The Christmas Juggler Skit

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This is a skit we worked on but never performed. Perhaps someone out there in internet land can give it a go. Of course, you will need someone who is a skilled juggler. The skit is in a rough form. Another version follows with my comments, which will perhaps give some insight into the creation process of critiquing and developing an idea. This skit is a work in progress, but with lots of potential I feel.

The Christmas Juggler

adapted by Enrico Falchi and Peter van Gorder

Characters:

Juggler:  (beggar, rich clothes)

Vendor woman:

Promoter:

Traveling Minstrel/s: 2

People in village who mock him:

Villagers and Children at manger scene:

Props:

Fruit in basket

Juggling balls and items

Juggler’s costume

Picnic lunch

Guitar or ude – musical instruments for minstrels

Manger scene

Gifts to give poor

 

 

 (Scene 1- Marketplace. Giovanni is begging for bread. Some people stop to give him a coin. Next to him is a fruit vendor. Giovanni takes some of the fruit and begins to juggle. A crowd stops to look. They buy some of the fruit. The vendor gives him a mug of soup.)

Many, many years ago, there lived a young man named Giovanni, who had no mother or father. He dressed in rags, and begged for bread.

But he was happy. And, he could do something wonderful! He could juggle! Everyday he would go to the fruit and vegetable stall and juggle.

He would juggle lemons and oranges, apples and eggplants, and even zucchini. Crowds would gather to watch and when Giovanni had finished they would buy from the vendor.  Then the vendor’s wife would give Giovanni a mug of hot soup. It was a very good arrangement.

Song-
Up and down and round and round and
Up and down and round and round and
Round and up and round and down and
Down and up and round and round.
Over arm and under leg and
Off the knee and off the head and
Up and bounce and down and round and
Then he starts it all again.

One day, a man who had a traveling show saw him and had an idea.

 

 (Scene 2 – In the Royal Court)

( A man who is passing by stops and gets an idea. He puts a nice hat and new clothes. He gives him some proper juggling balls. SFX of applause as he is juggling. He bows in thankfulness.)

Giovanni became very famous and went out on his own. And although his costumes became more beautiful, he always kept the face of a clown. He even juggled for dukes and queens.

 

(Scene 3 – Under the Tree with Travelers)

(Giovanni is sitting under a tree eating lunch. Travelers stop and ask for food. He shares food with them. They talk and Giovanni says goodbye.)

One day Giovanni was sitting in the shade of a tree eating a lunch of bread and cheese when two travelers (minstrels or just travelers)  came down the road. “Will you share your food with us, good clown?” they asked.

“Sit down, good brothers,” Giovanni said. There is more than enough.” As the three of them ate the two travelers told Giovanni how they went from town to town telling stories and spreading joy with their music. “We believe that when we share our talents with others it is a wonderful gift from God.  Your juggling is a gift that you give to make others happy, too!” said one of the travelers.

“I never thought of it that way,” said Giovanni, “I thought I was only juggling to make people laugh and applaud.”

The traveler said. “If you give happiness to people, you give glory to God as well. Just remember to thank Him for your talents.”

“I will do that. Well, it has been fun talking to you,” said Giovanni. “But now, I must be off to the next town. Arrivederci, Good Brothers.”

(Scene 4 – Juggling in Many Places – Time Passes)

(Giovanni juggles for others. Time passes he gets older. People make fun of him.)

Wherever Giovanni went the air was filled with his juggling.  And wherever Giovanni went the faces of the crowds would be all smiles, and sounds of laughter and cheers would ring out.

Years passed…[Chorus quietly plays on the piano, slow and slower] Giovanni grew old and times became hard. People no longer stopped to watch. “It’s only the old clown who juggles things. We’ve all seen him before,” they said. Giovanni was sad, but still he juggled until one day….. he dropped his balls and the crowd stood around him and laughed. But not for joy. Then they did a terrible thing. They threw vegetables and stones at Giovanni, so that he had to run for his life!

(Scene 5 –Beside a Stream)

(Giovanni washes off his face. He puts his juggling things away in his bag. He begs again. He begins to walk home.)

Beside a stream, Giovanni took off his clown face. He put away his sticks and plates, his clubs and rings and colored balls. He put away his costume and he gave up juggling forever. What little money he had was soon gone and his clothes became rags and he begged his bread. “It’s time to go home” the old man said and so he began to walk.

(Scene 6 –By the Manger)

       (Giovanni travels through the cold and rain. He sees a manger scene with children bringing gifts. He takes his hat and juggling things out and juggles for the children. He dies and villagers gather around him.)

It was a cold winter night when he arrived. The wind blew and icy rain was falling. Up ahead he saw some children by a manger scene they were bringing gifts for the poor.

“Oh,” said Giovanni. “I wish I had something to offer, too.” But WAIT! I used to make people smile.” Giovanni opened his bag and shook out his old costume then bowed and began to juggle.

The children laughed with delight! Giovanni’s heart was pounding, “For you sweet children! For you!” he cried, as he did one last flourish of juggling. Then suddenly his old heart stopped… and Giovanni fell dead.

Stooping over old Giovanni one of the villagers said, “Why the poor clown is dead. May his soul rest in peace in heaven.”

(Scene 7 –In Heaven)

(Heavenly music. As the villagers are looking around him, Giovanni, slowly gets up and in slow motion goes to the front of the stage and begins to juggle.)

Giovanni, did not hear them for he was busy up in heaven, juggling for the children there.

Music

Up and down and round and round and
Up and down and round and round and
Round and up and round and down and
Down and up and round and round.
Over arm and under leg and
Off the knee and off the head and
Up and bounce and down and round and
Then I start it all again.

Another version of this script with my comments:

CHRISTMAS JUGGLER

Narrator: It is almost Christmas time in the beautiful city of Napoli[a1] . The First World War just ended and people are starting living their lives again, everybody in the city works hard, most of the people are poor and simple. They keep a cheerful attitude and there are many orphans that after losing their families want to smile again. In Mario’s[a2]  fruit and vegetables shop works Giovanni who used to be a famous juggler but because of the war the circus where he was working for closed down leaving him jobless. Now Giovanni was very poor and was struggling to survive…

 

AT THE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES SHOP.

Mario: Good morning Giovanni. How are you today?

Giovanni: Fine I guess… it’s an ordinary day.

Mario:   C’mon you have to admit that life is not as bad as it seems… today the sky is clear[a3]  and plus it’s almost Christmas time and we need to keep cheerful so that we won’t lose the few clients we have left.

Giovanni: I understand your point but if life is as beautiful as you say, why did I lose my job? Why I am so poor now[a4] ?

Giovanni: I used to be a great juggler, but since I lost my job life has no meaning at all because juggling was my life!  If the war had never happened my life would have been better[a5] !

Mario: Maybe you lost a job, but you’ve found another one. And guess what? You might have lost your previous job but you haven’t lost your hair yet! Hahaha[a6] !

Giovanni: Yes, keep laughing you joker! Your life is simple, two or three potatoes sold to make your day a happy one! I indeed have lost everything[a7] .

Mario: C’mon Giovanni, perhaps you are right as life hasn’t been fair so recently, but it is also true that when things go wrong than we can learn something good[a8] .

A woman Beggar[a9]  passes by the shop and asks for alms. Mario gives her a coin and smiles.

Mario: Merry Christmas my dear. This is a little gift for you, it is not much but it’s all I can do.

Beggar: Thank you Signor Mario, you are always so kind, may God bless you and your family. He won’t forget what you do. Thank you, thank you[a10] …

Beggar leaves

Mario:  Two or three potatoes make a happy stomach and a merry heart. Here, these bags go to the orphanage down the road. It’s my Christmas present for those poor children, please bring it to the entry and leave it in front of the gate, they will know it is from me. I do this every year.

Mario takes two bags and hands them to Giovanni.

Mario: I’m struggling to keep this shop going but I know that if I help others than life will turn out right. And… if I was you I would look at the bright side of your situation. My mother used to say: “Behind difficult times there’s always an opportunity!”

Giovanni: Let’s hope so… alright on my way I go. See you later Mario.

Giovanni takes the bags and walks off stage

 ON THE WAY TO THE ORPHANAGE

GIOVANNI IS CARRYING THE BAGS TO THE CENTER OF THE STAGE AND HE ENCOUNTER A YOUNG BOY WHO IS TRYING TO JUGGLE TWO BEAN BAGS WITH NO SUCCESS.be

Giovanni: What are you trying to do little boy?

Little boy: I want to do a juggling show for my friends at the orphanage to cheer them up.

Giovanni: You look so excited and[a11]  you don’t even know to juggle, you just look so happy! Are you an orphan?

Little boy: My parents died of sickness a long time ago. When my mother was still alive she was always telling me that even if she was going away that God will always look after me and that I would never be alone[a12] . She also told me that if I want to be happy I have to make others happy! Many of my friends lost their families because of the war and they are very sad. They need happiness. And I want to do it like this[a13] !

Little boy tries to juggle again but the balls fall.

Giovanni takes the balls off the ground and starts juggling as to show the little boy how to do it[a14] .

Little boy: You are a juggler!

Giovanni: I used to be once… but that was long time ago[a15] !

Little boy: Why don’t you do a show for my friends at the orphanage?

Giovanni: Don’t you understand that I am not a juggler anymore? You should be going back to your orphanage young lad, it’s almost evening and you shouldn’t be out so late. Goodbye[a16] !

SFX Rain starts falling and Giovanni walks nonstop in the rain and the voice of Mario, of the little boy are echoing into his head such as “Behind difficult times there’s always an opportunity!”, “Why don’t you do a show for my friends at the orphanage?”

  AT HOME.

Giovanni: “What a day! So much work, so little glory[a17] !”

Giovanni falls to sleep. Angelic Music comes out

An angel appears to Giovanni[a18] .

Angel: Giovanni!

Giovanni:  Who are you? Are you a ghost?

Angel: Don’t be afraid, I am an angel, don’t you see? I have a message for you.

Giovanni: Oh really? What kind of message?

Angel:  Ok just a second…

Angel pulls out a piece of paper[a19] .

Angel: Ahem… perform a juggling show for the children of the orphanage on Christmas day.

Giovanni: But I can’t do that!

Angel: Why not?

Giovanni: Because I lost my performing job during the war[a20]  and I have no possibility to do that.

Angel: Ok, these are for you[a21] .

Giovanni: Juggling balls!

Angel: and these!

Giovanni: Juggling rings!

Angel: And these!

Giovanni: Amazing, juggling clubs too!

Angel: Alright I have to go I have plenty of other messages to deliver, take care and have fun making those children happy! And if I don’t see you again … Merry Christmas!

Giovanni: Bye angel!

Giovanni back to sleep.

He wakes up and sees the juggling balls, clubs and rings.

Giovanni: What a strange dream… hey! Wait a minute… those are the juggling tools that the Angel gave me in the dream! Now I understand… She was real and so I really have to help those children! Well, I have the equipment, but I am missing something. My old performing clothes! I[a22]  hope they still fit me. Let me try it on. Perfect! I want to make those children happy! I know what I am going to do… I am going to work hard on my performing skills so I can be ready to perform for them at Christmas!

Practice act: song Christmas song. Giovanni practices making funny mistakes.

Narrator: And so Giovanni secretly practices in his house for many hours and gets ready for the Christmas show that it’s going to happen at the orphanage.

Giovanni: I want the orphans to be happy. I want to make their Christmas a special one[a23] !

AT THE ORPHANAGE

Christmas dance. (Track[a24] )

All the children that performed the Christmas dance sit giving their backs to the audience and Giovanni comes out and performs for them.

Little boy: I knew you were going to come!

Giovanni: What do you mean?

Little boy: The day I met you I prayed and asked God that somehow He would change your mind. I’m glad he listened to me.

Little Girl: Thank you for making me happy Mr. Juggler. This is the best day of my life, thank you.

Giovanni: Thank you this is my Christmas present to you, my little friends! I am not sad anymore, I want to make others happy, and I want to be Christmas everyday! Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!

Mario rushes into the stage and hands a letter to Giovanni.

Mario: Giovanni! A letter for you!

Giovanni: Who could ever be?

Mario: It’s from the circus.

Giovanni: From the circus?? I thought it had been shut down. Let me read… dear Giovanni since the war has ended we tried to get in touch with you. We finally found you and our circus is gathering together in Naples tomorrow. We[a25]  are planning to do a tour around the world. You are invited to be part of our circus. It would be great to have you back. Merry Christmas!

Mario: I am so happy for you. You see, you gave your time and your love for the children and now you are receiving back your job. You never lose by giving to others.

Giovanni: So true…

Narrator: Since that Christmas day, Giovanni rejoined the circus, and every time he would travel to a new country he would never forget to visit and the local orphanage and perform a show for the children and because of that his fame and happiness increased[a26] .

Giovanni: Merry Christmas!!


 [a1]Perhaps you should mention this is in Italy, as many would not know it.

 [a2]Giovanni works in his friend Mario’s fruit and vegetable shop. Giovanni used to be a famous juggler, but because of the war, the circus closed down. Now Giovanni was poor and struggling.

