The Ghost of Christmas Present(s)



   Imagine, on Christmas Eve, being visited by a terrifying and tormented apparition warning you that if you don’t change your ways, you’re headed for the same eternal torture that he endures. That would make your Christmas, wouldn’t it?

   This happens to old Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when his long-deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, returns to haunt him. But Scrooge is not convinced regarding his warning; rather, skeptic that he is (and to change the subject), he challenges Marley as to why he’s bound in heavy chains.

   “’I wear the chain I forged in life,’ Marley says. ‘I made it link by link and yard by yard. I gartered it on of my own free will and by my own free will, I wore it.” Marley sadly confesses that each link in that heavy chain represents a selfish or evil deed he performed while on earth—or a good deed he neglected to perform.

   Scrooge is stunned. “’But you were always such a good man of business, Jacob.’”

   “’Business!’ Marley cries. ‘Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business! The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

   Mankind is our business as well. And in the mass press of Christmastime when we’re up to our ears with shopping, wrapping, eating, and making merry, it’s easy to confine our concern for others to our own families and friends.

   But what if we went further? What if we gave something of ourselves to those we don’t know well or even at all? Giving is, after all, the heart of Christmas. We’ve all experienced the true joy of giving to someone and watching their face light up in delight at our gift or visit or other act of kindness. So what if we did that for total strangers? I have to tell you—it’s a ton of fun.

   There are lots of ways to surprise people with love and kindness at Christmas. I have a soft spot for people who are required to work outside in order to do their jobs—full-service gas station attendants (yes, they do exist), mail delivery people, and especially volunteers like the Salvation Army folks who ring the bells in the freezing cold. You know what’s really fun? Bringing them a hot chocolate from Dunkin Donuts or McD’s. They’re so happy!

   There are all kinds of other things you can do, too. Ever have someone pay for your order in a drive-through? Sometimes that even starts a chain reaction: Someone pays for yours, then you pay for the next person, and so on (although that can drive the cashier crazy so buy her a donut). Or you could bake goodies for a nursing home, for your kids’ teachers and staff, or for policemen or firefighters. (Hint: before you do, call and ask if it’s okay to bring food. Sometimes these orgs have rules about random people bringing edibles. It’s often best to serve an organization where the people in charge know who you are.) Or you can remember those in your doctor’s/dentist’s office, your auto mechanic’s shop, or your salon.

   Another random act of kindness is to send a pizza to someone who’s working a long, lonely nightshift or to give a small token of appreciation to the frazzled store clerks who have to put up with not-so-pleasant people in the last days of the Christmas shopping rush. Maybe it’s just a candy bar that you give, but even if they don’t end up eating it, it’s just the idea that someone cared enough to take notice of them that will bless their hearts and let them know they’re appreciated. And don’t forget food banks which always need, well, food. Many grocery stores have bins where you can drop a few non-perishable items on your way out the door. Don’t think it doesn’t matter—every can and bottle adds up.

   Appreciate the folks who serve in the military? Send a holiday package to a military person and include a card saying, “Thank you for your service.” Military families serve as well so you might send them a gift card. Unfortunately, many military families don’t make a lot of money—especially young families—and an anonymous Christmas gift might help to make their Christmas a little brighter. In fact, I pretty much guarantee it.

   Know a single person who could use some company for the holidays? Invite them over for dinner sometime. And please don’t forget single parents—many of them struggle to give their children a decent holiday. (Not all single parents have financial struggles, though, so do your homework before you make assumptions.) But if that’s the case, imagine the joy and relief that a single mom or dad feels when they receive a gift card to help them to bless their own children with a gift that otherwise they may not be able to afford. We all love giving gifts to those we love—why not help someone else do that? And along that vein, here’s another idea for a single parent family: Take their child or children Christmas shopping so that mom or dad actually gets a gift. What can be more fun than that? Single parents often feel forgotten during the holidays.

   This year, give a gift to someone who might feel left out or who needs to be encouraged—it will mean so much to them. Or here’s a mindbender: Give a gift to someone who doesn’t necessarily deserve a present and see what bridges that might build (and it shouldn’t be that fake candy coal you can buy to put in someone’s stocking). Giving will put you and everyone else in the true spirit of the season. As the reformed Scrooge promised: “’I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.’”

