Comment from Ken: Each year for over twenty- five years I have written a Christmas Story for the adults and children of the church instead of a sermon, to be delivered on Christmas Sunday or Christmas Eve. I wished to continue that practice this year so here is a new Christmas Story.
I use the name of Molly our new puppy, for although I have had many dogs this is the first dog that was not one of our children’s pets. Molly has taught Dale and I how faithful and loving a dog can be. Here also is a picture we call, Molly Watching for Christmas Day or for Santa.
Silas and Molly – Christmas Story 2017
The year is 1938. The place is New Hampshire, about eighteen miles from the seaport of Portsmouth. Some say he lived in Barrington, others said Rochester or Madbury. It was not Durham where the University of New Hampshire was located. Silas never had the chance to attend college so the University might as well have been a thousand miles away. It is evening, and it is winter, near the end of December, and Silas is not a happy man. Silas does not presently recall any times in his life when he was happy – well, maybe when he was seven or eight years old; that was some forty- two years ago.
To look at Silas sitting at that old farm table, you knew he was unhappy. His mouth was drawn down with two strong lines from the sides of his lips causing him to have a fierce, formidable look. Perhaps it was from the smoke arising from the stove door that caused his eyes to be little more than slits with just a tiny bit of evidence of there being a pupil that could see in the dim light. He was sitting at the table with a bowl of what was then called porridge, in other words – oatmeal. It did not look appetizing, not at all. The only light was from a single kerosene lamp with a sooty chimney that held back some of the light that was issuing forth from the burning wick.
Silas’ parents had passed away some five years ago. Ever since then he appeared to resent rather than to appreciate the gift of life. Each day for Silas was boring and without meaning. He lived like a robot performing tasks that needed to be done on his farm but without love or meaning.
Life on his farm could have been brighter, easier. He did not need to live without electric power. He did not need to live carrying water from a half frozen well in winter that was a hundred and fifty feet from the house. He had once carried the water to the house for his mother with no more joy than he had carrying it this very day.
The Rural Electrification Association had offered him help in bring electricity to his farm; he had not bothered to answer their letters. Franklin Roosevelt had supported the REA so that isolated farms could afford to obtain electrical power. Silas would rather sit and remain in the darkness of his dismal world.
A bell rings six o’clock. The bell hanging in the belfry of the Congregational Church reminded him each day that once upon a time, he attended Sunday services. He had not been inside that church for some forty-two years; the last time he remembered being happy. It was the year he had asked his parents for a toboggan for Christmas, and he had high hopes his boyhood dream would be realized. It was because his mother had insisted that the boy have a happy Christmas. He awoke that Christmas morning so many years ago by a gruff father’s voice telling to hurry up and get dressed for there was milking to be done. The cows in the barn did not celebrate Christmas, he told Silas; a dairy farmer did not have Christmas day as a holiday.
That morning so many years ago found Silas dressing by the kitchen stove. He looked into the adjoining living room where a tiny pine tree had a few homemade ornaments hanging from its scrawny branches. There on the limp branches was the colored paper chain he had brought home from school with such pride. At least his mother thought it was beautiful. His father only grumbled at the foolishness of Christmas and gift giving. Yet beside the tree was a beautiful new toboggan. Once the milking was done, Silas ran to find his friends and off they went to Winter Hill on Mr. Blaisdell’s farm. It was a day of joy and snow covered, happy boys.
There was not joy in Silas’ heart as he sat at that table this morning and remembered the last Christmas when lived a dream of freedom, sledding, happiness with his friends. He no longer had any friends, not a one.
No Silas felt no joy at the approach of Christmas. He milked the cows, and stored the milk in the dairy room. He cleaned the barn and raked hay from the mows to feed the cows. He never had a smile on his face, nor did he give a single caring pat to the flank of a cow. When he finished his chores, he went back to the farmhouse to live his life of boredom and repetition. Day after day after day it was the same routine – no one to talk to, no one to share his thoughts, no one to care if he was ill or well, no one to laugh with this smile-less man.
Had he read Edith Wharton’s book Ethan Frome? He acted like the sorrowful Ethan, but unlike Ethan, no accident had occurred to him with a loved one on his toboggan. Unlike Ethan, he was not captured by two unhappy, crippled women. But he acted like Ethan, somber a man of solitude and secret thoughts.
