An elderly woman was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died of cancer just a few months earlier. Now, several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal weather system. She felt terribly alone - so much so she decided she was not going to decorate her home for Christmas. No tree this year. No lights. But something changed. The doorbell rang later that afternoon and there was a friendly delivery boy with a box.
He said, "Mrs. Stella Thornhope?" She nodded and he said, "Would you sign here?"
The woman invited him to step inside and closed the door to shut out the cold. She signed the receipt and said, "What's in the box?" The young man laughed and opened up the flap. Inside was a little puppy, a Labrador Retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and explained, "This is for you, ma'am. He's completely housebroken." The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity.
"Who sent this?" Mrs. Thornhope asked.
The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, "It's all explained here in this envelope, ma'am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you." The young man then handed her a book, How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.
In desperation she again asked, "Who sent me this puppy?"
As the young man turned to leave, he said, "Your husband, ma'am. Merry Christmas."
She opened up the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.
She wiped away the tears, put the letter down, and then remembering the puppy at her feet, she picked up that golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor's house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of "Joy to the world, the Lord has come." Suddenly Stella felt the most amazing sensation of peace washing over her. Her heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.
"Little fella," she said to the dog, "It's just you and me. But you know what? There's a box down in the basement I'll bet you'd like. It's got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there's a manger scene down there. Let's go get it."
God has a way of sending a signal of light to remind us that life is stronger than death. Light is more powerful than darkness. He sent the ultimate signal of hope and comfort that night in Bethlehem (see Luke 2).
We don't know what kind of gift you need most this Christmas, but if you're struggling with loss or sadness, if you're grieving because this season reminds you of better days, or you're disappointed because your family plans didn't evolve the way you intended, don't lose sight of what and why we are celebrating. The birth of God's Son in a manger brings the warm glow of comfort to all who are willing to receive it.
We celebrate his birth at the Advent season not just because he was born, but because he died for our sins—and his resurrection opened the way to heaven for all who receive him by faith.
A long time ago Jesus was born in a manger. But he wishes to be born in your heart today. This Christmas season receive the greatest gift that can ever be given. Open your heart and let the One who was humbly born in a stable, died on a cross in love, and rose from the dead in power, enter your life.
Hold Jesus close this Christmas and you'll find the very Light of the world.
Les and Leslie Parrott are New York Times #1 best-selling authors and founders of LesAndLeslie.com. They codirect the Center for Relationship at Seattle Pacific University. Their books include Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts, The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring, Love Talk, and Les' newest book, You're Stronger Than You Think.
Read more article in Holiness Today related to this topic:
"When Holidays Are Punctuated by Grief" http://bit.ly/QWLp6f
"Living with Loss" http://bit.ly/UDfAME
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.