Friday, January 01, 2016

Where's Debbie?

Last Sunday, as I sat with my wife and youngest daughter in the beautiful sanctuary on Turner-McCall Boulevard where my family has worshiped more than anywhere else since February of 1962, I had the much-too-rare privilege of hearing my favorite preacher.

I listened as the Rev. Ruth Baird Shaw​, my mother, preached what was on her heart this Christmas season. Her sermon was titled “What Child Is This?” and used the story that “Dr. Luke” tells of Jesus “amazing” the priests with his understanding, while his poor, surely frantic, parents searched for their missing (to them) Son.  We then chuckled with the congregation as my mother told of the incident that helped her understand the distress that Mary and Joseph must have felt when they realized Jesus was not with them on their homeward trek from Jerusalem to Nazareth.
You can read my mother’s sermon as a footnote below, but here is the tale from my own memories ---

In 1960 our family purchased a beautiful new car. It was a bronze colored sleek Chevrolet nine-passenger station wagon with a marvelous innovation: the rear bench seat faced the rear. My sisters and I fought over the privilege of sitting with a panoramic view of where we had been.

That fall we took a camping vacation through Kentucky, where my sisters were attending Asbury College (now University.) The presidential election was in full swing and (I apologize) my sisters and I were adament supporters of Ike’s young vice president. We’d lower the electric rear window at strategic locations to express ourselves in song:

“Here comes Nixon,
our man Nixon
We want Nixon
to be the President
Merrily we roll along,
roll along, roll along
Merrily we roll along,
one hundred million strong.”

Unfortunately the design of that sleek vehicle funneled fumes from the exhaust pipe directly in that rear window if one opened it while the car was moving.

The part of the story my mother told happened in Louisville, right at the banks of the Ohio River. My daddy pulled into a Texaco staion on the Kentucky side and we all piled out to find the advertised clean restrooms.

Mother was occupied with David the toddler when we all began to climb back into the car. She didn’t notice when Debbie slipped back out of the car to rescue her hair barrette she’d left in the restroom. Having paid the nice man who had cleaned our windsheild and checked the oil while filling the tank for us, Daddy cranked the car and pulled the big Kingswood wagon out of the station onto US 31 and almost immediately onto the multilane bridge over the big river. Carol spied a tug pushing a huge line of barges approaching below us. “Look at that ship!” she cried, “Look Debiie! --- Where’s Debbie?!”

Anyone who knew my Daddy knows that --- had there been a way --- he’d have wheeled that long Chevy in a U-turn and skidded back into that gas station in no time flat. Mother says she wanted out of the car to run back. But those were not practical alternatives, so we went with the flow of heavy city traffic across the bridge.

As Daddy pulled over at the Indiana shore, there, pulling up beside us, was a Texaco pick’em-up truck driven by a very serious station owner with little Debbie waving from the passemger seat beside him. The filling station man seemed as frantic as my parents. We wondered if he figured my parents had planned to rid themselves of a child at each staion they passed. I was not in that truck, but given my sister’s penchant for storytelling, that “Man Who Wears the Star” might have been a little “amazed” himself --- though he was no priest and, it goes without saying, Debbie is no Jesus.

Mother said she had “lost” Debbie for just five minutes. Mary and Joseph were without Jesus for three days.

Mother also mentioned how Debi (she changed the spelling of her nickname to differenciate her unique self from the myriad Debbies in sixties classrooms.) was surprized when she moved south with her family in 1989 and was greeted her first Sunday back at Trinity with the question: “Are you the one that got left at a service station?”

It’s a tale I had embellished in many tellings during two-decades of teaching elementary school.


What Child is This

a sermon by Ruth Baird Shaw 

December 27, 2015, 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 am
Trinity United Methodist Church
Rome, Georgia

Luke 2:41-52 (NRSV)

The Boy Jesus in the Temple

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents[a] saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”[b] 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years,[c] and in divine and human favor.

Luke, the writer of the Gospel of Luke and also the book of Acts, was said to be a Medical Doctor.