   You can do that—just be the Ghost of Christmas Presents.



The Night Jesus Left Home

Bethlehem Star IV


   Jesus stepped into the throne room. Multitudes of blazing angels dropped to their knees, bowing their faces to the jeweled floors, wings covering their bodies. The symphonies of heaven—myriads of strings and flutes and voices from a dozen dimensions—all faded to a sudden hush. Crashing peals of thunder echoed to nothingness, and lightning flashed in blue and gold, then dimmed and winked out.

   All was silent.

   “Come here, Son.” The gentle words reverberated among the stars.

   Soft footsteps approached the throne. “This is the hour, Father.”

   “I know, Son. Let’s go to your favorite place.” God raised his hand and he and Jesus walked along a beach, quiet waves lapping the shoreline. A gull soared on the air currents high above the water, its lonely cry drifting on the breeze. Jesus stopped and watched. Then he turned, eyes blurred with tears.

   “Will I know you—at first, I mean?”

   “I’ll always be with you, Son, but at first, no. You’ll come to know me, as every other baby grows to do. You’ll grow in grace and truth and in my favor, but it will take time.”

   Jesus bent his head.

   “I’ll never leave you,” God whispered. “You know I love you, Son.”

   Jesus looked up and smiled through his tears. “’How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…’”

   God chuckled. “Holy Spirit will release those words one day.”

   “’I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.’” Jesus paused. “Do you think I’ll remember that poem?”

   God slowly shook His head. “No, Son. You’re leaving behind your omniscience to live in the flesh, with all of its limitations and weaknesses. Your knowledge will be confined to what your senses tell you, and to what you’ll learn on earth and through the Spirit as you grow, but you’ll not take your foreknowledge with you. You’ll live in one dimension in time.”

   Jesus stooped and drew in the sand.

   “Are you certain you want to do this, Son?” God’s voice was gentle. “I’ll not force you.”

   “I know, Father,” Jesus murmured. “I know.” He stood and brushed the sand from his fingers. “I only want what you want.” He scanned the water and the beach and the mountains beyond. “I want to remember this—somehow.”

   “Your father on earth loves beaches, too, Jesus—he watches the sun set over the sea almost every night. You’ll watch with him.”

   “Is he—is he like you, Father?” Jesus brushed a sandy tear from his cheek. “I hope he’s like you.”

   “Ahhh, Joseph. He’s a truly good man, Son—the best I could find. He doesn’t yet know he’s about to become a father, but he’ll be a good one. He’ll train you, protect you, provide for you, and he’ll love you as I love you.”

   “Is that even possible—that a human being can love so much?”

   “It will never cease to amaze you, Son, what the human heart can carry, and what it can bear. There are realms of beauty you have not yet fathomed within the heart of man.”

   “More beautiful than you, Father?”

   God smiled. “The heart of a human being is his most precious crown. And when he offers it to you, it’s priceless—worth far more than anything else in all of creation.”

   “I’ll miss you so much, Father.”

   “I’ll miss you, too, Son. I’ll be with you every moment of every day and night, but I’ll miss talking with you and—” God waved His hand, “this—with you.”

    He held out his arms. Jesus rushed into them, kissed his father’s cheek, and buried his head in his shoulder. Then he pulled back, cleared his throat and looked into his father’s eyes. “I promise I’ll talk to you every day, Father. I’ll find a spot, far from everyone else, and we’ll talk, just like we do now.”

   “Call on me whenever you need me, Son,” God said, His voice low.

   For a moment, neither spoke.

   Lightning flashed, and a giant archangel dropped from the sky, his wings tinged crimson in the twilight.

   “Here’s Gabriel. It’s time. I’ll send him to Mary first, then Holy Spirit will embrace her. Then… you’ll go…”

   Jesus closed his eyes and nodded.

  God motioned and Gabriel spread his wings and slipped through a portal to earth. A moment later, a shining silver streak of light bolted across the sky, and Holy Spirit splintered the portal and disappeared.

