When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 

Matthew 2:10 

On a dark December evening some thirty years ago, my parents taught me the true meaning of Christmas.

My father ran a little country store in middle Tennessee, where sharecropping and hard labor were the ways of life for many farmers. Over the year, storekeepers like my father would extend credit to these folks, who would settle their debts when they sold their crops. Bad weather or poor harvests could mean financial ruin, or worse, for such farmers and their families.

This year had been particularly rough for Katie, an older lady with a houseful of kids. Even with all her troubles, Katie had pride and an unerring faith that the future would bring better times, and my folks respected that. So on that cold December night, after we closed the store, my parents and I drove out to her house. In the front seat with Mom and Dad was a cardboard box full of toys, crayons, fruit, nuts, warm blankets, and some special treats.

When we pulled up in front of the cabin, Katie’s door opened and I could see her figure outlined in the door, with the kids crowding around her. Her face radiated happiness as she accepted Mom and Dad’s gift, and the kids rushed back into their cabin with the box. But more memorable was Katie’s expression of relief and gratitude as Dad took her account from his chest pocket and silently tore it in pieces.

Driving home that night, with my parents sitting quietly in the front seat, I watched the stars shining brightly overhead. Those same stars illuminated Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, as the Prince of Peace began His journey toward the payment of all our debts. 


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