In today's scripture in Luke 2, Doctor Luke puts down his Medical bag and picks up his pen to write down for us the amazing and blessed story of Jesus!

We are only two days after Christmas Day, and this is the last Sunday of 2015. In our important scripture today, we have the first recorded words of Jesus. This brief scripture of the boyhood of Jesus is the only record about Jesus between his birth, his babyhood, and his adulthood.

In todays passage from Luke 2, we have the family of Jesus making their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual celebration of the feast of the Passover . The Passover was important! The Passover was the Hebrew festival celebrated each Spring in commemoration of the Exodus account in the Bible, telling us about when the Lord God “passed over” the Israelite babies at a time when all the other babies in Egypt were being killed.

The last supper that Jesus had with his disciples was a “Passover meal.” It was at Passover time that Jesus instituted our communion service.
So we see in today's Scripture lesson, Jesus had gone to the temple for Passover with Mary and Joseph and other neighbors and friends and kinspeople.

In today's church, as then, we dedicate and baptize babies, testifying that they are “saved’ until they reach the age of accountability, the time they become old enough to make their own decision about whether or not to accept Jesus as their Savior and become a Christian. The christening part of the ceremony, as you know, is when the church names the baby. So we refer to our given names as our ‘Christian names.”   For example, my Christian name is Sarah Ruth, which was given to me in the church where I was baptized as an infant 92 years ago.

Today we see the pastor taking the baby in his or her arms and saying, “What name shall be given to this baby?” After the parent tells the pastor the name this given name is used in the baptism.

In today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus is 12 years old and is claiming for Himself that special relationship to God which was symbolized at the dedication of Jesus as an infant, earlier in this same chapter. This we do in today's church. When our 12-year-old boys and girls, who were dedicated and baptized as babies, accept Christ as personal Savior and thus become members of the church

In todays Scripture lesson, when the feast of the Passover was ended Mary and Joseph traveled in a caravan back to their home, thinking that 12-year-old Jesus was in their company. This was not as unusual as might be thought. Usually the women in the caravan went ahead, so Mary thought 12-year-old Jesus was with Joseph, and Joseph thought He was with Mary.

One of the most amusing stories in our family is about the time that we left our daughter, Deborah, at a service station in Kentucky!  Debi said that when their family moved to Rome in 1989 and came to church here at Trinity, a woman who was introduced to her said, “Oh, are you the one they left at a service station?” Our son Terrell and his wife Sheila had been members at Trinity for several years before Debi and Gregg moved to Rome and had told this story to some of the people here.

This Major Family Happening was when my husband and I and our five younger children were on a brief camping trip from our parsonage home in Ellijay to Kentucky and Indiana.
We stopped for gas at a station in Louisville, right at the bridge that crosses the Ohio River.

All the children had been to the bathroom were back in the station wagon. I had settled our 4 young children in their places on the back seat and was feeding baby David in the front seat.

Deborah, about 6 years old at the time, suddenly realized she had left a hair barrette in the rest room, so she very quietly slipped out of the car to get it.

Charles came back from paying the bill and started the car and turned the few feet onto the long bridge that spanned the Ohio River! Carol, 2 and a half years older than Debi, saw a huge ship on the river and said, “Look, everybody. Look, Debi! Mother! Where’s Debi?”

I panicked. Charles panicked. It was panic time for all of us, but we could not make a U-turn on the bridge. If there had been any way to turn around on that bridge, all of us who knew Charles Shaw, know he would have found it. I was ready to get out of the car and run back to the Service Station, but we could not even stop on the bridge because of the heavy traffic.

Finally we got across the bridge into Indiana and Charles pulled our 9-passenger Chevrolet station wagon into the first place to turn around.

Then, much to our joy and relief, not far behind us, was the service station owner bringing Deborah to us.

