Daily Devotions

Goody Bags and Memories

My father pastored for more than 22 years in Houston, TX. He loved Christmas time and enjoyed planning Christmas events and activities for the church and the community. Several years we had a thirty foot tall (made of scaffolding and live Christmas trees) “Singing Christmas Tree” in the parking lot of our church and it was advertised on radio and in newspapers. I had the privilege of being at the very top and played “Silent Night” on my trumpet (accompanied by Kathy on the Hammond organ) at the end of the program. The music could be heard all over that business district on Jensen Drive.

We helped needy families with food and gifts and ministered at the men’s shelter at the mission in downtown Houston. But there was one very special night of the year. It was always the Sunday night right before Christmas. People who only came once a year would attend at Christmas. A few who felt unworthy (because of their long absence from church attendance) tentatively entered the auditorium right at starting time hoping there were a few seats remaining vacant so that they might once more feel the warmth of the hearts that lifted in glorious carols recounting the birth of the Christ Child who still brought them hope, and they hoped that the anointing upon the special time of gathering would reach even them once again so they might experience the sense of its cleansing, the sense of belonging and being accepted in the beloved. Many families brought a visitor or two. Everyone dressed up. 

The auditorium glowed with golden candlelight which would only convey the merest fraction of the golden warmth of the presence of Holy Spirit upon the evening’s message about the Son of God. There would be many a tear shed on this night of celebration. The pastor knew this was going to be a great time to give people the opportunity to ask this Savior, Who was born in a manger, into their hearts – as the choir sang one more verse of Silent Night. All the players were in the old auditorium checking their costumes to make sure they were just right and reciting their lines to make sure they would properly communicate their portion of the Christmas story. In the main auditorium everyone was abuzz with excitement mixed with awe and reverence anticipating what they were about to see and hear. Musicians checked their instruments to make sure they were in tune while choir members and soloists warmed up their voices and double-checked the lyrics on song sheets (even though some had scribbled out lyrics on little bits of paper stuck up their sleeves, hoping the choir director did not notice). Teachers and directors were corralling children hoping to organize them into their respective groups and go over their lines just once more, while consoling themselves that a partial or damaged costume was better than none at all, and being thankful that they took the pastor’s wife’s advice and brought a large doll to fill in for the “little Jesus” who came down with colic at the last minute. Yet, all in all, that wondrous Sunday night just before Christmas was always said to be “the best one yet” and everyone felt they had participated in the worship of the Christ whose name was Emmanuel. However, everyone knew that pastor’s dismissal prayer was not really the last item expected on that once-a-year night.

There was one activity that my Father took particular delight in. He loved to greet the people, shake the peoples’ hands and hand out the goody bags as they walked out the door. On the Friday before that Christmas Sunday, my Father and I would go to a discount house in the Heights area of Houston not far from downtown. We got a flat cart and proceeded to load it with apples, oranges, Snickers, Hershey bars and mixed nuts still in their shells. Our house smelled wonderful as the odors of fruit and chocolate wafted their way through the whole house. My Father, my sisters and I spent all Saturday afternoon filling the brown paper goody bags. The deacons hefted the heavy duty boxes of goody bags into the auditorium next to the main exit only after the dismissal prayer. The children were always the first to get to the exit and in line in front of Brother Gabler as he blessed each one and joyfully handed out the tasty treats. If an aunt or uncle or grandparent was unable to attend the special Christmas service, the attending relative walked out the door with several goody bags and a special message from my Father to the absentees.

As I sit here tonight and write these memories, I can still see (through misty eyes) and hear the sounds of the people and even smell the fruit and chocolate. I am thankful for all those memories for they represent people of God who impacted my life/ministry. It’s not the events but it is the people who were the life and activity of those events which make those memories so precious. Thanks be to God for the wonderful gift of relationships that keep on giving through our memories.

Kathy and I pray you have a most blessed Christmas with the presence of people who redemptively impact your life and imprint your heart and mind with warm, loving memories.
Our love and prayers,
Marty and Kathy

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