Is there a way to show this instead of telling it? Perhaps show a bit of the circus and a newspaper boy delivers the paper and he reads the headlines and then he is fired by the boss. Also, I was wondering if you would like to add one more character in this story – a funny clown – Pucanella?

I feel it could add to the depth of the story and could be brought out in the end again.

 [a3]Clear. Plus, it’s almost Christmas. Try to avoid using ‘and’ on stage. Shorter sentences are better. Perhaps the fruit seller could pick up a piece of fruit and use it as an object lesson. “Look at this apple here. We should all be so beautiful when we let the warmth of the sun’s rays enlighten our lives.”

 [a4]Somehow, it is hard to believe he is poor. Can we show that? He has a job at least and food obviously. I know you want to keep it simple, but remember – show don’t tell.

 [a5]Why? Was he fighting in it? He lost his job in the circus, but he got another one at the shop –so? Make us feel his pain a bit by showing what happened. Maybe because of the war, they have so few fruit and vegetables and food is rationed? I am not sure, work on this.

 [a6]Good humor!

 [a7]Good example of using specifics. Why did he loose everything. The audience probably doesn’t believe you because you haven’t shown them that.

 [a8]This is a confirmation that it might be good at the resolution for him to teach others to juggle.

 [a9]beggar

 [a10]Maybe, Gio can chide him for giving of what little he has as an antagonist and Mario can counter with some good advice – maybe using another piece of fruit or vegetable again as an object lesson.

 [a11]Is the word “excited” maybe it is enthusiastic

Or eager

 [a12]Maybe describe heaven with – A place where it is always Christmas and there is always a good circus to go to.

 [a13]Good or with these.

 [a14]Maybe he could instruct him how to do it here. ‘no, no, you must do it like this…”

 [a15]Or before the war, as we don’t know how much time has gone by.

 [a16]Perhaps he could be a bit mad here.

 [a17]Too few fruit sold and empty pockets.

 [a18]What if the angel were the beggar in disguise? The beggar coming is a reward for the gift Mario gave. To make that work, Mario would have to make a prayer for Giovanni at the time he gave the donation, something after Giovanni chiding Mario for giving, “I am sorry that you think that way, I pray, God will change your heart somehow.”

“How can that happen?”

“May His Christmas angels show you the way.

 [a19]Is this angel funny? Who has given him this instruction? Perhaps it could be a clown angel. Establish his character from the entrance. After “are you a ghost?” that could be an opportunity for a joke as well.

This joke seems out of context with the previous lines and character. Humor is good but it must be consistent with the character development.

 [a20]Maybe he could be groping for excuses here like :

I lost my performing job during the war and I can’t… and I  mean I won’t… and I mean …oh, what do I mean?

 [a21]Woah, where did these come from? A little too convenient. Can we give him the tools in a more indirect way. Like, maybe the angel tells him to go somewhere and he finds them or at an auction or in his attic or …keep looking. Usually, angels don’t just appear with the goods, they usually work through earthly means somehow. Make it more believable somehow. You made it too easy. I know you want to simplify the script but that is the story.

 [a22]Ok, he finds the clothes, maybe he finds the equipment in a forgotten trunk as well.  Maybe he realizes that the angel was the beggar as well. Perhaps he goes back and can’t find the beggar or…

 [a23]So I better perform a good show.

 [a24]Perhaps the boy that he met on the street could introduce Giovanni. It seems a bit abrupt that he is just performing.

 [a25]Perhaps the clown could deliver the message.

 [a26]Can you bring out that he helped the boy learn to juggle? Like don’t just give a fish, but teach them how to fish.

Why did his fame increase? Perhaps God blessed his giving.

Why tack on a Merry Christmas by Giovanni at the end? Perhaps the whole cast could do this for their curtain call?

Jour de l’Action de Grâce

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by Peter van Gorder

Jour de l’Action de Grâce : French Canadian for A Day of Thanks (Thanksgiving)

Today is Thanksgiving and we are celebrating it not with the ‘Indians’ (native Americans) but the Indians in Mumbai, India. Though it is observed in the US, Canada, Liberia, and Puerto Rico, most of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to know much about it; yet Germany has a similar festival called Erntedankfest – thanking God for a good harvest (and a good excuse to drink a lot of beer during Oktoberfest), and Japan has its, Kinrō Kansha no Hi: Labor Thanksgiving Day – a day to commemorate labor and production and thank each other as well.

Most cultures and religions put importance on giving thanks to the Creator. The Native Americans of that time were no exception. They had special thanksgiving ceremonies for the green corn harvest, for the arrival of certain fish species, whales, the first snow, and for the arrival of their new year in May.

George Washington, the first American president proclaimed the first nation-wide thanksgiving celebration in America of November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.”  Presidents that followed thought it a good chance to get people of different persuasions sitting down at the same table, a step towards unity in time of civil war.

Having lived in many different countries when this holiday rolls around, I usually don my Pilgrim outfit and recruit a few others to be Native Americans to do a skit to dramatize the story of Thanksgiving and explain a bit of how it began. This year instead I thought I would find out more about it and write down the gist of the feast.

After an extremely difficult voyage the 102 passengers arrived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in 1620. The passengers and crew were a combination of religious separatists, indentured servants, and others.  Because they had a delayed departure and arrived in winter they were dangerously low on provisions; about half of the passengers and crew died in the first year from sickness and malnutrition. The next year, thanks to help from the local Native Americans and the Lord of the Harvest, they learned how to plant crops using fish as fertilizer and other tried and proven methods taught to them. They were so thankful they decided to hold a celebratory feast and to show their gratitude to the Lord for their survival. In the years that followed they continued the practice.

In 1623 Governor William Bradford, issued a formal proclamation:

Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, squashes and garden vegetables, and made the forest to abound with game and the sea with  fish and clams, and inasmuch as he has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from the pestilence and granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, now I, your magistrate do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and twelve in the daytime on Thursday, November ye 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Plymouth Rock, there to listen to ye Pastor and render Thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all his blessings.”

Back a year earlier to the first Thanksgiving: As some would say, in a way that foreshadowed events to come, the “first comers’ as they called themselves, expressed their thankfulness by shooting muskets and cannons into the air. This alerted a scouting party of about 90 warriors of the local Wampanoag tribe who came by to see what was up and if a battle was going on that needed their help. They had recently signed a mutual protection pact which promised that they would protect each other and ‘watch each other’s backs’.

After they found out what was happening the Wampanoags joined in the festivities and brought 5 deer to the feast; seems like the good food was shared and enjoyed by all. If only relations could have stayed as friendly.

One of the descendants of that tribe is Ramona Peters, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Officer. She had this to say about the positive aspects of the holiday.

“A heartfelt Thanksgiving is very important to me as a person. It’s important that we give thanks. For me, it’s a state of being. You want to live in a state of thanksgiving, meaning that you use the creativity that the Creator gave you. You use your talents. You find out what those are and you cultivate them and that gives thanks in action.”

How true. Thanksgiving is a good time to give thanks, even when you may not have much. There is always something you can praise the Lord about. Often when we do, surprise blessings come a knocking. I have been there.

About 40 years ago, I was living in Bogor, Indonesia and we had a very tight budget. A Thanksgiving feast was not on the cards. But on that Thanksgiving Day we prayed for a special dinner. A little while later, our neighbor appeared and gave us his goose that had been run over by a car neatly at the neck, which gave us a sumptuous feast.  God is good!

Some day we will ‘enter into His gates with thanksgiving’ and enjoy a fantastic feast called the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with people of all races and cultures. Apart from all the heavenly viands offered, I imagine there will be pumpkin pie and cranberries on the menu.

A big part of the thankfulness and gratitude we will feel is when we realize how big His love for us is despite of our mistakes and shortcomings. It is where yesterday ends and a new life begins. It is with that end in mind and the joy of the journey in getting there that we give thanks on this Thanksgiving Day.

 Notes:

Rev 19:9  And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.

Mat 8:11  And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

Joh 17:21  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:

Christmas Collage

thCAJ5CN98   by Curtis Peter van Gorder

Christmas is such a magical time. A special aura seems to light the world. It is a day that acknowledges Christ’s birth all over the world. However clouded in materialism it may seem to be, it is still a window that is open to bring God’s gift of love—Jesus—into more homes and hearts and minds than any other time of year.

I decided to make a collage of sorts by collecting the impressions about Christmas from different people of various nationalities and backgrounds that I have met. The article below is what I came up with.

Maybe you could try this also by getting together with your loved ones and sharing your favorite memories and impressions of what each of them love and remember about Christmas. You could act some of them out as well for fun or for a performance (playback theatre style).

 

“I remember…

… sitting under the Christmas tree when I was a little girl eating all the chocolates I could while listening to stories the adults shared.

…that Christmas Eve was one time that all us kids went to bed on time, so that we could get up early in the morning and surprise our parents.

…visiting my granddad for the first time, when I was 11. At that time we lived far away from him in another country. We prayed with him on that visit to receive the Lord in his heart. He passed away not long afterwards. I was glad I could share the best Christmas gift of all with him.

…receiving more gifts and toys than we could ever afford. At Christmas we usually had nothing to spare to purchase presents for ourselves, while serving on a poor mission field, but the spirit of giving inspired people to give us just the things that my brothers and I enjoyed. I learned that when we have nothing, and yet are giving all we can to help others, God has a chance to surprise us in special ways.

…shopping for a long time to buy a present for my mother with the little money that I had. I finally found a prism glass necklace that she treasured. When I visited her 40 years later, she still had it with her most expensive jewelry.

…caroling in the neighborhood door-to-door with my friends and how it touched the hearts of the people we sang to.

…scribbling Christmas cards to my friends and loved ones and receiving the same. We bring the old ones out every year and display them as a way of remembering old friends.

…reading a different part from the Christmas story from the family Bible every week together.

…opening a different window to our Advent calendar that was hanging on the kitchen wall.

…listening to Celine Dion sing some great Christmas songs from her heart.

…performing for others at Christmas. Every Christmas is so special because we have something to give others. It is always inspiring to see the reaction of the audience that we perform for. It seems to be just what they need that year.

…the smell and taste of turkey with gravy.

…a feeling of satisfaction after all the hard work of Christmas is done and you really enjoy the well-deserved rest.

…singing every year at Bethlehem. So many people go to Bethlehem to feel the real meaning of Christmas. People expect something magical to happen. When we go there to sing every year at Manger’s Square it is a challenge to bring the real spirit of Christmas to these seeking souls. There is a lot of commercial glitz around Christmas but people enjoy our performance because we try to be relatable to people. People come to commemorate what happened there but we commemorate the person who is still there and alive in our hearts.

…going to church on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. My parents had a really simple Christmas, which started with a midnight Church service where we sang carols and read verses from the Bible by candlelight and also we went to church again the next morning. On Christmas Day we exchanged some simple presents and had fun together but the focus was on worship.

As a child I sometimes felt envious of others. In particular I remember a large colorfully lit display at our local filling station of Santa flying through the sky with a sled load of presents. I felt that I was missing out on something. But now looking back on that time, I have such fond memories of the time that our family spent together at Christmas and how horribly shallow the other image seems to me now. Appreciating Jesus and His birth and not the bright lights is what continues to live on in our hearts.

…acting a character in the Christmas play. It was thrilling to see the reaction of the people that we performed for. The priest where we performed welcomed us very warmly as did everyone we met. They were so thankful that we had come.

…sitting by the fire, drinking hot chocolate and singing Christmas songs as a family.

…that it’s a time of giving, not only of presents, but of kind deeds and actions.

…getting together with loved ones. If no one is near it can be depressing unless you find someone else who also is lonely and cheer them up.

…seeing the decorations and lights in the houses, on the streets, in the hotels, and in the shops. On our street everyone pitched in and lined the streets with candles that were lit inside paper bags with sand in the bottom. This made a beautifully lit outdoor decoration.

…smelling the pine needles of Christmas

…experiencing the special love that people show to each other during this season.

…opening our home to visitors and sharing the joy of Christmas with them.

May you have a joyous Christmas this year with your loved ones and those in need.

Christmas Praise Trombones

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by Curtis Peter van Gorder

illustrations by Sabine

As the Moravian missionary, David Zeisberger (1721-1808), and his ever-present Native American friend, Wasamapah (“he who runs back and forth”) were entering the local heavenly library, a glowing Spiritgram notice on the bulletin board caught David’s attention. He pulled it down and the “paper” became activated. It read:

* * * SPIRITGRAM SIGNATURE VERIFICATION * * *

* * * Status: Good Signature from Valid Key

* * * Signer: HL <hl@library.com>

* * * BEGIN SPIRITGRAM DECRYPTED/VERIFIED MESSAGE * * *

Note to Heaven’s Library HQ from HL Earth,

Calling all authors,

I pray this note finds you well—and enjoying Heaven. Thank you very much for your faithful contributions over the years, through the stories that you’ve been willing to send down to our channels. They’ve been a wonderful blessing.