Deborah later liked to tell the story at “story telling time” in her own dramatic way. She says that the man in the service station thought, “These people have probably been dropping off children all the way from Georgia; but they are NOT leaving one here.” Anyway, whatever the man thought, when Deborah came out of the restroom to see us crossing the bridge, he put her in his pickup truck and brought her to us.

I have forgotten many things in my long life, but that Ohio River Bridge experience is forever etched in my memory.

It is scary in today's world to think of how tragic this story could have ended.

I will never forget the relief and joy of seeing her little head in that truck, and our thanks to God, and our deep appreciation for the kindness and help of this dear Service Station man.

Children, as we all know, have a way of keeping us on your toes, and apparently the child Jesus was no exception in this.

In the hymn “Away in a Manger” one of the phrases we remember is; “The little Lord Jesus no crying He makes.” But one of the glorious truths of the Christmas message we have just celebrated and are continuing to celebrate today is that the Infinite God so loved the world of finite human beings that Jesus, our Savior, came into the world as a helpless baby, unable to hold his head without the help of finite human beings.

So I think Jesus as a baby developed his lungs by crying as other babies do.

Our Bible lesson today is about when Jesus also went missing one day when he was a child. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus missing, they turned around and went back; and they found 12-year-old Jesus talking with the learned men in the house of God. The reply of Jesus to Mary and Joseph was that he must also be about the business of his Father in heaven

This has gone down in history as Jesus expressing, at age 12, an early awareness of his special identity as the only begotten Son of God, as we read in John 3:16.

Doctor Luke tells us in Luke 2:51 that Jesus went down to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and was obedient to them, then adds that his mother Mary kept and treasured all these things in her heart while Jesus continued to develop in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and people.

This lesson in Scripture teaches there are times in life when all of us who are called of God must submit to the discipline of preparation and of studying the scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We see this even in the life of the great apostle Paul, who was already well-versed in scripture and the classics, but was led into the wilderness for three years to be taught by God after his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road.

As I was studying this Scripture lesson, I thought about how often many of us tend to put our minds and thoughts on the minor events of life and ignore the life changing and eternal life things. 2015 years ago, the world was watching the Roman Empire in all its splendor. All eyes were on Caesar Augustus, who demanded that a census be taken so that taxes could be enlarged.

Who noticed Mary and Joseph making their 90 mile journey to Bethlehem? If there had been television then, the television anchor men and women and their crews would have run over Mary and Joseph to put their microphone in the face of Caesar.

Today Caesar is only a small paragraph in the life of Jesus. And all the great schools in the Western world were built to study every single word that fell from the lips of Jesus. And every single word written about the deeds of Jesus have been poured over and translated into every language, and people by the thousands make pilgrimages to Bethlehem and stand in awe at the spot history has marked as the birthplace of Jesus.

I served as pastor of East Point Avenue UM Church for four years after I reached mandatory retirement age.

One of the visits I often made there was to a elderly couple who were bedridden in their small home. They had very little help so when I would visit, she would have me do a few little things for them like bringing in their paper and mail, getting them fresh water, etc.

One day when I knelt down to pray with them after a visit... the elderly lady, speaking for both of them said to me, “We are so blessed. We are so much better off than many people and best of all, the Lord is with us.” Without realizing it, this elderly lady was quoting what is reported to be the last words of the great preacher, John Wesley, as he lay dying: “The best of all, God is with us.”

I also bear this same witness. Whatever else is going on in my life: “The best of all, God is with me.”

Today is the last scheduled service of 2015. So as we stand a the gate of a brand New Year. Let me close with this familiar quote that is a blessing for all of us:

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better to you than light and safer than a known way.'"   - M. L. Haskins

As we come to the closing days of 2015, I hope, each one of us and all of us will put our hands and our lives in the keeping of Jesus as our Savior and Lord. Then, whatever the New Year brings, it will be a blessed and happy new year 2016!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Bad News


Dear friends,

I have just heard devastating news.

