The following is an allegory, a lesson in believing, a lesson in witnessing, and a lesson in friendship. I hope it warms your hearts this Christmas season.
Friendship is a cloth, woven into our lives at very crucial times. Some are made up of new threads, and some of old. Much like a child clings to a worn out blanket, we hold on to friendships others would say we’ve outgrown.
Children are often wiser than we, for they know to be very cautious in discarding old things. After all, wasn’t the pirate’s treasure merely old pieces of yellow rock someone once prized? Such is the case in our story.
Greg Harper and Arthur Lang were now polar opposites. One a Pastor of a small Church, the other a Professor at the university. That doesn’t sound like a huge difference, until you take into consideration this fact. Arthur was an atheist, a tolerant one, but an atheist nonetheless.
He had been this way since he was a child, after his Parent’s bitter divorce had convinced him that God must not exist. “For,” he reasoned, “if He did exist, the two people he loved so dearly would not have hurt each other so deeply.”
As boys, this was not a factor. As teens, they ignored their differences. As young men, the two fought harshly. Somewhere in their thirties, they found that each other’s friendship meant more than their argument.
That was until a very special December. Arthur attended a party at the college, all of his intellectual friends were there. After finding out that he was hanging around this “Preacher”, they pounced. “You are so intellectually superior to this man, and yet you hang around this, this Preacher?”
The Dean had said the word so contemptuously, you’d thought he was choking. Arthur struggled with the conversation all night long. By the next morning, he had determined his course of action. He was an educator, wasn’t he? An instructor to those who desire higher learning, so he would educate his friend.
The next morning, Arthur visited the Church office where Greg was working. Arthur knew that if he attacked the issue head on, there would be trouble. He remembered that Greg loved games, especially dares. So he put forth a challenge.
“You’ve been trying to get me to attend Church since we were 18. What if this year, I agreed, but with conditions?” Greg thought a moment, “What’s the catch?” “You and I exchange one Christmas gift a piece, on Christmas day. We then we’ll each use the other’s gift to address the congregation. You can use mine to attempt to prove that God exists, and I’ll use yours to prove otherwise. What do you say?”
Greg was not about to expose his Church to a catastrophe, so he turned it down. He hated to miss an opportunity, but he felt that he had made the right decision. That is, until he mentioned it to an older minister he was having lunch with.
“Why can’t you accept his challenge?” Tom asked. “Because, who knows what he will say. It could be very damaging to the Church, members who are not well versed in the Scriptures.” “You’re a good Pastor, they know fact from fiction. He won’t shake them, but lay some ground rules first. Plus, advertise it as a debate between two world views. That way they’ll be prepared for what they hear.”
Greg slept on it that night, or at least tried too. By morning, he was convinced that this was not just something to do, but that had to be done. He called Arthur before daybreak. “First, the ground rules. The gift cannot be any evil symbol, and you can present an intelligent, intellectual argument, minus animosity, or hateful words.”
Arthur agreed, with a caveat of his own. “If I can’t use anything you call evil, you can’t use anything I call religious. You also, must use some facts to back up your claims.” Each agreed, and the meeting was set.
News spread all over town, the Preacher and the Professor were going to have a battle of wits. Arthur selected his ‘gift’ quickly. It took Greg much longer, in fact, he didn’t select it until two days before the meeting.
Sunday was Christmas Eve. It was a cold, but beautiful day. The service was scheduled for 11:00 that morning. The Professor joined the Preacher on stage and presented his gift. It was a cardboard box, filled with grass, ashes, and pebbles. The Preacher knelt his head, said a silent praer, and smiled a cautious smile.
Arthur had made it easy for him, and that was what concerned him. It should have, for the Professor knew how eloquent his friend could be. Greg would have used the word anointed, and rightfully so, for he was definitely anointed that morning.
“Folks, my friend has given me a simple cardboard box, filled with grass, ashes, and a pebbles. It is my responsibility to share the Gospel with you using these items. I am reminded of another box many years ago. It was called a manger, whose primary use, was to feed animals. Can’t you imagine them loading the dry grass we call hay into it?”
“You know how one special night, instead of animals, people surrounded it. In place of food, it was filled with a baby. That small child, The Rock of our Salvation, grew to enlighten the world. Until His light brightened us, our lives were like these ashes. All of our dreams had died. There were no embers left, only the smoke of the ashes of longing for what we thought could never be.”
“Maybe, much like my friend here, the person who built the manger, had given up believing in a God that could touch our lives. Still, He came, and scientists will tell you, it is a fact that Jesus existed. Even that is something, people used to dispute. My question is this. If they were wrong about Him not existing physically, couldn’t they be equally as wrong about His spiritual significance?”
With that, the Preacher sat down, but not before handing the Professor his gift. It was an envelope. Arthur hated to do it, but he felt very strongly that this Christmas, he would ‘enlighten’ his friend. The trouble was, in so doing, he knew he would also destroy him. Still, his mind was made up, truly, only a miracle could stop him now.
Before he began, he stopped to read the contents of the envelope. After the first two words, the smile was gone, by the second paragraph, it had been replaced by sobs. Tears smeared the last few lines. Arthur looked kindly at his friend, placed the letter in his coat, and began to speak.
“Much like the apostle of old, I came here today on a mission, contrary to the founder of this Church. Like Paul, I believe that instead, I’ll find myself today, at the founder’s feet.” With that, he left the pulpit for the altar. That day, two friends were woven together into a stronger friendship, and a new soul was crafted into God’s Kingdom.
The letter? It was from Arthur’s estranged father, the man that he had so vehemently declared he never wanted to see again. Arthur had spent so many years convincing everyone that he hated him. He knew that even his best friend Greg had been fooled by the deception.
Oh he had spent years despising his father for hurting his mother. Arthur had also spent a number of years longing to be reunited with him. In those weak moments during the night, he had often told God that if He reunited the two of them, he would believe. Arthur felt this was impossible, considering his last conversation with his father resulted in a fight. There last words had been mutual hatred for one another.
Around the time that Greg had accepted the challenge, God caught up with the older Lang. Years of regret and selfishness had become to much to bear, and He had unloaded his burdens on the One his son hadn’t believed in. After finding Him very real, and very much alive, Arthur Lang Sr. had found the words to apologize to his ex wife and son for years of mistreatment.
Afraid to send it directly to them, he remembered Greg Harper. He had decided to send it to him, in hopes he could persuade Arthur and his mother to read them. Now remarried to a loving man, with God’s help, Angela Wilkes had long ago forgiven Arthur’s father. It would take time for the wounds between father and son to completely heal, but they had accepted the journey. They were confident that The One who had brought them back into each other’s lives, could heal the past.
This Christmas, give the gift of friendship, give the gift of love. The Lord Jesus gave this gift freely to all He met. His kingdom is filled with ardent believers that were once former skeptics, Merry Christmas.