Written By: Dr. Steve D. Whitaker, Head of School
When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10–11)
What were your favorite Christmas gifts as a kid? When I think back to my childhood, I remember the thrill of getting my first new bicycle, the rush of holding my first Smith and Wesson BB gun, and the feel of the new leather baseball glove I had envied for months. Those were wonderfully simple times.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s become clear to me that the greatest gifts I’ve ever received weren’t the ones under the tree. The three best gifts I ever received were priceless and given to me by a terrific dad.
1. The love a of simple story
He gathered our family, opened a well-worn Bible and began reading. “For unto us a child born, unto us a son is given…” It was the same story each year. But each year his face lit up as if he was reading the story for the very first time. I remember the tears that would form in the corner of his blue eyes when he talked about the baby in the manger. I remember the warmth in his voice when he talked about the humble shepherds. This wasn’t just a Christmas story to him. It was a message that changed his life. As a 16-year-old, Robert E. Whitaker left North Carolina with his 14-year-old brother. He did so to escape a house torn apart by alcoholism. He found a sparsely furnished room in a boarding house in Louisville, Kentucky. One day he was invited to a Billy Graham crusade. That message he heard at the Crusade told a story that changed his life forever. He heard that the God of the universe sent His son Jesus to earth to rescue the least and the lost – that was him.
2. The beauty of a servant’s heart
Once he became a Christian, he had a thirst to learn, grow, and serve. He was the first from his poor family to attend college. He went to graduate school. He became a Christian college president and prolific conference speaker. However, these accolades meant very little to me. What I remember most is the man who would care for the “down and out” like Eddie Bergman, the town drunk. My father befriended him and loved him as if he were his best friend. Eddie often showed up at our home late at night. His clothes reeked of alcohol and urine. He and my father would talk on the front porch for what seemed like hours. Eventually my dad would take him home. Once inside, Eddie staggered to the couch and fell into a drunken stupor. Then, in the dim light of a filthy trailer the Christian college president became a servant. He washed putrid dishes, mopped the dirty floor, placed a blanket over his sleeping friend and returned home to his family.
3. The blessing of sincere devotion
In 2009, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. Several weeks later they traveled from their home in Louisville, Kentucky, to a special gathering in Orlando with friends and family to mark the occasion. At that celebration I was able to say thank you to the best mom and dad a son could ever have. The love and they showed each other was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The devotion my father showed toward my mother was picture of 1 Corinthians 13. Their love was patient and kind; it did not envy or boast; it was not arrogant or rude. It did not insist on its own way; it was not irritable or resentful; it did not rejoice at wrongdoing, it rejoiced in truth. It was a love that could bear all things, that could believe all things, that could hope all things, and endure all things. That was one of the last times I would see my father. On March 15, 2010, he preached what he did not realize would be his last sermon. During the night, he had a heart attack and went home to be with Jesus. He left behind his sweetheart, who still grieves his passing.
By now the presents under your tree may all be unwrapped. The beautiful Christmas dinner may still await. Tomorrow we are one day closer to 2015.
Before the sun goes down tonight, let me invite you to sit down and begin preparing a list of the gifts you want to give your children this year. If you’re not sure where to start, let me make three suggestions. First, read the Christmas story with your family today and invite them on the journey of learning to love Jesus more deeply than ever before. Second, make a list of ways you are going to serve your family in the same way that Jesus served his disciples. Don’t show them the list – actions speak louder than words. Third, study 1 Corinthians 13 and model your love after this beautiful passage. These gifts are priceless and will have lasting value even after God calls you home.
From our family to yours, Merry Christmas!
Steve D. Whitaker, Ph. D.
Head of School