Short-circuiting our efforts to stop the sale of our parkland connecting Jackson Hill and Ridge Ferry Park, Ledbetter Properties, I am told, has decided today to exercise their bargain option to buy the entire tract --- all of our public property between Jackson Hill and Ridge Ferry Park. We have two commissioners --- Wendy Davis and Sue Hamler Lee --- who have looked at our wetland and floodplain with Hundred Year Eyes and seen its value to our posterity. Unless there is enough of an outcry to change three minds on the City Commission that property will be re-zoned to allow the apartments.

We have to somehow convince three of these folks --- before Monday Sept. 28 --- to change their minds:

Kim Canada,706-291-7844
Bill Collins, 706-291-0208
Jamie Doss, 706-295-4008
Bill Irmscher, 706-234-6555
Evie McNeice, 706-237-6070
Milton Slack, 706-291-6811
Buzz Wachsteter, 706-291-0678

Please take a few minutes now to call or e-mail these folks. Let them know that we cannot let this happen. Beg, plead, demand, that our children and grandchildren and theirs have this beautiful link to explore along our rivers then through this wetland and to the top of Jackson Hill. Few other cities have a wildlife/wildflower treasure like this in its very center. Tell them to vote against a change of zoning and to try to negotiate a way out of what I believe is a very bad deal with Ledbetter Properties.

Demand they use their Hundred Year Eyes.

Look again at this picture.

Read the words of the city's decade-old plan for our property at Burwell Creek.

Read the words on this very appropriate cartoon.

Hundred Year Eyes

When Daniel Mitchell, Zacharia Hargrove, Philip Hemphill, William Smith, and John Lumpkin  met in 1834 at that little spring near the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula they dreamed of a city that did not exist. They saw our valley with “hundred-year-eyes.”
When Daniel Mitchell laid out Broad Street, he made it truly “broad”. He used two full “Gunter’s chains” to establish its width. Now our downtown main street is 132 feet wide. Surely he was seeing that street with “hundred-year-eyes”.

Developers salivated when they saw the in-town wooded acres along Horseleg Creek. But for the “hundred-year-eyes of Mac Marshall, Lewis Lipps, Phillip Greear, Robert Weed, Wilson Hall, Elizabeth and Bernard Neal, Margie Harbin and others, this beautiful unban forest would be gone.

It was a near thing last century when the city vacated the old Carnegie Library to build the new library. Some said the old library was really nothing special. After all, there were twenty other Carnegie Libraries in Georgia. It was not a unique building. Why not tear it down and use that downtown property for something else. But the commissioners voted to preserve that old building and refurbish it for city offices. I’m glad they had eyes to see the value to our posterity of preserving the character of our downtown in this way..
Casey Hine and others looked our largely deserted downtown in the seventies and eighties with its grand old exteriors often covered with aluminum. With eyes to the future they imagined a re-invigorated Broad Street with trees and flowers and brick-lined streets and sidewalks. Streetscape was born of hundred-year-vision.
Image result for desoto rome ga

When Lam Theaters decided to close the Desoto Theater, that treasure could have been lost, like the First Avenue Theater before it, or even more tragically the magnificent Nevin Opera House. But the folks involved in the Rome Little Theatre went way out on a financial limb and bought it to use for our community live theater. What a blessing to Rome the Desoto has been for another half century now! All thanks to the “hundred-year-eyes” of people like Kathy Greear, Norris Gamble, Sidney Guy Johnston, Joel Jones, Mary Doster, Virginia McChesney, and many others.
Image result for berry college rome ga

Martha Berry had “hundred-year-eyes” when she saw opportunities to buy up land around what had been her father’s estate to add to her little school’s holding. Wise use of those lands has helped to make Berry one of the best and most beautiful campuses in the world, and provided a laboratory for the environmental program rated among the two bets in the world. And her foresight helped make Rome an appealing location for businesses.

Here is what is left of our "Duck Pond" with the Burwell Creek wetland to the left and Jackson Hill in the background.

The tracks of many different species of wildlike are captured in the drying mud of what was once our little Duck Pond at the intersection of Turner McCall and Riverside Parkway.