This day before Christmas, Silas was feeling very sorry for himself and for his life. Church bells rang no joy for him at the birth of Jesus. After all, how could any person live a life as did Jesus? Jesus had reason to be bitter and somber. A loving, outreaching man, a man who loved God and people, and just see how cruelly they had treated him. People are not kind and loving; they are grasping and greedy, and self centered. The story of Jesus always loving and thinking of others had to be a false story thought Silas. No human could be so mistreated and misunderstood as Jesus and still love and care for the people around him. Bitter, lonely Silas could not understand the kind of unconditional love the church taught when he was a child in Sunday school. Nowhere on earth can you find such a forgiving, embracing, forever love. Nowhere in Silas’s life could he imagine such a love being there for him – lonely, miserable man that he was.
Was it Christmas Eve? No matter, cows to be milked and fed. He recalled the words of his father, “Cows in a barn do not celebrate Christmas.”
Silas performed the evening tasks as he did every day and returned to his kitchen. It was cold, and he put a new log on the fire in the stove. He made himself a warm drink of hot chocolate, sat at the table and muttered, “Merry Christmas, Silas.” The church bells rang calling the community to worship, but not Silas. The story of the loving Jesus could not be true. No love on earth was that sacrificial and caring.
Suddenly with his hands on his knees, he felt a cold, cold sensation on his arm, and then a warm wet moisture on his hands. His hand was being tasted by – wait a minute he thought – by his one friend on earth, Molly, his dog Molly. Silas reached down and ran his hand through Molly’s thick winter fur. It was still cold from their walk up from the barn. Molly – he had forgotten in his self-centered life that he had a faithful friend. His dog followed him everywhere. When he was doing all those repetitive tasks, there was a friend right near by. Chopping wood, Molly laid nearby at a respectable distance. Sometimes she even carried a piece of kindling up to the kitchen as Silas lugged up an armful of logs.
Molly sat nearby as he milked each cow, and in summer when the cows had to be driven into the barn, there was Molly herding them to make Silas’s task easier. Always Molly followed the last cow so that it would not turn and head for the backfield.
Molly had come out from underneath the table. Silas took her head in both of his hands and looked into her brown eyes that spoke of love, unconditional love. Here was Molly who sat and waited for her supper; even if Silas had forgotten to feed her, she did not bark or complain; she just sat patiently waiting for him to put her food into her dish. When Silas went to bed in his unheated bedroom, his ever-constant companion Molly followed him to that room. In humbleness, Molly would sleep on a blanket on the floor at the foot of Silas’ bed, unless as he did on some frigid nights, the master patted the blanket covering him, and Molly knew she had permission to jump on the bed and to lie beside him. How many nights over the years Molly had kept him warm.
Molly’s tail was now violently slashing back and forth as she faced weary Silas. She was not used to much affection from her master. Now he not only held her head in his hands, he also reached out his arms and enfolded Molly with a huge bear hug. There was a smile on his face as he hugged Molly, and then he planted a kiss right on her soft, brown jowl. Much to Molly’s surprise, she found her soft fur near her eye being made moist, like she had moistened Silas’ hand – moist from a tear asking for Molly’s forgiveness.
Molly had loved Silas with a forgiving, constant love. When he ignored her, she loved him; when he was angry, she loved him, when he was sad she sat beside him, when he was lonely, she sought to cheer him; when he was ill, she sat by his bed to comfort him; when he was tired and walked slowly from the barn at night, she walked close to him to give his tired body stability. Patiently, she waited her turn to be fed, and she yearned to have him reach down to pat her and cover her with his warm hands.
The church bells rang, but as Silas ignored them this Christmas Eve, a change had come into his life. Afraid of meeting people he had so isolated himself from society, it was going to be difficult to become social again. But Molly would be there, and Molly loved people. Silas was going to become a part of life again for he had found a love like Jesus preached – a forgiving, eternal, unconditional love, Molly had brought Silas back to the Lord.
That Christmas Eve, Molly followed Silas up to his bedroom, and when Silas patted the blanket beside him, faithful Molly jumped up in one gentle leap, laid down, placed her head in Silas’ arm, and Silas smiled the most beautiful smile that ever graced that once frozen, sad face. As Silas patted Molly with long slow strokes, he thought how blessed he was to have a faithful friend and a loving savior, Jesus the Christ.
Prayer: Almighty God we thank you for the birth of our Savior Jesus and ask that our Christmas day may truly celebrate Him, the greatest of Your wonderful gifts; in His name. Amen.
“May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent one from the other.” Merry Christmas.