God's word in today's world

Christmas story for Easter

It’s Easter weekend, but I have a Christmas story. I simply cannot wait until then. It touches the heart deeply:

I’ve longed to tell this story since January, but I hung on until now.

   Remarkable, even though I say so myself.  A story is for the telling, but I had to keep this one back for a bit.

   Until Christmas.

   It didn’t fit in the middle of the year.

   It had to ripen, like good wine.

   Last year (2007), because their children were each doing their own thing for Christmas, Tert and Lien decided that they were not going to sit alone at home.

   Tert wanted to go where it was quiet.

   No sparkly lights and stuff.

  Only silence.

   A few days before Christmas we went to say goodbye and exchange gifts.  We would only be seeing them again after New Year’s.

 On their return we went to say hi and to wish them Happy New Year and so on.

   I was curious. “So where did you go?” I asked.

   “Northern Cape”, said Tert.

   “I didn’t know you had family there?” I wanted to know more.

   “Didn’t have, but now we do.”

   “How did that happen?” I continued.

   “You don’t know when to stop, do you?  You’ll keep on and on until you know the whole story,” said Tert.

   “Well, you know I love a good story.”

   “OK, good.  Sit back and listen.”

   I could hardly wait.

    “When Lien and I left here, we had absolutely no idea where we actually wanted to go.  We first had breakfast with Jasmyn and then Lien said she wanted to go the Lowveld.  But I didn’t want to, there’s just too many people as well.  I wanted silence.”

   “Then you’d better go to the desert,’ she said half annoyed.  ‘Chances are it will only be you and me’, she said, shaking her hair.  And if she does that I know now she’s a bit upset.’”

   “I looked at her.  ‘You’re a genius, you know!’ I said to her.”

   “‘I know’, she said complacently.  She was feeling better.”

   “‘Now where will we go then?’ she asked.”

   “Well, I don’t know.  Let’s go where the steering wheel and the road take us.”

   “After breakfast we got back in the car and I turned around.  Back towards Rustenburg.  At Lichtenburg we turned away towards Vryburg where we stayed over that night.  At the guesthouse in Vryburg someone told us about the road running along the Botswana border, into the Molopo and right up to Van Zylsrus.  Just a double track road, but indescribably beautiful, the man said.”

   “The next morning after breakfast we were on the road.  Later on we left the tarred road and continued on a gravel road.  The gravel road did indeed turn into a double track, and it was very, very beautiful.  The most beautiful camel thorn trees and now and then a kudu or two, three, even a herd of gemsbok.  Across farms and through hundreds of gates and somewhere I must have taken the wrong turn, because the track became fainter and fainter.”

   “We had planned to overnight on Van Zylsrus as the man in Vryburg had advised, but the chance of that ever happening grew smaller and smaller.  We were lost, completely and totally lost.  The sun was setting, it was Christmas Eve, and we were in the middle of nowhere, but strangely, a strong calmness settled over me.  I looked at Lien.”

   “‘It’s nice here’, she said.  ‘Let’s pitch our tent right here and we’ll sleep here in the veld under the stars.  There’s so few people here now, it’s certainly just the two of us.’ She giggled at the adventure.”

   “We got out of the car and I put my arms around Lien.  ‘Look at that beautiful sunset’, she said.  We stood like that for a long time, she with her head against my chest, until the sun disappeared over the horizon.  The night was starting to wake up around us.  As we were standing there we heard a strange noise.  A jingling noise.  We looked around and saw a donkey cart coming around the corner.”

   “‘I told the wife I had to come and look.  I thought I heard something,’ said the little old man on the seat as the cart came to a stop next to us.”

   “I turned around and looked at the little old man.  He sat there, his face tough as old leather and burnt by the sun.”

   “‘Come, Master.  You can’t sleep out here in the open.  The wife has already prepared your room.’  Clearly, the old man was not going to take no for an answer.”

   “‘Can I ride with you, Sir?  I’ve never ridden on a donkey cart before,’ Lien asked excitedly.”

   “‘Certainly, Madam, let me help you up,’ the old man said and helped Lien up onto the seat.  Slowly we followed the winding road until we reached the small house.  Lien waved at me from the donkey cart, as excited as a child.”

    “The small house was simple, but clean and neat.  The old man’s wife came out on the stoep when we arrived.”

   “‘Welcome, welcome to our place Hennerik take the master’s things and put it in the spare room come closer the kettle is boiling already,’ the old lady said in one breath.”

   “When we walked into the kitchen, I could smell the aroma of cooked food, and the burning paraffin lamp on the white scrubbed table.”

   “‘Madam let me show Madam the bathroom Madam is probably wishing to have a quick wash before I pour the coffee.’ Again everything in one breath.”

   “I helped the old man to carry our baggage to the room.  ‘But how could the auntie prepare the room so quickly,’ I asked him.

   ‘Well, Master, you see, every year a week or so before Christmas the wife gets the room ready.  But, Master, I will tell you the story later on.  Let’s clean up and then get some coffee.’”

   “Later, as we were eating, I noticed that the auntie hadn’t cooked only for two.  It seemed as if she had expected us.  ‘It seems as if auntie had expected us to come’, I said, dying from curiosity.”