Next Monday the folks we elected to the Rome City Commission will discuss again whether to sell our beautiful downtown greenspace/wetland/duckpond/beaver-fox-deer-salamnder-crawdad-dragonfly-great-blue-heron-etc-habitat so that a private developer can bulldose it, haul in umpteen yards of fill material, and put up a group of apartments and a strip mall. This gorgeous property, that belongs to us, may be taken from our children and grandchildren, if you and I remain silent. I won’t. We have a beautiful city. It is a magnet to businesses that want an environment attractive to their employees and themselves. Let’s keep it. Let’s make it even better than we found it.

Here is contact information for our commissioners:
Bill Irmscher 706-234-6555

Milton Slack 706-291-6811

Buzz Wachsteter 706-291-0678

Jamie Doss 706-295-4008

Bill Collins 706-291-0208

Kim Canada 706-291-7844

Evie McNiece 706-237-6070

We already have the public support of:

Sue Lee 706-235-2067

Wendy Davis or 706-290-0606

I have a simple but difficult requirement of the men and women you see pictured here. I ask them to have eyes for more than the here and now, more than the current bottom line, more than the immediate jobs and possible future tax revenues. (What percentage of those jobs and what percentage of those taxes can come from other new development or increased sales at current businesses?) I ask our public servants to have hundred-year-eyes. I want them to think of the Romans of 2115 every time they cast a vote. The decisions we make in 2015 will affect the lives of others besides ourselves. I believe the citizens of a hundred years from now will thank us for preserving a great “central park”. Imagine that beautiful wetland with boardwalks and trails and interpretive signage. Imagine the hiking and biking trails continuous from our wonderful Jackson Hill though this greenspace and on to the Riverwalk and thence to Silver Creek in one direction, State Mutual Stadium in another, and Berry’s trails in another.

The lushness of the plants in the wetland itself make a verdant wonderland.

The fall wildflowers were dazling last week -- purple ironweed, yellow wild sunflowers, and several clouds of mixed white blooms.

This grassy area has been used, obviously, by the whitetail deer as a bedroom.

Such a park system will bring new business, new residents, and new prosperity to Rome and Floyd County to surpass the proposed building project many tmes over. Let’s preserve this wetland and greenspace as part of a great Central Park for our children and grandchildren, and all the future citizens of our beautiful city.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


It's the final day of 2014. We are thirty years past 1984. We are living in science fiction times.

I have a great part of the knowledge of the ages available to me in my pocket, and redundantly, on my lap at this moment. The majority of the great books, whole encyclopedias, almanacs, star-charts, and more are at my fingertips. I have a magic wand within reach with which to command 47 inch visions on my wall, if I like, of rescuers in the Indian Ocean, performances at Carnegie and Albert halls, up-to-the-minute stock prices on Wall Street, the songs of long-dead singers, the speeches of our president as he speaks them, endless gossip at any hour from mindless talking heads, or even half- (or fully!) nekkid folk cavorting lasciviously at any hour. And any and all of those magical choices I make will be recorded and reported to an esoteric intelligence that will then make, based on my choices, suggestions to me for the rest of the day and, I suppose, the rest of my life.

I wonder how many times today my image will be recorded as I drive or shop.

We are living in science fiction times.

Mike Bock has caught up with me again, as he does annually on the closing day of the year. Happy Birthday, Mike! I hope we see lots of you in 2015. Come south young man.

This day brings to mind Sheila's wonderful grandmother, Annie Belle Brannon Snell, the smart AND wise (not an automatic combination), kind, practical, industrious, and loving woman who was born on this date in 1884 and blessed our marriage with her wisdom and love for its first ten years. She died in 1981.

And forty --- FORTY! --- years ago on this date we got the call that my sister Carol had given us a new niece. We pulled into our little log cabin out in Chubbtown, from our Christmas trip to Tallahassee and turned right around and headed down to Atlanta to meet Larisa Carron Johnston, one of the great bonus tax deductions of all time. What a little bundle of joy she was and is! Happy Birthday, Larisa! We love you and your own additions to our family.


