This Christmas season I am reprinting an article originally published in the Pentecostal Evangel (Assemblies of God) December 22, 1991. God is faithful, my friends. I pray that this testimony will bless and strengthen you.
Hushed whispers floated across the candlelit church. I marveled at the crowd. Many of the people lining the pews hadn’t been in church since Easter. It seemed that now was the time to make it right. It was Christmas Eve 1974.
As the first peal of the bells rang out, marking the coming of midnight and Christmas Day, the procession to the nativity crèche began. First, the Wise Men and shepherds were carried in to their places. Next, Joseph and Mary took their positions. Finally, the moment for which humankind had waited for centuries was portrayed, when the Baby Jesus was placed in the manger. At that moment the massive church bells rang loudly, as if to tell the whole world that Christ had indeed come for His creation.
So it was at midnight on Christmas Eve in the church where I grew up. But this year was different. As the organist played and the congregation sang, I could only cry. Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the river of tears that flowed from my eyes onto my new Christmas clothes. Why the tears on this wonderful day?
As a child I was taught that Jesus died for my sins. My immigrant grandmother taught me early to love God. I enjoyed going to church. I sang the hymns at the top of my voice, hoping God would hear and accept me. From those early days when my mom and grandmother taught me to pray, I rejoiced in an innocent love for God and everything sacred.
Alone in our kitchen I would often hear the sounds of a not-too-distant neighbor’s wind chimes. For me they were a melody of love played by the angels in heaven, music that drew me to worship and love my Jesus. I would dream of standing with the angels at God’s throne. At those times I felt God’s presence and love and returned to Him my love and devotion.
As I grew, I felt God’s call upon my life. I wanted to serve Him. I loved to play church with my friends, but I always wanted to be the priest. I memorized the liturgy. Although I never thought of becoming a nun, I took my religion seriously. Unfortunately, I never truly understood the gospel.
My teen years were a challenge to my innocent faith. Growing up and realizing that the world is not a pristine garden caused disillusionment and confusion. The call to be my own person drew me away from the faith I had held so dear. And there I was—Christmas Eve 1974. Seventeen years old, about to graduate from high school, and I couldn’t stop crying even to sing a Christmas hymn.
Several years and many heartaches later I opened my eyes to the loss I had experienced. I longed for the faith of my youth. A hollow place in me had once belonged to Jesus Christ and God my Father. But I was sure I couldn’t go back. Day after day, knowing I was away from God, I cried myself to sleep and longed for God’s presence. Lamenting a broken engagement, I longed for the Christian husband for whom my grandmother had prayed.
I took a job that required moving to another city. Trying to piece together the situations that had brought my life to such a point, my despair and loneliness led me to more and more partying to avoid the pain.
There was a bright spot in all of this. A young woman on my staff seemed happy, and she always carried a Bible. I saw in her a joy and a love for God that I remembered from a long time ago. I started to ask her questions about God and how to know Him. She told me that Jesus had died for my sins, which I already knew, but she also told me that I could do nothing to earn that forgiveness—it was a free gift.
One late night in July the truth of the Scriptures and of salvation were opened clearly to me. My sin had separated me from God, but Jesus’ blood—the blood of that same Jesus who was so close to me in childhood—was still effective to cleanse and forgive sin. I asked Him to live with me again—this time understanding that I didn’t have to earn God’s acceptance—and I was reunited with my God at 2:30 a.m. on July 24, 1979.
Five years later, It was Christmas Eve once again. Now, in 1979, I worshiped Christ and celebrated His coming anew, and yet everything had changed.
How could I have known on that same day five years earlier that my tears came from a massive divide between myself and the God I loved so dearly? How could I have understood that going to church and knowing the ropes wasn’t enough—that He wanted my entire heart?
But now I knew. As we sang the hymns of Christmas I cried, but this time I understood the source of my tears. As I celebrated Christ’s birth with those around me, I wept for joy at the new person I had become. This time I wouldn’t grow out of faith; I would grow deeper into it.
Have you walked away from the faith of your childhood? Jesus is there to receive you back. Perhaps you never had that childhood faith experience. Maybe you have never come to know the love of the One who was born as a child in order to lay down his life as a man, so that you might know the beauty of forgiveness and eternal life. In either case, take a moment ask God to forgive your sins and make you His own child.
During this Christmas season, please remember that Jesus wants your whole heart. He wants to unite you with your Heavenly Father through His own blood. Perhaps you are sorrowful but don’t understand, as I was. Have you gone to the Lord? Have you accepted God’s grace and mercy for your life?
This Christmas season, may you celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ not only in your home, but also in your heart.
Mary Kay Glunt, Pastor
Ebenezer Presbyterian Church