   Jesus touched his fingers to his lips. His face began to shine, growing brighter and brighter, until a blinding light burst into the night—a brilliant star shimmering in the darkness far above the earth.

   And so it began.


‘Tis the Season—For Holiday Scams

Dark Scam


   Today I got a call from my son to warn me about some of the latest “scare-you-for-$” phone scams. Here are a few of the more popular:

   SCAM #1: Phone rings. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”


   “Ma’am, every year thousands of children will not have a Christmas this holiday season—no food, no presents, not even a candy cane. And with—”

   “Excuse me, but—”

   “No, excuse me—with your credit card gift of just $1000, you can help a—”

   “I know—a fat guy on a computer living in his mom’s basement. No thanks.” Click.

   SCAM #2: Phone rings again. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”


   “Do you have a son named _______?”


   “He’s been arrested (or in a car crash or mugged) and needs you to get a $500 money pak immediately… hurry… he’s suffering!”

   Can I just tell you? Your son does not need bail money or money for the ER or plane fare because he was mugged, drugged, and put on a plane to Bourogue. He’s fine.

   SCAM #3: Phone rings yet again. “Hello, is this so-and-so?”


   “This is (Your Power Company). You owe the company $1200 and we’re on our way over to shut off your power right now. However, if you send a money pak immediately, we won’t shut you down.” (Seriously, this is a real thing.)

   Well, you’re smarter than that so you say, “Uhm, that doesn’t sound right.” Then you hang up, Google the number for YPCo. and—funny thing—it’s the same number the guy called from. Even funnier thing: you talked to billing and it turns out you don’t owe YPC $1200. In fact, you don’t owe them a cent. Still, the guy calls back so you tell him that. He then informs you that he was calling from the corporate office in D.C. and you called the local YPC number and the local guys don’t have current billing info because there was a computer glitch that messed with their systems (although they don’t know that) and blah, blah, blah… So (says the guy) the bottom line is that you do too owe YPC $1200 and the crew is still coming to turn you off if you don’t pay. And then you’ll freeze to death. On Christmas.

   Now I know what you’re thinking: Who falls for those scams? Right?

   One of my relatives once fell for a well-established scam targeting older people and it cost him nearly a hundred thousand dollars. Every year, thousands of people are scammed which is why, every year, thieves make millions of dollars scamming them.

The art of the con—especially targeting older folks and especially this time of year—is really quite lucrative. And that’s because the scare tactics work.

   Another big money-maker for the criminals is that the big, bad IRS is going to freeze your bank account, notify your employer that you’re about to be a convicted felon, and sell your children into slavery if you don’t cough up your credit card number. Right now. NOW!! And the clock is ticking—every minute that you don’t pay adds interest and penalties and fees to the bill.

   But take a deep breath. If you haven’t yet heard, the IRS doesn’t make phone calls, they send letters. Lots of them, if need be, but they won’t be calling you—ever. So it’s okay to hang up on them.

   During this season of giving and good will, don’t let someone take advantage of you; don’t be the victim of a scam and don’t let your loved ones be, either. Granted, sometimes these criminals are stupid and their scams are so ridiculous that even my dog wouldn’t bite. But for every five stupid scams, there’s one that’s really good—too good. And hundreds of poor souls will fall for it and lose thousands of dollars—even hundreds of thousands. However, here’s the disclaimer: I am not saying that people shouldn’t give to those in need during the holidays (or any other time). What I am saying is that giving should be done to reputable organizations which will be responsible with your gift, seeing that it goes to the cause it was advertised to help. So go ahead and give—just not to anyone or any organization that you don’t know or that you didn’t personally call.

   This holiday season, if there’s one thing you have to remember, it’s this: Once you, yourself, voluntarily use your own credit card or give access to your bank account, you can’t then turn around and cry “fraud” to the bank or the credit card company and get your money back. It’s not fraud—you gave your money away. And it’s gone.

   So—when the scammers come calling, just hang up. If it really was your long-lost Uncle Scrooge, he’ll call back.