleeping, He knows when you're awake,
He knows when you've been good or bad,
So be good for goodness sake!"
I hated every word of it... for the first time in my life! Why, you'd think Santa Claus was God, to listen to those words. My face was as red as his suit. I remembered taking the children just yesterday to the mall to sit in Santa's lap and have their picture taken. He had asked them each, "What do you want old Santa to bring you this Christmas?" I had laughed then, but now was glad the Lord hadn't been with me, or had He? You'd never believe how covetous my children sounded... they went on and on about the things they wanted! Where'd they ever learn to behave like that? "Those are some thoughts you're having," He interrupted. I shook my head and replied, "Lord, I don't know how I could have been so dumb! You can believe it won't happen again, I promise." He smiled and gently added, "Good, but now you'll have to be sure and correct their thinking, and confess your error to them. It would be too bad if they thought you were doing the same kind of deceiving when you told them about Me, wouldn't it?" That hurt!
"Why don't you use this time of year to teach them that it is more blessed to give than to receive?" He went on. "For example, you could have them save up money all year for a special gift to the Lord at Christmas. People SAY it's my birthday, even though they don't know what time of year I was born. But you can use the birthday idea to teach your children not to be selfish. It isn't their birthday, so remind them of that, and teach them that when it is someone else's birthday, you give to hem, not to yourself." I thought about that for a minute. It made sense, but I wasn't too sure how to do it. He read my mind again. "You can teach them to give to Me by teaching them that giving to My work and My servants is actually giving to Me. 'Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.' Remember?" (Matt. 25:40). Now I understood. He continued, "Have some people over to your house who are in need and give them a meal. Think of the foreigners, the poor, and the homeless... those who cannot pay you back. If you do these things in My name, I will repay you. Teach this to your children, all year long, not just in December. Let them help with the inviting and the preparations. Let them get involved in serving and talking with the guests about Me." It made sense.
"What about my ministry, Lord? How can I use the idea of Christmas in that?" "Good question!" He replied. "Remember, others observe what you do, and if you allow yourself to "keep Christmas" then there will be people who will use you as an excuse, saying, "brother Carl does it." So don't be a stumbling block, but rather, "be thou an example of the believers in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith and purity" (1 Timothy 4:12). "Don't bypass the opportunity to speak to others about Me. This may be the only time of the year they will even listen. If you can get people out to hear the gospel during this season, do it." As He spoke I thought about the wreath on the door of the chapel, and the planned "Christmas program" that imitated the world, included a lot more than Christ, if you know what I mean. "Of course," He broke into my thoughts, "that means you have some changes to make at the chapel, too, don't you?" Once again, He was absolutely right. "But getting back to your ministry," He said, "think of ways to reach people for My sake and the gospel's while you have the chance. Maybe you could spend your extra money on gospel books, tracts, or Bibles instead of presents, trees, cards, and lights. Then you could go around and give a gift of the gospel to your neighbors. They'd probably accept it more readily that way than on your evangelistic outreaches." I knew what He meant.
"Carl, I am longing for that coming day when I'll look out across heaven and see thousands of redeemed souls. They are why I came to earth, to suffer and die for their salvation. That's what My coming was all about! They are still on My heart, and that is what I'd like to pass on to you this Christmas. Reach them for Me. Make every decision as if you had Me with you, like today." I smiled - it was good advice. "I am with you always," He added. "You're conscious of Me now because you see Me, but blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe."
I looked beside Him at the missionary map on my study wall. The text over it was, "He shall see (the fruit) of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). I smiled because now I understood that verse in a new way. The Lord already told us WHAT to remember and how. He said to keep the Lord's Supper, and thus to "show forth the Lord's DEATH till he come". This is what His disciples are to do in memory of Him. Remembering Him this way sharpens our focus on life and motivates us to live for Him and proclaim the good news of His death and resurrection. "Oh, Lord, I'm going to make my life really count for You from now on, including Christmas!" With a sigh of accomplishment I turned to look in His eyes, and He was gone! The couch was still depressed where He'd been sitting, but He had vanished from sight. His last words seemed to echo in the room, "Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe."
"Carl! - Honey! - Wake up!" Someone was shaking me, and opening my eyes, I saw my wife. "It's late, dear, you need to hurry - breakfast is almost ready. Have you been dreaming? - you were tossing and turning a few minutes ago, muttering something about Santa!" I sat up quickly, and looked around me, gathering my senses. "I sure was dreaming!" I replied. "That is, I think it was a dream. Whew! Listen, dear, this afternoon why don't we sit down and talk about Christmas plans, O.K.?" She smiled questioningly. "O.K., dear, but it's July, you know? Are you awake yet?" "I sure am! I'm really awake now!"
What about you, dear reader? I hope you, too, are really awake by now.
Copyrightę 1984, 1998,Carl T. Knott Jr. All Rights Reserved