“Good habits make all the difference.” —Aristotle

And today is the traditional day to take stock and renew determination to more fully live, to grab this remarkable, magical, mysterious consciousness and make the most of it.

I am living into extra innings, in a way. My father and his father, my beloved Daddy and Daddy Shaw, never reached their 68th birthdays. I've passed them (chronologically) already and will, I am hopeful, reach that milestone in March. Having outlived both those good men I try to remind myself each morning of the great privilege the current day is. One wonderful aspect of that privilege is this opportunity to voice my beliefs and dreams for the future of my children and (from the internet to God's ears) grandchildren and fellow Americans and Earthlings.

So I'll resolve,


Due to a flurry of New Year's resolutions, the Road to Hell is currently closed for repaving.
Please take an alternate route.

call & see my mother more often,
call/write/see/really-visit Brannon & Lillian more often (Things also work the other direction, I'm told?),
have friends over more often, (How about the Dictionary game or Categories?)
visit Mildred and record her songs,
organize a Hoot,
organize and downsize my stuff,
tell more stories, sing more songs, do some theater, write more often,
record some of my stories,
finish what I start (and what I have started)*,
(and what I have started)*
(and what I have started)*
(and what I have started)*
get the new and improved Big Fibbers™off to a great start,
get ready for the Fourth early,
travel more,
spend more time in the woods,
spend more time on the rivers,
take some good pictures,
more exercise and fewer calories,
engage in some practical politics,
engage in some practical charity,
be a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend.
stay cheerful,
dream big,
do now.

*I'm unwilling to make some of these things public, but Sheila knows them, and I'd love to surprise her a little this year!

Of course I could do pretty well with Woody Guthrie's 1941 resolutions:



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Fifth Day of Christmas

Here is my other Fifth Day post where you will find a link to the Three Tenors singing Silent Night.

At this year's church family Christmas party, I retold the legend of Franz Gruber and Josef Mohr and the creation of their beautiful, simple, Christmas carol, Silent Night. Since most of what we've been told over the years is evidently legend, I felt free to create my own version. I enlisted Cannon Rogers, a teen guitarist in our church to help me. Here it is:

A New Song for Santa’s Church

Do you have a best friend? Someone you can count on to come through for you in a pinch? Well, Josef and Franz were best friends. They worked together and they visited together in each other’s homes and they sang together. I have some friends like that. We like to get together at each other’s houses and, of course, eat good stuff, but also to play our guitars and sing, sing, sing!

Church of St. Nicholas Oberndorf (razed in 1906)

And there are a couple of those guys that, I know, if I had any trouble, would come to help me out.

Like I said, Josef and Franz worked together. Josef was the pastor and Franz was the choirmaster at the same church. And it was Santa’s church! At least I figure it must have been Santa’s church, because there was a beautiful sign right in front of the sanctuary that said “Church of St. Nicholas”. So you can understand that they really wanted the Christmas Eve service to be wonderful. I guess Josef and Franz would get to send Santa off on his big Christmas Eve journey with a beautiful program of glorious Christmas music sung by the big St. Nicholas Church choir and accompanied by that great big pipe organ they had.

I told you Franz was the choirmaster. That means that he not only directed the choir, like Mr. Kam does here at Trinity, but he also played that great big organ, almost as well as Ms. Shelly does here. And he had a wonderful program planned for that Christmas Eve. Then the trouble started!

Franz stopped by the church to practice at the organ for a while on Christmas Adam. Well, you’d expect that wouldn’t you? He wanted to be ready for Christmas Eve the very next night! And just when he was pumping away at the pedals of that organ --- in those days the organs had pedals connected to big bellows like an accordion to blow air through the pipes to make them play --- anyway, just when he was pumping away at the pedals of that organ, playing beautiful, complicated Christmas melodies, that organ made the rudest sound you’ve ever heard! “Pluttttztzzzz!!”