We’ve been looking at the potential for Christmas stories this year. It’s pretty early in the year to begin thinking “Christmas,” but due to the many stages that are involved in the preparation for each story, we try to plan our Christmas material well in advance so that it reaches on time. We got to thinking that maybe some of you had some ideas for a Christmas story for this year too.

There are many ways that the story could relate to a Christmas—past, present, or future—and it would be nice to use an original twist. The story could be anywhere from 7-9,000 words, and we would need it by the beginning of September, so that it has time to go through the text and art stages before being laid out and then published.

Thanks so much! Looking forward to hearing from you!

We love you and are praying for you!

Much love,
The HL Earth Team

* * * END SPIRITGRAM DECRYPTED/VERIFIED MESSAGE * * *

David turned to Wasamapah and asked, “I pray thee, good brother, what thinkest thou of this message?”

“Big chance for our Christmas story!” answered Wasamapah, smiling and nodding his head.

“Yes, brother. A wonderful story it is! It must be told!”

“Brave who kill deer must share it with tribe!” Wasamapah added.

David reread the message more carefully. “They need the story by the beginning of September in Earth Time. Knowest thou what the Earth date is at this juncture?”

“It is harvest time for corn.”

“August? Can such a task be accomplished in due season?”

“David, remember the watchword. Revelations 10:5 and 6—’Angel swear, in Heaven time shall be no more.’ We find a way.”

Watchword: A signal that is agreed upon—a password or countersign. It is a military term, and one may wonder that the peaceful Brethren of Herrnhut decided to use it. [Herrnhut was the Moravian community at Count Zizendorf’s estate. The practice of the watchword continued throughout the Moravian history and is still in use today.]

The early Moravians desired to remain at peace with others if at all possible, but they laid great stress on the fact that they were soldiers of Christ who warred against Satan and all his hosts. In this sense they regarded themselves as a “warrior congregation,” and during foreign mission work the concept of using a password to identify each other took on added meaning.

The battle against sin was a daily conflict. Their watchword then, was more than a theme for the day. They used the password to identify one another in the same way that a password is used in military camps. And the early Brethren testified that as the watchword was discussed and its meaning applied to their own lives in various services and in casual conversations, it became apparent as to who was “one with them in spirit” and who was not.

Selection of the watchwords, which are chosen by lot from a large collection of texts that had been selected from the Old Testament, is a practice that continues today.

David was deep in meditation. “He promiseth that there is time for every purpose under Heaven, so how much more shall there be a performance of such things in heavenly places where we now abide.”

“Creator make everything beautiful in His time,” said Wasamapah.

“Right then, let us enquire of the librarian as to how to expedite our cause.”

They walked through the entranceway into the library. Above its doors was displayed the verse,

Isa. 30:8: Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book,  that it may be for the time to come forever and ever.

They approached the desk, where a tall African woman in a bright green dress was busy checking in returned books.

David got her attention. “Excuse me, sister Ezeife, I was noticing the Spiritgram on the board, which clarified the need for a Christmas story for their readership. As thou mayest be aware, we have a wonderful story of praise concerning the incident with the Christmas trombones. Couldst thou give us some pertinent information as to how we may fulfill this request and expedite our cause?”

“Oh, Brother David, that I would be happy to be doing. But first you must be giving your sister a kiss of peace.”

Kiss of Peace: In the Early Church, the kiss of peace appears to have been the recognized ritual to express brotherly affection and trust. The Moravian custom was an effort to restore this ancient rite. In time, the literal kiss was replaced by the extending of the right hand of fellowship.

Ezeife’s body freely traversed through the counter that stood between them to embrace David in a warm hug, and then planted a kiss on his cheek.

Wasamapah next held out his hands to receive the same.

The Spirit of love filled them with a wave of energy that brought joy to their hearts.

In that moment of unity, their thoughts were freely shared and without further explanation, Ezeife understood their request and had received an answer.

“I know you have a good story, but unfortunately, we have a huge backlog, almost 11 Earth years to be more exact, of brethren who also wish for their story to be told on Earth. The channels are limited. It will take a miracle … but you know that is what we do best. …” Her face brightened. “It could be done if…”

“If…?” David queried.

“How can I explain it? Let me see … I was just reading about it somewhere.”

Ezeife spent a few moments rummaging through her stack of books until she victoriously pulled one out entitled Anomalies of Time Projection. “Here it is.”

Cases have been documented of common items being the vehicle for a spiritual experience akin to time travel, howbeit short in duration. This process is a Spontaneous Entropic Vortex Trigger (SEVT) Transmission which progressively subsumes and incorporates its environment into arrangements of information from another time continuum.

David and Wasamapah looked at each other blankly. Wasamapah shook his head.

“White man’s language has too many turns like dance of snake. Not run straight like a river.”

Ezeife laughed. “I know what you mean—I struggled with it myself. Let me boil it down for you. You see, it seems there have been cases where information or a message of some kind has been transmitted through a crack in time. Maybe this book will explain it better.”

Ezeife pulled the red volume down from the “Top Ten” bookshelf. It opened of its own accord to “The Green Door,” and she read,

The next thing I remember we were being questioned by this group of scientists on earth. One of the scientists said, “You know, I was working on a project during the war, on something to do with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and time lapse or time warp, sort of like a ‘déjà vu’ thing, where two strata of time had developed a crack and one sort of slipped a little over the other one.”

The theory that he had was that if you could find such a crack in the dimension of time, it would be possible to slip out of time and out of this dimension into another one. So he was saying, “Well, I think it’s possible. You could possibly have had such an experience, that you’ve managed to find the crack or the overlap,” he called it overlap, “this slippage which you found, that place where you got through into another world of time or space or timelessness or some other dimension.

“It’s theoretically possible. I thought I’d found such a spot, but I never could prove it. I was afraid to go in. But it’s possible that you found the spot.” He must have really found the place, or thought he found it, but was afraid to try it or go in. But anyhow, I remember the last thing he said was that he had found this was true and he believed it, and we had apparently found the way.”

David looked at her with curiosity. “That is a vivid vision indeed, but what does this have to do with us getting our Christmas story through to Heaven’s Library before the Earth deadline?”

“You see that time tower over there?”

“Can a brave miss a mosquito when it is on his nose?” Wasamapah quipped.

Ezeife laughed. “No, he can’t. The Sentinel will give you more information and help ‘expedite your cause,’ but basically that is the portal through which you can send a short message back in time. Perhaps with the Sentinel’s help you could find that crack in time.”

“Ah. Like the green door in red book! … What color this crack in time?”

“I am not sure. But if you manage to send something back in time to one of the channels, they may pick it up, and it may be the catalyst that will create the vacuum to receive your story. Understand?”

“The meaning is somewhat obscured by the constraints of our reasoning,” said David. “But as our cause is just and our hearts pure, all shall doubtless be revealed according to His will.”

“Brave not always know end of trail at beginning, but must take first step if he want to get there,” Wasamapah said sagaciously*. [*sagaciously: wisely and with good judgment]

“Brothers, let me help you with this. You’ll need to type in your request on that computer.” Ezeife pointed to a screen on a nearby desk, and handed David an address. “This is where you need to send your request. Any TTTs (time-trigger transmissions) need authorization from Second Level Security. We wouldn’t want any upsets in the time continuum, now would we?”

They both shook their heads, mystified.

David slowly typed in their request for security clearance and a few moments later a code appeared on the screen.

“Excellent!” Ezeife exclaimed. “It looks like your request has been approved. Now take this key and hold it up to the screen. The computer will embed your clearance code in it, and you’ll need to deliver it to the Sentinel.”

As David held up the key, it began to glow and changed from dark blue to vibrant red. As soon as the dialog box appeared to confirm the successful transmission, David and Wasamapah arose to leave, thanking Ezeife profusely.

The Time Transmission Portal towered above them in the distance with swirls of prismatic light and energy spiraling around it. There were no windows, and only one large door marked its entrance. David and Wasamapah walked up the golden stairs to the portal. There was a bell with a sign above it: “RING ONCE FOR TIME SENTINEL.”

They did so, and a beautiful chime echoed. The door opened and disappeared into the structure that enclosed it.

There before them stood the long-haired Time Sentinel. Though he was a large and strong man, he exuded calm kindness.

David introduced himself. “I am David Zeisberger, Moravian missionary from the 1700s ET [Earth Time], and this is my brother, Wasamapah. … Couldst thou be so gracious as to tell us thy name?” David asked meekly.

“I am Time.
I live my rhyme.
No matter what you do
To many or to few,
I march on.
To some I crawl,
To some I fly,
But I never lie.
Ever onward I speed.
In a million ticks, I travel 11½ days.
In a billion ticks, I journey nearly 32 years.
In 500 billion ticks I voyage close to 16,000 years.”

“Pardon me. … Art thou named Time, then?”

“Name is Lawrence. As you probably guessed, I am the Time Sentinel. My job is to check IDs and help run the equipment. Poetry is a kind of sideline for me. In fact, I am working on one to read on the poetry hill. I am not so sure of the last line, though.

Picture2

“‘At my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.’”

He added, “It is the word ‘deserts’ which bothers me.”

“It does sound somewhat gloomy,” said David.

“Perhaps it should be forests of vast eternity, or jungles of vast eternity … or maybe meadows? What do you think?”

“‘Meadows’ does sound more pleasant.”

“Thanks, right. Well, what can I do for you? Do you have an ID?”

David handed Lawrence his key which he swiped through his scanner and studied the screen for a minute.

“Everything looks in order. Tell me what you need and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

“We need to beam our story to a channel on Earth, but we can’t make the cutoff date.”

“Go on.”

“We need to plant a seed, and get the idea for the story to begin its course in another time prior to the backlog.”

The Time Sentinel thought for a moment and said, “I see what you mean, of course—big bottle, little neck. There are always openings, though.”

“But we understand that there are some uncertainties that could hinder the message being received?”

“Oh, all kinds, all kinds. … But that’s what makes life exciting! Let’s pray this one through.”

After a few moments of quiet, David commented, “The librarian, Ezeife, mentioned something about a SEVT?”

“Of course, of course. Do you have the message to be transmitted?”

David and Wasamapah consulted with each other for some time. David pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and read quickly:

It was the year 1755 in frontier northeastern America. At the foot of the Blue Mountains, where the Lehigh River meets the Creek with Many Bends, was a little Pennsylvania town named Bethlehem.

Many of the people who lived in Bethlehem were Moravians. The Moravians loved God, they loved peace, and they loved music.

Outside the town lived the Delaware Indians. The Delaware fished in the Lehigh. They built their wigwams by the Creek with Many Bends. They hunted in the Blue Mountains. The Delaware loved peace too.

The Moravians were like one big family.

They called each other “Brother” and “Sister” and…

At first Lawrence had listened with a bemused grin, but he now waved his hands. “Woah, friend. I don’t think you’ve read the sign.”

“‘Ring once for Time Sentinel’?” Wasamapah asked, puzzled.

“No, the one above my desk.” He pointed and the two visitors looked up.

“MESSAGES LIMITED TO EIGHT LETTERS, PLUS AN EXPERIENCE FILE ATTACHMENT. TOTAL MAY NOT EXCEED EIGHT PRAYERBYTES.”

Lawrence continued. “Like the bard says,

‘Day is day, night is night, and time is time.

Were there nothing but to waste night but day, and time.

Since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness tires the soul, therefore be brief.’”

David looked puzzled and a little discouraged.

“Brave bring down large bear with small arrowhead, David,” Wasamapah said with a reassuring smile.

“As always, thou speakest wisdom, brother. But what letters shall we use?”

“Christmas?”

“Not bad.”

“Begging you gentlemen’s pardon,” Lawrence countered, “‘Christmas’ is nine letters!”

“Religion?”

“No!”

“Moravian?”

“Too direct.”

“Wasamapah?”

“Too obscure.”

“Look, look, let’s use a little method here, gentlemen. A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the further of the two. We need to pick the word that is the most likely to arouse interest. … It’s up to you, of course, but methinks the catchiest word in your message is ‘frontier.’”

“That does sound catchy,” David agreed, “but would anyone get the connection? It seems unlikely.”

Lawrence was beaming.

“Ahhh, that’s where the experience file comes in, David. Let’s get right in the action—hooks ‘em every time. A chase scene is always an excellent choice to grab the channel’s attention. Does your story have a chase scene in it?”

David and Wasamapah talked with each other and then shared their idea with Lawrence.

“Perfect. We type. We attach experience file. We search for time strata crack to open up approximately 11 years in the channel’s past. Searching … searching … searching. Found. We transmit—check. And finished.”

Lawrence got up to leave. “That’s about the alpha and omega of it.”

“But can’t we expedite the process any?” David asked.

“Aye, you can trust the Master Programmer—and put in a prayer reminder every now and then.”

Lawrence ushered the two out of the Time Transmission Portal onto the golden steps and bid them farewell. “I hope it all works out for your story. Look, why don’t you both accompany me to the poetry hill?” Lawrence could tell from their reaction that wasn’t going to happen. “Or not. Anyways, I must go now. ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ and all. There is a reading happening soon at the Hill that I just can’t miss. I’m locking up for a while.”

