I remember, as a kid, being at the mall with my parents, seeing some toy or game or other thing that I fancied, and telling them how much I would like to have it. Invariably, they would smile and say “Well, Christmas is coming.”

My protests of “But it’s August!” were of no avail.

These episodes were brought to mind yesterday as the Ebenezer church family gathered together for a time of sharing after a delicious Christmas lunch.

And I do mean “delicious”!

Sitting in a circle as the food was digesting, we began to reflect on the year that is quickly ending. One of our ladies had prepared an activity that involved each of us pulling a piece of paper out of a box. On the paper was written either “forgiveness” or “gratefulness”, and we were asked to share about something related to either one of those two terms.

I fully expected it to be a “nice time of sharing”. What I did not expect was for the flood gates to open.

To get the full impact of this on my life, we have to back a little. You may remember that August was…well…not a great month. And if you read the article I just linked, you will come to a moment where the church sat in a circle and cried out to God for His blessing. We were walking through a deep valley and desperately wanted to see His hand at work.

And I can almost see God sitting in heaven with a half-smile on His face, saying “Well, Christmas is coming.”

Why did the lady choose the subjects of “gratefulness” and “forgiveness”? I don’t know, other than that she was being used of God. As we went around the circle, people began to express the gratefulness in their hearts, and ask forgiveness of those present for various things.

One young lady thanked Itacyara and myself for our investment in her life and the life of her family. The thing is, the instances she mentioned were (to me anyway) little things…things I had forgotten about. But it was obvious that she didn’t see them that way. One man asked the church for forgiveness because he had not been serving as he knew he could, and committed himself to using his talents and gifts for the cause of Christ in 2019.

The circle of fellowship.

And so it went…a very significant moment in the life of the congregation. And as people were speaking up, I kept looking at a man towards the end of the circle, a new convert, a man who has not even worked up the courage to pray during prayer meeting (although he is there every Wednesday). I sure hope he doesn’t feel like he’s being forced to say something. I thought.

Finally it was his turn. Head down, he began to speak. “First of all, I want to ask God for forgiveness for wasting most of my life in the ways of the world” he said. His voice was barely audible at first, but grew louder the more he spoke. “I also want to ask my wife (who was sitting next to him) to forgive me for all the times I sinned against her.” Here he took his hand in hers, and she, with tears in her eyes, told him he was forgiven.¬† But he wasn’t done. “I also want to thank God for bringing me to this church, I want to thank the church for the way they received me, and the pastor for his counsel. And I want everybody to know that I am committed to walking in the ways of the Lord from now on.”

Back in the day, when Christmas would roll around, sometimes the things I wanted back in August would be under the tree, and sometimes they would not. My parents were wise enough to know that what I wanted in August was not always what I would be wanting in December.

There is no way on Earth I would have asked my Heavenly Father for the trials we encountered in August and the following months. But there is also no way on Earth I would have wanted to miss the present He had prepared for us this Christmas.