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Monday, December 14, 2009

The Meaning of Christmas

My first call as pastor was to a rural church in a small Pennsylvania town. I remember the Banter family, so handsome, tall and gangly – mom, dad, and both boys. Religious, and so talented they were. David was the older boy, college age and working also. He had a girl friend, Elsa. She was beautiful, tall and, like the Banters, had a heart for God.

Soon after David and Elsa got engaged, Elsa got sick. It was cancer and back then, in the 1960’s, there wasn’t much hope. Elsa improved for a while, then got really bad. She spent days of weakness and sickness in her hospital bed with David by her side. And then finally the news … not long to live.

“Pastor, will you marry us?” they asked. “Will you marry us right here in the hospital?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’d be so honored.”

So with all haste plans were made. The wedding dress, now several sizes too large, was re-made. Flowers, artificial of course, and a wedding cake were purchased. The service was planned. And the lounge down the hall from Elsa’s hospital room was delicately decorated. Elsa’s whole life, every ounce of her remaining energy, was joyously surrendered to the glorious purpose of becoming Mrs. David Banter.

Oh, it was a beautiful wedding. Never have I attended a wedding so holy, so complete, so perfect. The newly weds, Mr. and Mrs. David Banter, exchanged their vows, and kissed, sharing, so long ago, the most bittersweet moment I have ever witnessed.

The wedding was over. Greetings all around and Elsa, so exhausted, was ready for her bed, the sick bed, of course, not their wedding bed. As she and David were leaving the makeshift chapel, they called me over.

“Pastor, will you preach my funeral when I die,” Elsa asked in the weakest of whispers. “We very much want you to do that for us?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “I’d be so honored.” And just three weeks, I did.

- - - - -

David and Elsa had no regrets. They lived their lives passionately, clear to the end, growing through their pain and problems, showing others how love transcends and transforms, and leaving an amazing legacy of faith and grace.

Imagine what your life, your world would be like if this year you were to celebrate a no regrets Christmas, a Christmas as if it were your last. If we all …… Yes, if we all did, there would never be a more beautiful Christmas than this one.

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