* * *

(Channel’s notebook, December 1995:)

It happened on my way to a Christmas show at a retirement home.

I can’t explain why, but when I spotted a discarded food wrapper on the street with the label FRONTIER embossed on its cover, it happened. Bushes sprung back and whacked me in the face as I sprinted through the forest, but my adrenalin was pumping so hard I didn’t even notice. I was reliving an Indian’s frantic escape. I had to put distance between me and them. But who was “I”? Who were “they”?

I feel there is a story here, but what is it? I feel missionaries, traders, Indians. … Missionaries to Indians. But which missionaries? Which Indians? Which time period? I feel the tingle! There is a story here trying to get through! What is it?

* * *

(Channel’s notebook, September 2006:)

1755 – Central Pennsylvania, American colonies

Bushes spring back and sting my face as I sprint through the forest, but my heart is pumping so I don’t even notice. Have to put distance between them and me. I think better when I run.

I, Wasamapah, am on a mission. I must reach Bethlehem to warn. I sat in the war council of the Delaware and Shawnee when they decided to attack the Moravian settlement at Bethlehem. I must run and warn them. Alas, there are so few good men of peace in our land.

Three other unconverted Delaware braves knew I had become a messenger for the Moravians. When they saw that I had gone, they knew of my mission to warn the Brethren. They hunt me like deer to prevent me from accomplishing it.

As I run, I remember the first Moravian I met—David Zeisberger. We called him the Blackcoat with White Heart. He came to us as a friend. He sat with us and watched. He learned our language, and we loved him for this and made him our brother. He tell us many things. Mostly, he tell us of Jesus Christ, Who came to Earth by great miracle.

On this Great Day—the first Christmas—Jesus born of flesh mother and Father of Heaven. Born in barn with animals to show His love for the poor and lowly. Great medicine men from far come to bring precious gifts to Him, because they know what a great thing He will do. Herod, chief of land, try to kill Him as child, because he is jealous of Jesus’ power and what great things He will do. But Herod’s power like dust to the wind of Jesus’ power. Heavenly Father protected His Son, and He escaped like a bird from the trap.

When Jesus grow up, He do great magic because He have the power from heavenly Father. Though He multiplied loaves and fishes, and made lame walk, and did only good for His tribe, His tribe reject Him and kill Him. But because He Son of Creator of all, death cannot hold Him down in the earth. He live again. So we believers may also live.

David and I talk about many things. He listen; I talk. I listen; he talk. We become friends and I follow him. His God, now my God.

I must push my legs and lungs to see how much they can give me. I need their strength now. I ask for God’s power to help me to run for Him. I ask to fly like eagle, to run and not faint as He promised.

I often run on this trail. Uphill, downhill, through the underbrush, over fallen logs, across stony ground, and in swamps—I speed like arrow over and through them.

I hear the war whoop. It is my pursuers coming closer. Thirty kilometers to go. Sweat is raining from my face. My face and neck are swollen until the blood is ready to burst. Still I run and run, but no slower. Twenty-five kilometers still to go. I now at top of hills. I pause for rest, and I think of the war council I have just seen. I hear many voices speak, but voice of war stronger than voice of peace.

“Why do we attack Moravians? They have paid for their land. They have welcomed us in their towns—unlike settler towns,” said one.

The second voice said, “The white man wants to push us from our land till we have nothing. They do not think we are any better than an animal that they kill. We must do the same to them. As in the past, the strongest tribe remains.”

The third voice said, “But I have friends with them.”

The fourth said, “No rain. We have no corn. Fur trappers take our animals. We hunger and our babies have nothing—even their mother’s milk has dried up! We should attack and take their grain. It is the grain that they have grown on our land!”

The fifth voice said, “Only by making peace can we live. There are too many white men now, and we are too few.”

The chief said, “Yes, made few and weak by the rum their traders give us and that you drink.”

The sixth voice said, “We drink rum to forget our misery at what has been stolen from us.”

The chief urged caution. “The white settlers’ guns speak very loud. Maybe Moravians will not hurt us, but their brothers will come and kill us when they hear we attack.”

An emissary from another tribe said mockingly, “You are weak. You have let the white man take all you have. The Moravians are not your friends. They only pretend to be. If you attack Moravians, the French will stand with you. They also have many guns that speak loudly. The French have promised the return of all the land that was stolen from us by the white man. What do the Moravians promise us? Only a beautiful garden in the sky when we die. If you are men, take what is yours now!”

European attitudes toward Native Americans: As a rule, most of the Native American tribes tended to favor the French who enjoyed a reputation for conducting business more fairly than the English-speaking colonists. Another factor is that the French were more likely to develop trade relations with Native Americans than to attempt to settle permanently on their lands. On the other hand, English colonists were more land hungry than the French traders, since many of them hoped to establish new lives as farmers.

Generally, the English-speaking colonists believed that the native people were inferior, almost subhuman, whereas the French and Spanish commonly believed in living among and trading with the native populations, rather than driving them from their land. Thus, intermarriage and shared cultures prevailed among the French and Spanish settlements, while warfare was more common in the English settlements. [Sources: Encarta and The Heritage Center]

His speech roused the camp in a war whoop that echoed through the valley. After much talk, it was decided to attack the Moravian settlement at Bethlehem on their Great Day—the day that they called Christmas. They would be having a feast on that day and would not be ready for an attack.

At the moment I see the Delaware who are chasing me. They also see me. I see them shake their fist at me and yell. They follow my path closer now. I must not think, only run faster. Hour after hour, I keep up my pace. Sometimes I see my pursuers crossing the open country behind me.

I pass the ashen ruins of barns and houses of the white settlers who have already been attacked.

I try to not to think, but the thoughts come anyways. I think of the time that white settlers attack our tribe and make us run away. My wife and daughter were killed then, only my son Weeko lived. We come to Delaware and they take us in. But I have learned from David not to hate my enemies but to love them.

Once, losing sight of my pursuers, I thought they stopped following. I throw myself on the ground. My limbs shake like leaves in tree blown by wind. My chest heaves up and down. I could have just given up and slept. Just then, the wind carried their yell to my ears. They were still after me, and much nearer than before.

I must start again. I can no longer run so fast. I stumble and weave like brave filled with rum. Over and over, I trip on small roots in my way and fall on my head. Fifteen kilometers to run. Ten kilometers. The flaming shield of the afternoon sun sinks behind the treetops. Five kilometers. I see the settlement in front of me. I run till I fall exhausted but victorious at the community house steps. My pursuers sink back into the forest from where they had come.

I gasped out an explanation, “The Delaware and Shawnee are coming to attack you, in three days—on the Great Day!”

“Thank you, Wasamapah.” The bishop who received me urged me to go to the Indian house to rest and take food for my strength.

This I was happy to do. While I am resting, you can read parts of the journal of one of the Moravian boys. Most Moravians kept a journal. It is a priceless treasure that they share with others in the future.

* * *

Journal of Thomas Wackneckt

June 24, 1753

On our origins and our travels to the New World

I am a Moravian.

Moravia is the land between Bohemia and Slovakia [in the area now known as the Czech Republic]. My father, Joshua, is a preacher. He came to Bethlehem because he desired to find a land where his family would be free to live the way they believed the Lord wanted them to—in peace. He wished to escape the unjust persecution of those who maligned our new faith. He also wished to share this faith with the natives who had never heard the wonderful story of Jesus, and had never had a chance to receive such a gift as eternal life in Heaven.

My father was on the first pioneer team that traveled from Moravia to the New World by a boat called The Catherine.

First, he had to travel very far across land and sea from Moravia to London from where the boat was to sail. He left my mother behind in Moravia, so that he could go ahead of her and pioneer the land. On the first voyage, many married men left their wives behind because they didn’t know what it would be like where they were going.

I was born on a cold stormy night with just a midwife there to help my mother. Every time a child is born, there is a song dedicated to that child. The song dedicated to me was:

Morning Star, O, cheering sight!
‘Ere thou cam’st how dark the night.

Trumpets blew and the voices of children and adults singing rang out of the little village when I was born.

Once my father had sent us a message and confirmed that it was safe, my mother and I set out from our little Moravian village overland through Germany and France. From France we boarded a boat that took us to Cowes, which is on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England, where the second voyage of believers would leave in a boat called The Little Strength.

I was the only infant aboard at the time, and I was actually the first Moravian child to make the voyage to the New World. I must have kept my mother very busy because we sailed for two months and she had to protect me from wandering off and falling over the side of the boat into the raging sea. Sometimes she would tie a rope around my waist in order to be certain that I would not stray far away.

Sometimes she would point out creatures that we saw in the sea. Dolphins, whales, sharks, and others that we knew not the names of, but they were all God’s creatures and we knew that they would not harm us.

When I became old enough to understand, my mother told me many things that had occurred while we traveled overland from Moravia to Calais, on the boat to Cowes, and the one that took us to New York.

She told me that on one occasion, we ran into a big storm, and all the women were inside their cabins praying for God’s protection. The waves towered above us like mountains and tossed our vessel so suddenly that it seemed there would be no escape.

While the storm lasted the men and youths had to stay on deck and keep the ship secure. When one of our masts fell, it broke off half of the captain’s wheel, making it very difficult to steer. It also broke some railing off the side of our vessel. Our captain was a Moravian and a God-fearing man. He was very brave, and though the ship’s wheel was almost impossible to use, he found a way to mend it so that he could steer through the storm.

When we arrived at New York, my father was there to greet us. My mother was so relieved that by the providence of God we had finally arrived unharmed.

The journey by foot to Bethlehem was arduous for many, because we were already tired from the two-month voyage overland from Moravia to the Atlantic ports, then another two months on the ship.

My mother was fortunate because she was given a horse to travel on because she carried me. I sat in front of her and she tied me to her so that when I slept I wouldn’t fall off. The way was very hard because our group often had very little food to eat. The weather conditions were sometimes very harsh as the winter was setting in. Sometimes we had to keep traveling in the chilling rain.

December 21st, 1754

On our adventures and contacts with the Native Indians.

I am now 10 years old.

My father took me with him to meet the Delaware Indians at their camp. I was instructed in the language and customs of these people. Here are some words that I learned:

My Savior—We wu la ten a mo ha lid
Our Comforter—Wech uw li la wem quenk
It refreshes, cheers me—We wi la wi hil la lil
I bow down—Ne mi gi hil laan
It has the right taste—Nen na wi po quot

I made friends with one Delaware Indian boy named Weeko who was nine years old. His father, Wasamapah, was the very first Moravian convert. He was a runner to carry messages for the tribe. He then took a new Christian name that we called him by—John. Weeko never did call him that name because he still called him Pap (Father).

For some of his tribe it was funny to call him by the strange foreign name he had been given. But John seemed to like it and everyone got used to it. The first time I visited the Delaware camp, while my father and John were talking together, I went over to Weeko who seemed afraid and I gave him a colored stone that I had in my pouch. I knew we were going to be friends. Then my father saw that I was trying to be friends with him, but that we didn’t understand each other’s language, so he suggested I show him some of my toys. He said that I could try and communicate using simple signs. I did and it worked. After that, I always came with my father whenever he would go to the Indian settlement.

I started to learn more of the Delaware language, and we were able to communicate more easily. Weeko also started to learn our language, but I think I learned his language faster than he did mine because I was always visiting Weeko in his village.

We would sometimes exchange our clothes for a day, he would be dressed like a Moravian, and I would be dressed as a native. I remember thinking how funny and different his clothes felt—funny, but in a good way.

Sometimes now, when my father takes John down to the river where it’s quiet and teaches him about Jesus, we boys join them.

A while ago, we had a special project going on at the river. My father had chosen just the right tree and had dragged it onto the bank of the river. He gave us our own tools, which included a stone chisel and an axe that John had taught us how to make from a very hard stone called “flint.” We used a hammer to knock the chisel into the wood, and we began slowly carving and chiseling out our own canoe.

It seemed to take us such a long time to carve out this log.

When we’d finally finished, Father gave us some wooden paddles. He had been secretly carving them out as a surprise for us for when we’d finish the canoe. It was big enough for the two of us and my dog to fit in. I named my dog “Flint,” because his fur is black like the stone. Flint likes to sit at the bow and feel the wind.

There is a little space at the stern of the canoe for all the fish that we mean to catch.

I told Weeko that singing was an important part of a Moravian’s life. I taught him some of my songs and he taught me some of his. I think we scared away some fish when we were singing, and that is why we only caught a few. But we’re just as happy singing as we are eating fish.

To us, music is as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. We have songs for all occasions. The women sing spinning songs while they spin wool. The missionaries sing travel songs as they venture forth to new lands such as the islands of the Caribbean, the western coast of Africa, and the jungles of South America. Farmers sing songs as they plant and as they harvest—when they go out into the fields and when they return home. Shepherds sing songs as they tend their flocks. Fishermen even have a song that they sing quietly when they are fishing and loudly when they are returning home.

