As soon as I heard the question, I knew it would not be easy to answer. I’ve never been quick to answer questions that force me to choose a favorite. My dilemma is that I always seem to have far too many favorites. I still smile every time I think about a pastoral visit I made several years ago to a young family with small children. As I was getting ready to pray, I opened my Bible and said, “Let me share one of my favorite verses with you.” No sooner had those words rolled off my tongue then the young girl looked up, pointed to a Bible verse painted on the Living Room wall and said, “Hey! The last time you were here Pastor, you said that was your favorite verse!” Evidently, choosing a favorite has never been one of my strong points.
The question was meant to be an icebreaker, a way for us to get to know each other better: “What was your favorite Christmas gift as a child?” No one else seemed to have difficulty coming up with their answer. But as soon as I heard the question at a recent gathering of pastors, I thought to myself, “Not one of these questions again! Do you really expect me to choose a favorite from a lifetime of Christmas memories?!” I waited for nearly everyone else in the room to answer the question before I even ventured to respond. And in the waiting, an image slowly came to the surface of my memory.
My favorite Christmas present did not come in a box wrapped in beautiful paper and topped with a bow. It was not something that you could order on line or buy in a department store. One of my favorite Christmas gifts came in an act of kindness and love that I could only understand and fully appreciate many years later. As a young boy of eight years, I was diagnosed with both pneumonia and German measles. What my parents thought was a cold, suddenly turned into a life-threatening illness. My pediatrician quickly admitted me to St. Joseph Hospital where I was placed in isolation. As I only understood years later, my life was hanging between the present and eternity. I was so ill, I have very few memories of that hospital room. The high fever impacted my cognitive abilities. However, I have one profound memory that I still only see in shadows: a woman sitting at the edge of my hospital bed praying through the night. Naomi was one of my mother’s best friends. She was a grieving mother who lost her son, David, to leukemia several years earlier; and Naomi identified with my mother’s pain when the hospital doctors told my parents that I might not come home.
Naomi came to the hospital. She told my parents to go home because she understood just how desperately they needed to rest; and she promised to stay with me through the night as she assured my parents that I would not be alone. She did what my parents were too weak and too tired to do. In her prayer vigil, Naomi begged God to do for my parents what did not take place for her child. She asked God to heal me and give me enough strength to go home for Christmas. Weeks later I did go home, and I know her prayers were part of my healing.
Whenever I remember Naomi’s gift of selfless love, I think of how inept I feel when it comes time for my annual trek to the mall at Christmas. Much to my family’s disbelief, I can spend hours wandering from one store to the next, only to come home empty handed because I can’t find a gift that seems just right for the people I love.
Looking back over all the Christmas gifts I’ve ever received, I remember very few. But there is one I’ll never forget. It was the gift of a loving, caring person who sat with me night after night when I could not even understand how sick I was. Naomi offered what my family needed most: the gift of comfort, love and prayer. This year, when I make my annual last-minute journey to the shopping mall, I hope I can cling to Naomi’s example. For truly, her gift is one I will never forget.
© Adrian N. Doll, Green Valley Presbyterian Church, 2017