“Oh. no!” Franz muttered. And he frantically pumped the pedals, “Pluttttztzzzz!! Pluttttztzzzz!! Pluttttztzzzz!!”

He got down from the bench and bent to examine the pedals. Oh my. It was no use. The bellows on either pedal would not hold air, they were full of holes. The poor church mice, starving from the lack of crumbs -- their church didn’t have a Wednesday night supper like Trinity does and, except for a few communion crumbs, pickings were mighty slim for rodents at The Church of St Nicholas... the poor starving church mice had been eating at the leather bellows of the organ. They were a mess. There was no hope of repair and replacement was out the question on Christmas Eve. The organ repairman would have to come all the way from Salzberg, and 200 years ago, there was no email or telephone to summon him with.

Franz would have to conduct the Christmas Eve service without an organ. What could he do? This was definitely trouble. He’d better talk to his friend. So he headed out toward the parsonage where his friend Josef lived.

Well, meanwhile Josef had been visiting one of his church members, up on the mountain. Old Wilhelm, was a sheep herder, and had been ill, and Josef had gone to talk with him and hear his stories, and pray with him. He found the old man feeling much better and together they bundled up and walked out onto his back porch where they could look out over the snow covered valley in the moonlight. They could see the steeple of the Church of St. Nicholas in the valley below, pointing upward toward the steeple-like mountains - the Alps - and the star-studded heavens.

Wilhelm broke the almost magical silence of the scene, “I wonder if that winter night in Bethlehem might have been this silent? And felt this holy? It is so calm and bright. Just imagine that young mother and her tender baby, in a stable maybe like my stable there. What a heavenly peaceful scene.”

Josef looked out at the stars streaming their light from heaven. He thought of those shepherds, probably shaking and quaking at the sight of an angel host singing that a Savior is born.

“Wilhelm, he said, may I have some paper and a pencil, I want to write about what I am feeling.”

They walked back into the house, and while Wilhelm poured some warm tea, Josef sat at the table near the window and wrote quickly, scratching through a word here and there to scribble a better one. By the time he finished off a second cup of tea and a couple of Christmas shortbread cookies the ladies of the church had sent out to old Wilhelm, Josef had finished his little poem about that quiet evening when Jesus was born, and had started his way down the mountain thinking he might read it during the Christmas Eve service the next night.

He was thrilled when he saw Franz’s horse tied at his gate. He could see, through a window, a fire blazing in the fireplace. How nice to find his best friend there. They could talk about using his poem in the service. But Franz burst out the door...

“Josef! Josef! We’ve got trouble!” Franz told him about the mice, and bellows, and the rude noises. “What in the world will we do for music. The choir can sing a couple of carols without the organ but that will not do for a whole Christmas Eve service. What will the members think?” I guess he was wondering what Santa would think too.

All of a sudden, Josef’s eyes brightened. “Oh, Franz. What’s a little trouble. We’ll make this a Christmas Eve to remember -- even without an organ. You can lead the choir in a couple of carols. We’ll read the wonderful Christmas story right out of the Bible. We just need a good quiet song to welcome the Christ child and close things out. Grab the guitar over there and come with me to the window.” Josef wanted Franz to feel what he had felt when he’d been on Wilhelm’s porch.

“Look out there, Franz. Think of that wondrous night. Think of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Maybe it was cold and quiet like this. Maybe the stars were clear and bright like tonight. Now read my little poem and see if you can make a tune.”

Franz looked out at the village clothed in a blanket of snow, lit by a bright moon and streaming starlight, and read Josef’s simple little poem. And he began to pluck his guitar strings... [Cannon begins to play] and finally began to sing. [Cannon sings the first verse quietly in the background]

And that Christmas Eve, at the Church of St. Nicholas, with just their voices and a guitar, Josef and Franz led all the village folk, and, I wasn’t there, but I guess even Santa, in welcoming the Christ child. Will you help us sing it again?

[Everyone joins in]

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth

This version of the story: © 2014 Terrell Shaw