Even the night watchman sings the hours. Outside our house in Bethlehem, I sometimes hear the watchman sing a short song on the hour, every hour.

Past eight o’clock, Oh, Bethlehem, do thou ponder.
Eight souls in Noah’s Ark were living yonder.

‘Tis nine o’clock, ye Brethren.
Hear it striking.
Keep hearts and houses clean to our Savior’s liking.

Now Brethren, hear!
The clock is ten and passing,
Now rest, such as wait for Christ’s embracing.

We all learn to sing in the choir or play an instrument. I am learning to play the trombone. It requires much perseverance to learn an instrument. Especially one that requires such expenditure of breath as does the trombone. I learned from Weeko that the Delaware also love music. This is something we have in common.

They usually sing during celebrations—when a baby is born, when a young brave kills his first meal, when the tribe has a victory, when the rains fall after a long season of dryness, or when they gather around the campfire and pray to the Great Spirit. These are the times when they sing and play music.

Weeko plays on a small drum that his father made for him. It’s made out of wood with deerskin stretched across the top, and he beats it with a special stick. There are strings attached to the drum and on the strings are colorful beads that his mother had made out of clay. When he twists the handle of the drum from left to right, it makes the strings of beads hit the drum and make a noise. I’ve tried to teach Weeko to play my trombone, but he much prefers to beat his drum in rhythm to what I play.

Weeko and I are best of friends. His dad once said, “You two boys are like feathers from the same eagle.”

Sometimes Weeko comes to our fields and helps with the planting, plowing, and harvesting. My father gave us some tools to help harvest the field.

Once, the Moravian village sent ten men, along with bags of seeds and a plow, and showed the Delaware how to plant and take care of their own crops. They knew how to grow corn, but we brought them many new seeds that they had never seen before. Tomatoes, pumpkins, onions, potatoes, grapes, and different kinds of fruits—these were all new to them at first but were soon welcome because they gave them strength.

[End of journal of Thomas Wackneckt]

* * *

The governor’s representative in Bethlehem met with the Moravian leaders and warned them, “You should all leave! It is not safe for you to stay here any more.”

“Leave our homes to be burned? Where will we go? Many settlers from the surrounding settlements have come here looking for shelter against the natives’ attacks. We have turned none away who have asked for our assistance. Sleds have just arrived with 300 children from the surrounding countryside. What will they do if we tell them we are leaving?” asked one of the elders.

“Not have Christmas in Bethlehem?” asked another. “Our town was named after the town of Christ’s birth. Surely, Christmas must be celebrated here!”

Bishop Spangenberg bowed his head, “Let us seek divine guidance and lean not unto our own understanding. For His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts than our thoughts.”

After several moments of silent prayer, a brother drew a verse from a box of collected promises and read, “Psalm 91:2, I will say of the Lord, [He is] my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

They took a vote, made a decision and Bishop Spangenberg spoke for the assembly. “We will stay. Bethlehem will watch and pray!”

Tall log watchtowers and a firm stockade surrounded the settlement. Watchmen kept watch diligently on the wall. They carried rifles, which they hoped they would never have to use against their Delaware and Shawnee brothers.

The men boarded up the windows for protection against arrows that might shower down on them, and the women kept the children busy and away from worry by preparing for the traditional Christmas Surprise.

For the Moravian Brethren, the Christmas Surprise is more than just a manger scene. They use a whole room to house the story of the birth of Jesus. Boys gather bark, pine boughs, sticks, moss, and unusual rocks for the stable and surrounding scene. Sawdust gathered from the carpentry shop becomes deserts over which the wise men travel on camels. Stars hanging in a midnight blue curtain sky twinkle over figures carved from wood and sheep fashioned from the spun wool. Of course, in the center stands the manger where Jesus lies, surrounded by Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, and all the animals. Above it hover angels announcing His birth.

Because only a few people are allowed in the room to prepare it, the children eagerly await the day when the doors are opened and the wonder of the Christmas Surprise is revealed.

The children knew little of the danger that they faced. Even though the adults did not know if the children would ever enjoy the Christmas Surprise, they proceeded as if it were a normal Christmas. The watchword for the day was 2 Cor.6:10, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

Usually, there was much singing and music on Christmas Eve, but on this evening, the bishop ordered constant prayer and quiet. He told everyone that only the trombone choir would announce the dawning of Christmas Day, while everyone else would spend the night steadfast in prayer.

“Let all of our hearts be lifted up in praise for Christ’s birth at the sound of the trombones,” the bishop said.

It was now night and the moon hung like a lantern in the sky. Now and then, the shadows of the Indians preparing to attack could be seen crouching on the snow-covered riverbank or scurrying between trees and bushes in the moonlight.

Picture3

Meanwhile the clock in the bell tower rang out the hour and the watchman chanted his rhyme.

The clock is three! The blessed three do merit
The best of praise from body, soul, and spirit.

A hush hung over the town for the next hour as the prayers for protection sped heavenwards. The bell striking four in the bell tower broke the stillness. For the Indians hiding behind the mill dam, it was their signal to attack. They waited for their leader to give that signal.

Suddenly, instead of the sound of battle, an unearthly sound cut through the air. It was clear, strong and beautiful yet vibrant and piercing. Thomas was playing a Christmas chorale with his trombone choir on top of the chapel roof.

The Indians stopped and listened, they had never heard a sound like it before. It seemed to them to come from the sky as the voice of the Moravians’ God talking to them. Not knowing what to do against such a great spirit, their leader lowered his tomahawk. Running toward him was a brave.

“What is this sound?” the leader asked him.

The brave looked toward the heavens.

“It is the voice of the Great Spirit!” he shouted.

“What does He tell us?”

“He is telling you to do His children here no harm.”

The brave continued his flight across the dam and into the forest. The strange voice of the Moravians’ God continued. This sound was more frightening to them than the warning shots that had been fired at them.

“Surely, Great Spirit watches over this place,” the leader said.

Some of the Indians remembered the kindness that the Moravians had shown them and they were ashamed that war was now in their hearts. Fearing for what judgments would fall on them, they turned and ran back into the forest to put as much distance as they could between them and the Great Spirit Voice that sounded from the sky.

No one inside Bethlehem knew of what had happened and still waited for the attack until the bell struck six and the watchman sang,

The clock is six and I go off my station.
Now Brethren, watch yourselves for your salvation.

As on the first Christmas, a lone star shone in the sky, and with the sunrise over the snowy hills came the hope that they had been saved from attack. Smoke rose from the chimneys of all the homes in Bethlehem. It was the beginning of a new Christmas.

Those who had spent the whole night in prayer vigil sang a song of thanksgiving. Their prayers had been heard. After breakfast, everyone hurried to the chapel. The children clamored at the door to be the first one to see the Christmas Surprise. A key turned in the lock and the door swung open revealing the wonders of the Christmas Surprise.

The rowdy children became quiet as they entered the candlelit room. They walked up to admire the scene and to see it better.

“Look,” one of the children said, “baby Jesus is smiling!”

“And Mary and Joseph are smiling, too!” another added.

“I told you it would be wonderful!” one child said to another.

For a few moments, they were transported back into time to the first Christmas. There was baby Jesus wrapped in strips of cloth in the animals’ food trough. The carved animal figures came to life and the moss-covered rocks and sticks transformed into the real stable of Christ’s birth. The candle that shone as their Christmas star became the real star of Bethlehem.

The vision was but for a few moments, and the children were back in their own Bethlehem.

Joshua, Thomas’ father, gathered the children around him. “Would you like me to tell you the story of the first Christmas Surprise?”

“Yes! Yes!”

Using the figures in the scene before him, Joshua told the story.

“Mary was a young girl who loved God. One day, the angel Gabriel came to Mary and said…”

After the story, a lovefeast was held with all the refugee children. Sugar buns were passed around by the women while the men carried trays and offered mugs of peppermint tea to each child. Christmas songs were sung by a choir as the children ate.

Lovefeast: A service instituted by the Moravian Church in 1727. In the middle of the 18th century it served both as a social gathering and as a happy religious service, offering the members of the Bethlehem congregation one of the few opportunities for relaxation. A lovefeast could be observed by groups within the church fellowship or by the entire congregation.

Thomas was there, too. He smiled when they sang the same song that had been dedicated to him at his birth.

Morning Star, O cheering sight!
‘Ere Thou cam’st how dark the night.

Then each child was given a wooly sheep toy, a luscious red apple, and one of the colorfully illustrated verse cards that hung on the evergreen boughs.

Bishop Spangenberg came and spoke. “These gifts remind us of the greatest and most wonderful gift of all, when the Savior gave Himself to us.”

The bishop lit the first candle, and soon more than 250 candles were shining and filling the room with their sweet beeswax smell.

“May our hearts burn as brightly toward the Child Jesus as these candles. May each of us be a light to the world!”

Everyone sang “Today We Celebrate the Birth,” and the lovefeast ended with each person giving everyone around them a hug and a kiss of peace.

In the next few days, everyone wondered why the Indians had not attacked.

“Maybe it was because they knew our town was well guarded,” said one.

“It must have been the strong watchtowers and stockade that we built,” said another.

“Well, whatever it was, we thank God that the Indians didn’t attack us. Let’s hope they will never try.”

After a joyful Christmas season, life returned to its usual rhythm of hard work and simple pleasures. The Indians never did attack again.

* * *

In the early spring when the mountain trails were clear for the runners, Wasamapah returned to Bethlehem from the Delaware village and had a strange story to tell.

He told how, just before dawn on Christmas morning, he was awoken from a dream, where God had told him to run back to his village at once. On his way he had met the war party of the Delaware and Shawnee. He knew not what to say to them until the words came to his mouth. The warriors did not recognize Wasamapah. In the dim light they could only make out his warrior tattoos, which were made before he had become a Christian. He had wanted to remove them but could not. Now they had served a greater purpose and convinced the warriors that he was one of them.

The mystery had been solved. The prayers of those who’d interceded for the town’s protection brought about a wondrous miracle on the Christmas of 1755 in Bethlehem. It was a Moravian Indian and the sound of the Christmas Praise trombones that saved the town from destruction.

* * *

“Did you see the latest Heaven’s Library publication?” David asked his friend.

“Yes, brother. I think it is time for a lovefeast. We must celebrate!”

“Good idea, let’s tell everyone about it. Let’s make sure to invite Thomas and Weeko, and Lawrence, and of course, Ezeife.”

“Oh, yes!” Wasamapah exclaimed.

“What’s that noise?” David suddenly asked.

“Sounds like the trombone choir!”

“Sounds like they’ve already begun the celebration!”

Outside their apartment, there were many people singing and playing instruments. The Moravians and Indians from Heaven had gathered at David’s house to sing and have a lovefeast to celebrate the publication of their story. Dancing and rejoicing echoed far into the distance.

Ezeife appeared at the door and gave everyone a hug. “I just came to congratulate you. I see it worked. And you made the deadline!”

“Many braves hunt deer together,” Wasamapah said with a smile.

“Yes, we must give credit to all of our friends, and in particular the Time Sentinel, Mr. Lawrence.”

“Nay, but give praise to the Most High alone!” Lawrence said as he also entered. “That Light Whose smile kindles the universe, that Beauty in Which all things work and move.”

* * *

On Earth, the channel happily typed his last few lines.

“Honey, the story is done. Let’s celebrate! Merry Christmas!”

“But it’s still September.”

“That’s okay—let’s start celebrating early this year!”

End of Transmission.

Christmas Birds of Praise

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By Curtis Peter van Gorder

Job 12:7  Ask now the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee.

This Christmas Day we were performing a show by the lake. As I was napping during our break I was awakened by my friend who said, “Come, you have to see this! It’s amazing!”

I wondered what could have gotten him so excited. Had he sighted an UFO or seen a lake monster or what?

I reluctantly came out to the porch of our hotel room we had with a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding mountains. There were several large flocks consisting of thousands of sparrows wheeling and turning in perfect synchronization. They would break off in small groups and then reunite.  Each group, kept circling and whirling, their movements perfectly timed and united. They ascended, descended, turned and whirled as one body. Like an aerial jelly fish they constantly changed shape, with one edge of the flock meeting another and then breaking off into a new formation to fly in opposite directions. We were the audience and they the performers as they gave us quite a show while we watched awestruck for over 30 minutes.

What could make them move so harmoniously in their sky ballet?  The ornithological answer was that as temperatures drop in winter, birds seek out thermals, which are updrafts of warm air that give the birds lift and in which they can ride effortlessly for hours.

Expert gliding pilots know this. The current female gliding world champion of World Air Games, Louise Crandal actually glides with her trained Steppe Eagle bird to get the best results. She advises other gliders to:

“Follow the birds. They’re the masters of the sky, so do what they do. It’s as simple as that! I had to stop thinking in the usual patterns I had trained myself to use over the years and just follow. Suddenly I was thermalling better than ever before. I realized that birds don’t fly in circles. They turn in thermals but never in neat 360s. Every single lap is different and they constantly adjust and move to where the thermal is stronger or even move a couple of hundred metres to the side to find better lift.