   “‘But obviously I expected people the dear Lord sends us people for Christmas every year He has not skipped a year yet since the children left for the city I asked Him and that is what He is doing.’  The auntie had no issue with full stops and commas.”

   “‘How can that be, Auntie?’ I asked.”

   “‘Well Master we’re actually descendants of the Griquas who had travelled past here many years ago and our children never had the love for the land as we did and years ago they decided they are tired of this world with the heat and drought and stuff and one day they simply decided to go and to this day we have never heard from them again and this year is the fifteenth year since they had gone.’”

   “The auntie took a breath.  The old man took over.”

   “‘Just before the first Christmas after the children had left I said to my wife, I said Ma, I can’t celebrate Christmas this year.  The children are gone and it’s just the two of us and my heart is sore and will be even sorer over the Big Days.  What are we going to do?’”

   “‘And then she said, Hennerik, do not lie awake about this I have already asked our Heavenly Father to send people to us for Christmas tomorrow I will begin to get the spare room ready and you must come and help me.’”

   That was a week before Christmas.  The next day the dust started flying as the wife began to get everything ready, and I hoped anxiously that the Father had heard her and that she wouldn’t be disappointed.’”

   “The auntie joined in. ‘That first year the people also came on Christmas Eve having become lost like you Master I had already prepared dinner when they arrived here there was a baby too I was overjoyed Hennerik said the Lord did not leave us alone.’”

   “The simplicity, faith, trust and sincerity of the people moved me,” said Tert.

   “After we had eaten, the old man said a prayer of thanks then got up stiffly.  ‘Now don’t you get up, I’m just going to fetch the Bible.’”

   “When the old man returned, he handed me the Bible.”

   “‘Master, please read for us.  The wife and I have no education and we only get the Bible out when people come here and can read to us.  Otherwise I say the pieces that got stuck in my head through the years, or that I had to memorise in Sunday school.  My parents couldn’t send us to school, but we had to go to church every Sunday and afterwards we had Sunday school.’”

   “I opened the Bible.  ‘What shall I read to you?’”

   “‘Please read about the birth of Jesus.  As the story is told in Luke.’”

   “‘Yes, please,’ said the auntie, ‘it is so much more beautiful there than in the other books of the Bible.’”

   “As I paged through the Bible, I could smell the moth balls.  Here and there a small photograph was stuck between the pages of the Bible.  I started reading.”

   “The kitchen almost became a holy place, a cathedral.  I read about Maria and the Child.  About the stable and the crib.  The shepherds and the wise men.  All was silent when I closed the Book.”

   “The old man was sitting with his hand folded reverently.  Softly the auntie started singing “Silent Night”.  Her old people’s voice stiff and scratchy, but to us she sounded like a nightingale.  It seemed as if somewhere the angel choir was singing along.  The old man joined in with his rumbling voice, with Lien following him.”

   I tried, but the lump in my throat was too big.  I could only whisper.  There and then I started loving these two simple, but sincere people.”

  “‘I wish there was something that we could do for these two old people,’ I said to Lien later as we lay in bed.”

   “‘They have all they need,’ said Lien.  ‘Worldly possessions have no meaning for them.  If we want to do something, we should pray and ask the Lord to let their children come back.’”

   We knelt right there next to the bed and asked the Lord to please see the two old people’s sadness and to let their children come back.  Satisfied we blew out the candle and fell asleep.”

   “The two old ones were very happy when we asked if we could stay a few days longer.  We simply could not get enough of their hospitality.  They took us on long drives with the donkey cart in the veld. Lien especially enjoyed it.  It made me realise how empty our lives have really become.  When people visit us, we take them to a mall or something, but here a donkey cart journey in the veld refreshed the soul.”

   “The afternoon of New Year’s Eve when we returned from the veld there was an unfamiliar car parked under the camel thorn tree.”

   “‘Look pa we have more visitors isn’t that wonderful?’”

   “When the figure came around the corner of the house the old man pulled on the reins and unceremoniously jumped off the cart.  The donkey had not even come to a standstill yet. The old man rushed forward.”

   “‘Hennerik!  Hennerikkie my son!!’  The old man started crying.”

   “‘Pa!’ the man called out.  ‘Pa!!’  And then they were hugging.  The father and his son.  His wife joined them.  ‘Hennerik …… Hennerikkiekie, is it really you?’  The auntie was overjoyed.  They hugged and hugged.”

   “‘Wait Ma, Pa, there’s more.’  We saw other people come around the corner.  ‘Freek!’ the old man called out.  ‘Freek, oh, my son.  I’m so happy.  The Lord is good.  And these? Who are they?’  ‘Pa, Ma, meet our wives and your grandchildren.’”

   “And then I saw something that is engraved on my memory, something that I will remember until the day I die,” said Tert.

   “The old man sank down on his knees in the warm Kalahari sand and prayed a prayer of such thanks and praise that I have not heard the equal of.  Like an Abraham of old.  On his knees with his hands stretched out towards the sky.”

   “Lien and I looked at each other.  Tears glistened in Lien’s eyes.  We were standing on holy ground.  Our prayer has been answered.  The Lord gave exactly what we had asked for.”

 With thanks to: Herman du Plessis

May we make every effort this Easter to see our loved ones. May you sacrifice as Jesus did for us on the cross.

Have a blessed Easter

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