“Whenever you get the chance to fly with a bird try to follow it as closely as possible. Soaring birds automatically stay in lift for as long as possible, even with an annoying paragliding pilot on their tail, so there’s always something to learn.”

Also it has been found that this phenomena known as ‘flocking’ increases greatly the chances of birds escaping their predators and finding food. I would like to believe that they may also just enjoy sky dancing for the fun of it.

Whatever the reason, similar to a school of fish or swarm of insects, each bird is incredibly sensitive to the slightest movement of its fellow flock mates. Each bird can respond instantly to the reactions of the other birds and knows which way to turn.  You may have seen an aerial sky show of expert pilots such as the Blue Angels doing fantastic maneuvers in their jets; yet, these birds undergo no training and have next to zero accidents. They are just born with the instinct.

Being that it was Christmas Day, I couldn’t help but think that these birds were glorifying our Creator with this magnificent precision mid-air acrobatic show.  I thought back on the first angelic choir proclaiming Christ’s birth:

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”  – Lk. 2:14

They had found the living bread, which came down from heaven. Like birds they wanted to share this source of spiritual nourishment with others.  These angels had also found their greatest ‘thermal’ of all – the source of everlasting life. Jesus promised us:

“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” –  John 12:32

Let’s us join the angels in praises this Christmas and like the Psalmist take wings and soar heavenwards with them:

I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away, and be at rest.

-Psalms 55:6

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Twinkie Skit

Twinkie picWhen I was teaching at an international school in Japan, a teacher from the younger group asked me to write a script for her class to act out. I was busy at the time with another drama class presentation, so my first reaction was to brush her off. But she was so sincere and I knew I couldn’t disappoint her, or the Lord, so I told her, “Ok, I’ll take 5 minutes with you and we can pray, and if the Lord gives us a story for you, then I will write it.” I said this more to ease my conscience and at least be able to say that I gave it a shot. We now sooner started praying than this story started to roll in. I was like a guy taking up the fax. That was fun and the story came out cute and fun as well. We performed it and it went over well. It was cute to see the younger kids acting this out. We have since performed it as a puppet show in India with good reactions. The illustrations were done by my teacher’s assistant Alvi.

Twinkie

by Peter van Gorder

Cast:

Twinkie:________________ a cute little star that feels inferior. Little child voice and character.

Grandpa Zeek: _____________ wise old bearded meteor.

Seymour: _______________head angel – strong and experienced type.

Billy Boy: _______________apprentice angel – still learning, sometimes stumbles and is clumsy.

Wing: _______________ angelic messenger – older angel with western accent.

Props: pictures of stars *   binoculars    *    comet  sparklers    *     signs: GOD’S CONTROLCENTER,   STAR FACTORY,   ESCAPE, URGENT!!!!,    ATOMIC FUSSION    *     Crystals   *    envelope with golden seal   *      letter opener   * 2 pairs of sunglasses * Books with star charts in them.

Narrator:  (in echo effect. Possibly have star photos in the background.)   There is one glory of the sun and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, for one star differs from another star in glory.  1Cor.15:41

Twinkie was a young star. Actually, his full name was Theodore William Twinkles, but everyone just called him ‘Twinkie; for short – or ‘Twink’ for very short.

Now we know that God made the stars some 6,000 years ago on the fourth day of Creation, but you know God. He’s full of surprises, and sometimes He likes to make a few new stars just for fun!

            (enter Twinkie dancing and shining and spinning around)

SCENE 1 – SPACE

Well Twinkie was one of those new stars that God had just made. Twinkie was not a very bright star – in fact he was one of the smallest stars in the whole universe.

(Twinkie takes a look through his telescope at the different parts of the heavens and acts out what the narrator is saying.)

One night, Twinkie took a look through his telescope at all the other stars in the galaxy. He looked over to the east at the constellation of Daniel and saw the brilliant star Michael, named after the archangel, of course. He looked to the west at the constellation of David and was in awe when he beheld the glorious, sparkling star of Moses. He couldn’t help but compare himself with them, which made him feel very sad.

twinkie 2

            (Enter Granpa Zeek. Paper comet on a stick with sparklers lit.

Grandpa Zeek: Hey, Twinkie! How’s it shining?

            Twinkie is silent and does not answer – he is pouting)

Twinkie: Oh, I’d rather not talk about it.

Grandpa Zeek: Come on, Twinkie, you can talk to me. What’s bothering you? Did you get hit by a meteor or some space junk or something worse?

Twinkie: No, Grandpa Zeek, it’s just that…it’s just…it’s just

Grandpa Zeek: Yes? It’s just what?

Twinkie: It’s just that I’m so little!   (starts to cry)

Grandpa Zeek: Well, that’s normal. You are just a newborn star. It takes time to get all the gases working and the fusion fired up!

Twinkie:  (sadly) Yes, I know, but all the other stars in the sky are so pretty and bright, and I am just a faint flicker. I probably won’t ever turn into a bright star. Most likely, I’ll just burn out and become a black hole or something.

Granpa Zeek: Cheer up Twinkie! You’ll see. Every star has its moment of glory, as my friend supernova used to tell me when I was feeling down.

Twinkie: Yeah, I guess you are right. But I might have to wait a couple of thousand more years for my moment of glory.

Grandpa Zeek: Don’t worry so much. Just keep on doing the best you can. Things are bound to look up soon, just you wait and see. …Well, twink, I”ll see you on my next orbit – when I come around again. I feeeeeel that gravity pulling me. I have a job to do you know. There are a lot of kids on the planet Zonkers that are looking forward to seeing their first comet, so I’d best be going. Bye Twinkie!!

(Grandpa Zeek exits)

Scene 2 – God’s Control Center glowing crystals and lots of machines and dials etc.

Sign on the outside says: THE STAR FACTORY – GOD’S CONTROLCENTER

Narrator: Now we go to God’s ControlCenter where He runs the universe. A vast network of glowing crystals and pulsating rainbow lights all work together in harmony to keep everything working like clockwork. In one of the rooms, called, “The Star Factory” two of God’s heavenly helpers are at the controls – Seymour and his young new helper – Billy Boy. It’s Billy’s first day on the job, and Seymour is glad to teach him everything he knows.

Seymour: Now, Billy, first thing: Don’t touch anything until I’ve shown you how it all works.

(Billy is walking backwards and knocks over a crystal and alarm bells begin to sound.)

Billy: Oh, oh, I’m sorry.

(SFX of glass breaking)

Narrator: red and green lights started pulsating. Then suddenly a laser bean shot through an escape pipe into space.

Billy: Oh no! Did I break something?

Seymour: Don’t worry Billy, we have a safety override feature. Everything is under control. Here’s our safety key.

(Billy leans closer to read what is written on the button.)

Billy: What does “escape” mean?

Seymour: That’s the button you push that will undo the last command that you entered. Yes, you may now push the button, Billy.    (Billy presses the button gleefully.)

Seymour: Good job, now try not to bump anything again please. So where were we? Oh yes, rule number two: wait till the orders from the MainControlCenter come in before doing anything.

Bill: How long will that take?

Seymour: (looking at his watch) I think Wing should be coming in with his deliveries right about ………now.

Narrator: Just then the doorbell rang. (SFX doorbell)  It was Wing, the heavenly messenger from God’s MCC.

Wing: Well, a hello and howdy-do! Here’s some mail that just came in for you.

(hands an envelope to Seymour that has a golden seal and reads :Priority One”. Wing talks to Billy.)

Wing: I see you are learning the tricks of the trade, Billy. It sure is an important job you have here.

Seymour: And Billy has been learning very quickly! (gives Billy a pat on his shoulder)

Wing: That’s great Billy! Well, my next assignment is to deliver some important messages to our teams on Earth. There are some earth shaking events about to happen soon. I tell ya’ it’s so exciting, I can hardly keep my wings on!  (Wing leaves as they wave goodbye)

Seymour: We’ll be praying for you, Wing. Godspeed!

(Seymour looks at the envelope and notices the bold red letters – URGENT!!!!) I wonder what our next assignment will be …..HMMMMM?

Billy: Can I open it, can I huh? Please? Please?

Seymour: Sure, go ahead.   (hands him the envelope. Excitedly, Billy starts to rip it open frantically until Seymour stops him.)

If you open it that way, you might rip the message. Here, try this letter opener. (Hands him a letter opener. With some difficulty, Billy gets the letter open and tries to read it, but his reading skills are poor.)

Billy: Dear Stone Facts Story ….huh? I don’t get it?

Seymour: Why don’t you let me read it?   (Billy hands the letter to Seymour. They pray first)

Lord, please help us to understand this important message and follow Your instructions carefully.

Billy: And help this to be a fun and exciting assignment – AMEN!

(Seymour reads)

Seymour: Dear Star Factory.

Billy: (proudly) That’s us!

Seymour: I have an important job for you, in fact, the most important job you will ever do.

Billy: Sounds big – WOW! COOL! I wonder what it is.

Seymour: We need a bright and beautiful star like the planet Earth has never seen before. It will need to lead three wise men to the city of Bethlehem. I know I can count on you two to do a good job… Please keep in close touch and report to me on your progress. Much love, Lucas Starshine.

Billy: That sounds like fun!!! How are we going to do that Seymour?

Seymour: First we must chose a suitable star.

(He begins to flip through his star book)

HMMMMM. We could use the Michael star in the constellation of Daniel.

Billy: (nods in agreement) It’s quite a lovely star.

Seymour: The size of about a hundred earth suns, I believe. Or we could use the Moses star in the constellation of David. (Billy picks up the letter and reads it closer as Seymour continues to read and flip through his book.)

Billy:Seymour, what does PTO mean?

Seymour: Hmmmmmm, Let me think. Praise the omnipotent? No, I don’t think so. Let me look in my dictionary. PT – Physical training, PTA – Parent-teacher association. Ahhh here we have it. PTO – Please turn over. Where did you see that, Billy?

Billy: It’s at the bottom of the letter.

Seymour: (taking the letter and looking at it closer and turning it over) Ah, Look there is some more writing on the back of the letter. P.S.  (Billy looks puzzled)

Billy: What does P.S. stand for?

Seymour: It means Post Script. It derives from an ancient Latin custom of…

(he sees that Billy doesn’t understand) that means there’s more. (Billy nods like he now understands. Seymour continues to read)

I have just received news from our TOP POP himself, that you are to choose Twinkles for the Bethlehem star.  (Seymour looks puzzled and looks up from the letter.)

Twinkles?  Twinkles? I don’t believe I have ever heard of that star.  (He begins to flip furiously through his star map charts.) Oh, here it is! What? That little star? OK well, Top Pop always knows best! Billy, we’d better mix up an extra large package of atomic fusion for this job.

Billy: Yes, Sir! (salutes I’ll get to work on it right away.)

Scene 3  – Deep Space

Narrator: After they had prepared everything, Billy and Seymour transported themselves with the speed of thought to where Twinkles was stationed.

Billy: Hi, there Twinkles.

Twinkles: (Happily) Oh, hi! It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?

Seymour: You are looking so cheery, Twnkles.

Twinkles: Well, I sure wasn’t cheery this morning. But I figured it was no use feeling down and discouraged about myself, so I decided to be positive and be the best little star that I can. It really feels so much better!

Seymour: That’s wonderful! We have some special news for you, Twinkles. You’ve been chosen by Top Pop himself for a very special job.

Twinkles: Me? Oh, you must be mistaken. Maybe you are looking for Twin Star, or TwiceBright, or Tremendous Star.

Seymour: Oh, it’s no mistake! You have been chosen to guide three important wise men to Bethlehem, so that they can worship the Son of the King of all the universe – Jesus Himself!

Twinkles: Really? Me? But why me? I’m such a little star.

Seymour: Top Pop works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

Twinkles: But I’m not very bright, you know – I don’t think they can even see me from Earth.

Seymour: Don’t worry, that’s all been taken care of. Just take this extra portion of atomic fusion energy. It should do the trick.

Twinkles: Well, if you say so.

(Twinkles swallows the energy package. He begins to shine brighter and brighter and brighter until Seymour and Billy have to put on their sunglasses. All other stars are jumping up and down for joy.)

Seymour: We’ll be keeping in close communication with you on this assignment. See you soon!

Twinkles: Grandpa Zeek should see me now. He’d be so proud of me. He was right, every one of us is important and has a special job to do for Him.

Narrator: Even though he was far away from Twinkles at that moment, Grandpa Zeek could still see the bright glow of his special little friend. He smiled and winked and said:

Grandpa Zeek: I told you things would look up soon!

Narrator: And lo, the star, which the wise men saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

Mt. 2:9b, 10

 twinkie 3

GOD’S CONTROLCENTER

   STAR FACTORY ESCAPE

URGENT!!!! ATOMIC FUSSION 

 

 

 

source material

Twinkie

by Peter van Gorder

There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. (1Cor. 15:41)

Twinkie was a young star. Actually, his full name was Twinkles, but everyone just called him Twinkie for short.

Now we know that God made the stars some 6,000 years ago, on the fourth day of Creation, but you know God … He’s full of surprises, and sometimes He likes to make a few new stars just for fun!

Well, Twinkie was one of those new stars that God had just made. Twinkie was not a very bright star—in fact, he was one of the dimmest stars in the whole universe.

One night, Twinkie took a look through his telescope at all the other stars in the galaxy. He looked over to the East at the Constellation of Daniel and saw the brilliant star, Michael, named after the archangel. He looked to the West at the Constellation of David and was in awe when he beheld the glorious, sparkling star of Moses. He couldn’t help but compare himself with them, which made him feel very sad.

Just then, an ancient comet everyone called Grandpa Zeak happened to be passing by in his orbit, and saw Twinkie pouting.

“Hey, Twinkie! How’s it shining?”

Twinkie didn’t answer.

“What’s the matter, Twink? You don’t look so good.”

“Oh, I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Come on, Twinkie, you can talk to me. What’s bothering you? Did you get hit by a meteor or something?”

“No, Grandpa Zeak, it’s just that … it’s just that …” Twinkie started to cry. “It’s just that I am so little.”

“Well, that’s normal. You are just a newborn star. It takes time to get all the gases working and the fusion* fired up.”

“Yes, I know, but all the other stars in the sky are so pretty and bright. I am just a faint flicker. I probably won’t even turn into a bright star. I will most likely just burn out and turn into a black hole or something.”

“Cheer up, Twinkie! You’ll see. ‘Every star has its moment of glory,’ as my friend used to tell me when I was feeling down.”

“Yeah, I guess you are right. But I might have to wait another few thousand years for my moment of glory.”

“Don’t worry so much. Just keep on doing the best you can. Things are bound to look up soon. Well, Twink, I’ll see you on my next time around. I feeeel that gravity pulling me. I have a job to do, you know. There are a lot of kids on the planet Zonkers that are looking forward to seeing their first comet, so I’d best be going. Bye, Twinkie!”

Now we go to God’s Control Center where He runs the universe, a vast network of glowing crystals and pulsating rainbow light all work in harmony to keep everything working like clockwork.

In one of the rooms, called “The Star Factory,” two of God’s heavenly helpers are at the controls—Seymour and his young new helper, Billy. It’s Billy’s first day on the job, and Seymour is glad to teach him everything he knows.

“Now, Billy, first thing: Don’t touch anything until I’ve shown you how it all works.”

Just then, Billy accidentally tripped and knocked over a crystal.

“Oh, I’m sorry!”

Red and green lights started pulsating, then suddenly a laser beam shot through an escape pipe into space.

“Did I break something?”

“Don’t worry, we have a safety override feature. Everything is under control. Here’s our safety key.”

Billy leaned closer to read what was written on the button.

“What does ‘escape’ mean?”

“That’s the button you push that will undo the last command you entered.—You may push the button, Billy.”

Billy pressed the escape button gleefully.

“Good! Now, try not to bump anything again, please. So, where were we? Oh yes, rule number two: Wait for orders from the Control Center before doing anything.”

Just then the doorbell rang. It was Wing, the messenger.

“Well, a hello and howdy-do. Here’s some mail that just came in for you,” he said as he handed Seymour an envelope with a golden seal that read, “Priority One.”

“Thanks a lot, Wing.”

“I see you are learning the tricks of the trade, Billy,” said Wing. “It’s an important job you have there.”

“And Billy has been learning very quickly,” Seymour added as he gave him a pat on the shoulder.

“That’s great, Billy! Well, my next assignment is to deliver some important messages to our teams on Earth. There are some important events about to happen soon. It’s so exciting!”

“We’ll be praying for you, Wing. Godspeed!”

Wing flew off on his next mission. Seymour looked at the envelope and noticed the bold, red letters: “URGENT.”

“I wonder what the assignment could be?”

“Can I open it please?” Billy asked.

“Sure. Go ahead.” Seymour handed him the envelope.

Excitedly, Billy started ripping it open frantically until Seymour stopped him. “If you open it that way you might rip the message. Here, try this letter opener.”

With some difficulty, Billy got the letter open and tried to read it.

“Why don’t you let me read it,” Seymour said, and Billy handed him the letter. “Lord, please help us to understand this message and follow Your instructions carefully,”

Seymour prayed, and then read aloud… “Dear Star Factory,”

“That’s us!” said Billy.

Seymour continued reading, “I have an important job for you—in fact, one of the most important jobs you will ever do. We need a bright and beautiful star like the planet Earth has never seen before. It will need to lead three wise men to the city of Bethlehem. I know I can count on you to do a good job. Please keep in close touch and report to me on the progress. Much love, Lucas Starshine.”

“Wow! That sounds like fun! How are we gong to do that, Seymour?”

“First, we must choose a suitable star. Let’s see … we could use the Michael star in the Constellation of Daniel.”

Billy nodded in agreement. “It’s quite a lovely star.”

“The size of about a hundred Earth-suns I believe. Or we could use the Moses star in the Constellation of David.” Seymour was lost in thought, busily checking all of his star charts to select the best star to use. Meanwhile, Billy Boy had picked up the letter and was rereading it. “Seymour, what does ‘PTO’ mean?”

“Let me think … Praise the … Omnipotent? No, I don’t think so. Let me look in my dictionary. PT, physical training, PTA, Parent-Teacher-Association. Ahh, here it is. PTO—please turn over. Where did you see that, Billy?”

“It’s at the bottom of the letter. Ah, look, there is some writing on the back.”

Seymour picked up the letter again and continued to read. “P.S. I have just received a message from our Top Pop that you are to choose Twinkles for the Bethlehem star.’”

Seymour looked up from the letter with a puzzled look on his face. “Twinkles … Twinkles? I don’t believe I have ever heard of that star.” He began to flip furiously through his star map charts. “Oh, here it is! What? That little star? Okay, well, Top Pop always knows best! Billy, we’d better make up an extra large package of atomic fusion for this job!”

After they had prepared everything, they transported themselves with the speed of thought to where Twinkles was stationed. Billy greeted him, “Hi there, Twinkles!”

“Oh, hi! It’s a beautiful night, isn’t it?” Twinkles beamed at them.

“You’re looking so cheery, Twinkles,” Seymour commented.

“Well, you see, I figured it was no use feeling down and discouraged about myself, so I decided to be positive and be the best little star that I can. It really feels so much better!” Twinkles answered.

“That’s wonderful! We have some special news for you, Twinkles,” Seymour continued. “You’ve been chosen by Top Pop Himself for a very important job.”

“Me? You must be mistaken. Maybe you are looking for Twin Star or Twicebright or Tremendous Star?”

“Oh, it’s no mistake! You have been chosen to guide three important wise men to Bethlehem, so that they can worship the Son of the King of all the universe—Jesus Himself.”

“Really? But why me? I’m such a little star.”

“Pop works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.”

“But I’m not very bright, you know—I don’t think they can even see me from Earth.”

“Don’t worry, that’s all been taken care of. Just take this extra portion of energy and it should do the trick.”

“Well, if you say so …” As soon as Twinkles had swallowed the energy, he began to shine brighter and brighter and brighter! Seymour and Billy had to put on their special Starshine glasses, he was shining so bright. Twinkles began to jump up and down for joy—and so did all the other stars when they heard the good news.

“We’ll be keeping in close communication with you on this assignment. See you soon!” Seymour said as he and Billy smiled and disappeared with the blink of an eye.

“Grandpa Zeak should see me now. He’d be so proud of me,” Twinkles said. “He was right, every one of us is important and has a special job to do for Him.”

Grandpa Zeak smiled. Even though he was far away from Twinkles at that moment, he could still see the bright glow of his special “little” friend. He smiled and winked. “I told you things would look up soon!”

“… And lo, the star, which the wise men saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2:9b,10)

Christmas Sand Clock source material

christmas sand clock title page

Written by Peter van Gorder

illustrations by Sabine

Table of Contents

 (Narrator, a traveling minstrel:) Come gather ‘round the Christmas tree, for I have a story for you.

It is Christmastime, the time of giving. The wise men gave gifts to Jesus, the shepherds gave their love and praise, the innkeeper gave his stable, and most of all … God gave His Son to us. And this story is all about just that—giving.

— 1 —

sandclock 1

Preparations

Count Helmut von Steinhausen lived with his wife the countess, some 200 years ago, outside the city of Winkitz, Germany. The count’s castle overlooked his fruitful vineyards basking on the gentle slopes of Saxony. Under his protection were some 20,000 people in surrounding villages.

It was early December, a time when the count usually met with his advisors to take stock of what had been accomplished that year, and to plan goals for the coming year. Many problems faced them—the big­gest one was whether they would escape Napoleon’s armies. Would their tiny land also be swallowed by the war spreading through Europe?

One of his advisors asked nervously, “How will we pay for an army to defend ourselves?”

Another suggested, “You must raise taxes on the villagers.”

The count looked out of his window, deep in thought, then said, “That I will not do. The villagers have enough burdens.”

“But sire, our coffers* are dangerously low.”

The count answered, “The Lord has blessed me with fertile vineyards that pro­duce good table wine. I live comfortably off the sale of my wine. God has given me riches to share—not to hoard.”

“But Count Steinhausen, this is not good business sense!”

“Haven’t you read in the Bible about the rich fool who built bigger barns, then lost it all in one night? My life’s philoso­phy is summed up in the verse: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

“I understand, sire. But perhaps…”

Just then the countess burst into the room. “Enough talk of business! We must begin our preparations for the Christmas party!”

“Right, Liebchen*!” the count said affectionately to his wife. “This is the time when love can shine the brightest. Let’s make the most of it.”

Then the count turned to his coun­selors and asked, “Have the village elders given you the guest list yet?”sandclock2

One replied, “Not yet, but I could supply you with a list of the wealthiest families in our realm. It would be wise policy to invite them, sire.”

“My good man, try to understand,” the count answered. “We will do as we have always done, and invite the orphans, the disadvantaged, the handicapped, the disabled, and the poor.”

“If I may ask, sire, how would you benefit by inviting them?”

“Jesus told us to invite not our family or rich friends to our feasts, but the poor and handicapped,” the count explained.

“Yes, but…”

“Then God Himself will reward us! So you see, it is good business after all,” the count said with a laugh. And with a friendly slap on the back to his counselor, he got up and walked to the ballroom.

The castle became a beehive of activ­ity, preparing for the grand celebration. The countess was like a conductor, direct­ing the servants in their preparations. Banners of green were draped, the brass fittings were polished, apple and mince cakes were baked, and the castle was cleaned from the roof to the base­ment.

One afternoon, a messenger handed an envelope to the count. “Sire, the mayor has sent the list of the children and villag­ers who need your assistance.”

In the same moment, several servants entered, awkwardly carrying a large ever­green tree.

“Where shall we put this, sire?” they asked.

The count looked up from the letter he was reading. “Set it up in the middle of the ballroom, and put all the presents for the children underneath it.”

“As you wish, sire.”

— 2 —

The Christmas Party

It was Christmas Day, and the court­yard was filled with the sound of excited children.

A trumpet sounded and a herald announced, “The people have arrived.”

The count stood at the door. “Show them in!” he called. The massive oak doors were opened and the children filed in, bowing to the count and countess as they entered.

After everyone had arrived, the count called for the beginning of the festivities, and the band of minstrels came to life with the bouncy tunes of fiddles and horn.

“Come, Liebchen!” said the count, as he led his wife by the hand onto the dance floor. Everyone lined up behind them for the toe-and-heel dance. The boys danced in an outside circle surrounding the girls on the inside. Soon they made a proces­sion that weaved around the room, then through a human tunnel made by every­one holding their hands up.

There were games of bobbing for apples, blind man’s bluff, and “Who am I?” For this guessing game, someone would act out famous people from history and the Bible and everyone would try to guess who it was. All kinds of other festive mer­riment followed.

Then it was time to open the presents. The count climbed on the raised platform and tapped on a glass to get everyone’s attention. After the room quieted, he spoke.sandclock3

“Merry Christmas, everyone! May I offer a blessing for you at this time?”

The people nodded. “Very well then.—May your gifts be as a precious diamond or ruby, so that wherever you go, you will bring light to others. May your gifts supply all your needs and bring you before great men. May you experience the joy of giving, as I do tonight. So may you prosper and be blessed. Amen.”

A curly-haired, eight-year-old boy named Gunter was the first to approach the count, and tugged at his sleeve. “Do you have a present for me?”

“Gunter? Oh yes, let’s see. Here it is,” said the count as he handed a package to Gunter. “But before you open it, can you guess what’s inside?”

“Hmmm … I don’t know,” Gunter said.

“Well, can you read the label? It’s a riddle in a poem, and a clue for how you can use this present.”

The boy read in a loud, clear voice.

I’m straight as a knife.

Use me to bring joy to life,

Release the shape sleeping in the wood.

Use your talent only for the good.

“Hmm … a woodcarving set?” he asked.

Unable to wait a second longer, he tore open the paper. In the package was a fine set of tools.

“Gunter, I have written a letter to the village woodcarver, and he’s expecting you. I’ve arranged for a carriage to come pick you up, as I have done for other boys from your orphanage. My driver will take you to the woodcarver’s shop, where you will learn how to use these tools. After you’ve learned how to carve, perhaps you can make a nativity scene, or a small piece of furniture, or a small toy, and then give it to someone else. It will be a good way to make friends and to reach out to those around you, don’t you think?”

“Why thank you, sire!”

“And if you keep at it, eventually you will become a skilled woodcarver.”

“Thank you, sire,” Gunter said.

“Is there a Hans Adam here?” the count called out as he read another label on a present. A seven-year-old boy with blond hair and deep blue eyes came for­ward, hobbling on crutches.

“I’m Hans, sire,” he said with his hands open to receive the large box.

“It’s your turn. Can you guess from this riddle what’s inside your present?”

He read:

We are like the colors of a rainbow;

Share beauty you’ve seen

So others feel what you know.

May your vision be keen.”

Hans was so eager to see what was inside that he started tearing at the wrap­ping paper without even trying to guess. He then exclaimed, “A paint set! Oh, thank you!”

The count added, “When you have finished your first painting, please show it to the master painter in town. He will help you with guidance and instruc­tion.”

The count noticed that Hans’ nose was running, and bent down to wipe it with his handkerchief.

“You poor child. You have a terrible cold! You must dress more warmly.”

The count ordered extra clothes and blankets to be prepared and sent back with the children when they returned to the orphanage.

As the evening wore on, many other children were called up, and each was given a present. Gisele, a blond nine-year-old, came forward when her name was called. She was handed a gift and she read her card slowly:

Let cloth be so formed,

That others may be warmed.”

“Oh my! This must be a sewing set.” She answered correctly.

The gifts continued to be handed out till the time came for the last one. A small blind boy came to the front, and his friend read his card:

If you have patience from the start,

You’ll soon play music from your heart.”

He guessed it was a musical instru­ment, and by feeling it with his hands, he discovered that it was a horn. When he first tried to blow it, though, no sound came out. One of the minstrels knelt down and showed the boy how to hold his fingers correctly and how to blow into it. The horn made a shrill shriek, and all the children laughed.

“Don’t worry, my little friend,” the musician said, as he laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “My first note on the horn sounded like that too. I will come to your orphanage and teach you, if you would like to learn.”

“Yes, I would like that very much,” the boy said shyly.

The count then called the villagers over to him. “Good villagers, I have not forgotten you. I would like to give you these cuttings from my famous vineyard. My gardeners have carefully prepared a cutting for each of you,” the count said, as he motioned to the head gardener, who began distributing the vines to each of the men.

The gardener said, “Plant them in good soil, water them, and soon you too will own a beautiful grapevine.”

“Now, good Count and Countess, the children would like to perform for you the Christmas play they have prepared to show their appreciation,” said the mayor. “We hope you enjoy it.”

“This is one of my favorite events of the evening. The children always make the story come to life in their own cute ways,” the countess said.

The performance was grand, and was wildly applauded by everyone.

The last event of the evening was when everyone held hands around the Christmas tree and sang a carol.

— 3 —

sandclock4

All to Ruins

And so they enjoyed many Christmases in this way, until the day that disaster struck. It was the head gardener who announced the news, running into the courtyard, out of breath. “Master, the invading army is approaching!”

The count was startled. “What? What army? What are you talking about?”

“Napoleon’s army. The Prussian army is burning everything in its path to prevent the enemy from getting any food or help! Our vines will certainly be turned to ashes. What can we do?”

“At least we must not let the palace be burned down. Get as many men as you need and clear an area far enough away so that the fire will not be able to reach us.—And then we shall pray for a miracle. Maybe the fire will not come our way, if the wind is in our favor.”

Soon, everybody was working furi­ously, pulling up vines and clearing an area around the building with shovels and pickaxes.

The fire caught quickly on the vines and spread down like a fire-breathing dragon, consuming everything in its way.

After the fire had at last died out, the count went into his vineyard to assess the damage. At the sight of the huge expanses of scorched vines, he sat in the smoldering ashes with his head in his hands, weep­ing.

His courtiers tried to console him, but the count just wanted to be alone. He turned away and locked himself in the chapel to pray.

He poured out his heart to the Lord, “All that I have worked for—it’s all gone! All my precious vines!”

He lifted his head and walked over to an open Bible lying on the altar, and his eyes fell upon these verses:

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in Thee: yea, in the shadow of Thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword. My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. (Psalm 57:1,4,7)

The Lord’s comforting voice spoke to his heart at this lowest point of his life, and gave him hope. A ray of light beamed into his soul through those verses.

— 4 —

sandclock5

Living with Loss

The conquering army soon left in retreat, due to loss of other battles. The count and countess tried to make the best of things in spite of their losses. In the months that followed, they had to sell all their family treasures and heirlooms to survive. Gradually, as the money became scarcer, the castle fell into disrepair.

One day, after making his inspection tour, the gardener reported to the count, “The ballroom is not doing well, the roof has holes in it.”

“How bad?”

“Well, sire, it’s great for the pigeons who have made it their nesting place. But I’m afraid it will have to be closed. The plaster is cracked and the walls are crum­bling. We could start a mushroom farm with all of the fungi thriving in the recesses from the leaks and…”

“Well, I appreciate your sense of humor, but seeing as there is no money for repairs, I suppose we will have to board the ballroom up. Which reminds me—I’ll have to dismiss all the servants today, I’m afraid we can’t afford their services any longer. I’m sorry to say I’ll have to let you go too.”

“Please, sire, don’t worry about that! I’ll stay on anyway.”

“But why would you want to do that?”

“Sire, there is more to do now than ever. I can’t just leave this beautiful place to ruin. Besides, it’s nice to know that I’m needed.”

Several months passed. Some villagers, whom the gardener called his apprentices, came to help him in his work.

One day the count heard banging and curiously asked the gardener, “What is all that noise?”

“Just fixing the leaks in the ballroom roof, good Count.”

“Perhaps I’ll come and take a look.”

“I wouldn’t recommend it, sire. It is much too dangerous!”

Life went on, and one day, the count­ess remarked to the count, “Well, we have managed to eke out an existence these last months, but I am afraid that we are run­ning out of things to sell.”

“We just need to learn to live on less. I am sure that there is a bright spot in our lives right around the corner. The Lord won’t fail us.”

“I’m sure you’re right,” said the count­ess.

— 5 —

sandclock6

A New Kind of Christmas

Christmas was fast approaching, and the count was discussing with his wife what they could do for this magical holi­day.

“One thing is certain,” said the count­ess, as she dragged her stool nearer to a little pile of burning sticks that they had gathered in a feeble attempt to stay warm. “We cannot have the children here at Christmas this year.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because we have nothing to give them,” she said. “We have nothing for them to eat, nothing to put on a tree, and no money to buy presents for them.”

“True. But there were a few apple trees that escaped the fire. We could give some of our apples to the children—and singing doesn’t cost anything.”

“Then what will we have to eat?” She looked over at the count and, seeing his amused expression, immediately knew what he was thinking.

The countess continued, “But if you have made up your mind, I suppose there is no use in my saying anything more about it.”

“God will provide for us!” he replied with a chuckle.

The count’s guardian angels were concerned about him too, knowing his thoughts and prayers. One of the count’s thoughts went something like this: I am get­ting old. There aren’t many more Christmases left for me. Perhaps this is my last Christmas. Please help me to make the children happy one more time, as I have done in the past.

His angels had already begun to work their magic, by putting it in the hearts of the gardener and the villagers to help wonderfully fulfill his heart’s desire. So the count invited the children as he had always done, but explained in a letter:

“This Christmas will be differ­ent from past celebrations in our castle. Unfortunately, due to the great fire, we will not be able to give any presents. But that won’t stop us from having a joyous celebra­tion of Christ’s birth in song. Please come and celebrate it with us.”

As Christmas Day dawned bright and white, Count Steinhausen and his wife remained happy in spite of their misfor­tune. As they were making their meager breakfast, they heard a noise in the dis­tance. The countess looked out of the window to see where it was coming from.

She said excitedly to the count, “They are coming!”

“Who is coming?”

“Don’t you remember? The children you invited!—And it looks like the whole village is with them!”

“What? I know I invited them, but I did not expect many … or even any to come. There must be some mistake.”

“Come to the window and look for yourself!”

“Yes, I see them! And hear them too—there is a band of musicians leading them, and they are all dancing to a rousing tune! Get the gardener! Throw open the gate and let’s meet our guests!”

Soon the courtyard echoed with cheerful greetings of “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas, everyone!while the band still kept playing loudly.

“Come in, my dears!” the count cried out to the children. “I am glad to see you. I wasn’t expecting so many of you. I am afraid there is not much room for all of you. You see, the ball­room is under repair.”

“Please let us in, good Count!” they insisted.

“All right then, but don’t expect too much.”

“The ballroom! To the ballroom!” the chil­dren shouted.

“You do not understand. I have not been able to repair the ballroom for lack of money.”

Before he could say more, they had begun to push open the doors. “Now stop that, children!” But they just kept opening the doors.

To his surprise, as they led him in by the hand, he saw that in the middle of the ballroom was a huge Christmas tree. He was amazed to find many presents under­neath it. Everything was in perfect repair; even the floor shone with polish.

“Who is responsible for this?” the count asked. “Why, the ballroom looks even better than it did before!”

“Some of the boys that you gave tools to decided to return your favor,” the gar­dener said, pointing to his apprentices, who wore sheepish grins on their faces.

“So this is what you have been up to! How ever did you manage it?”

“We worked on it while you were away last week, visiting the poor in the nearby village,” the gardener explained.

“I am astounded!” the count exclaimed. “Thank you!” Then he turned to the others, “Where did you get this tree?”

“The forest gave it to us, and we who love you, give it to you!” they shouted with glee.

He looked around at all of the beam­ing faces and began hugging as many as he could. “My heart is too full of joy to speak.”

As they led him by the hand closer to the tree, the count was surprised to discover that all the packages were for him and his wife. Each time he opened a present, all the children clapped and cheered.

It took a long time to look at all the unusual presents. In the packages were each of the family treasures that the count and countess had had to sell in order to get by.

The couple could not hold back their tears another moment, but there was more. One boy put a specially wrapped package in his hand with a note saying, “From All the Villagers of Winkitz.” “We wanted to give you this sand clock* for the years you have loved us and tried to help us, espe­cially on Christmas Day,” said the messen­ger boy awkwardly as he read his carefully prepared speech.

Everyone cheered and clapped.

“Read the inscription on the bottom!” one of the children shouted.

The count read out loud:

Life is a sand clock of rich and poor;

The sand flows not in vain.

It is turned over and filled once more—

What you give returns again.

It turned out to be one of the most wonderful Christmases they ever had. As usual there was dancing and an abundance of games, and a fine feast from the food everyone had brought. There were splendid pies, great bowls of jelly, and tremendous fruit cakes for all to satisfy their appetites.

“Speech, speech!” everyone cried out as glasses were raised for a toast.

The count stood to try to put into words what he was feeling, “I cannot tell you how happy you have made us. I thought that this was going to be my last Christmas, but I know that with real friends like you, our tragedy has become a bridge to something better. It has brought us closer together.”

He continued. “Christmas is a time of giving. You have taught me that when we give to others, God will bless us in a special way. So I propose a toast—to the joy of giving!”

“To the joy of giving!” everyone shouted as they clinked glasses.

After singing around the tree, all the children came up, and each in turn said merry Christmas. Before they marched off home again, they had one more surprise for him. “Look on your windowsill, good Count.”

“I feel like a little boy with you leading me from one surprise to another.”

On the windowsill was a cutting from a vine. “What is this?” the count asked.

One of the villagers explained, “We have nurtured the small vine cuttings that you gave, and now they have grown to become fruitful vines. And so, from their cuttings, come spring we will plant them in your vineyard, and your vineyard will be reborn. In a few years you will be produc­ing the best wine in Germany once more—you’ll see!”

“I don’t know how to repay you all. But please come to my castle any time, not just at Christmas! I can teach you all about making wine and you can teach me all you know about having fun. That is what you children are very good at, aren’t you?”

“And we can call you grandfather!” the children shouted.

“Yes, and I will call you my grandchil­dren,” he answered.

“And we’ll have lots of flowers!” said the gardener.

“Of course you will, with all of your apprentices helping you,” the count said with a smile.

“And we will have a splendid Christmas festival every year,” added the countess.

“For as long as I live!” the count announced.

After everyone was gone, the count and countess shared a moment of peace together, “My, my, what a happy Christmas this has been!”

The countess replied, “May you have many more, my dear!”

And so they did.

Just as the sand clock turns over and is filled once more, what they’d given had come back again.

The End

sandclock7

*coffer: a supply or store of funds

*Liebchen: sweetheart (German)

*sand clock: hourglass