Scripture Galations 3:26,27 NIV
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
ANGELS WITH SHOPPING BAGS
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
"Ronald, we have to put on your snow pants this time!" That was not something he liked to do - he hated the restrictions, the clumsiness that his little legs experienced with those tight snow pants on. And this all for a trip to a place he'd never been before - Toronto - to do some Christmas Eve shopping and sight seeing. But he was only three years old. Ronald didn't know what he was in for - he didn't know that Toronto was 2 hours west of Pekoa Bay. This time - Tim and Sarah were so excited though, he decided to cooperate with his mother.
The winter so far had been warm until a few days before Christmas - old man winter came with a vengeance - the wind blew hard from the North as the thermometer dipped to record low temperatures. But the car was warm - and so the trip to Toronto was uneventful - except for Ronald - stuck in his crampy snow pants for two hours overheating - his complaints, his real tears finally persuaded Mom to allow Sarah, and Tim to fight the tight pants off of him. Once they were off, he promptly went to sleep.
The Johnston family arrived in Toronto just in time for Lunch. And for Lunch, Ronald cooperated. He was well rested and hungry - he focused on eating his chicken fingers and fries rather than tossing them at the next table. The Johnston family was happy about that - it gave them time to plan the details of their afternoon.
Dad would take Ronald in the stroller through the big shopping mall on the east end of Toronto near Oshawa. Mom would go do some major Christmas shopping. Tim and Sarah would go off together to do their own Christmas shopping, but they had to stick together. Toronto is a big place - and you cannot afford to get lost there.
The family divided. Once alone, Mom pulled out her shopping list - Socks for Dad - she was surprised how he always wanted socks and seemed happy with them. Tim was interested in a computer game - AGE OF EMPIRES - when she saw the cover, she didn't really like it - but it was the only option she had for him, so she bought it anyways. Sarah was a little harder to shop for - now that she was 11 years old - she was starting to become very fussy about her clothing. But Blue jeans were always a safe bet. For Ronald - mom's decision was easy - it had to be a new snow suit - Ronald's little body had just grown too fast for the old hand- me-down from Tim. The little tyke was right in complaining about it.
Shopping went flawlessly. At 4:30 in the afternoon, they met at the food section of the mall. Dad wanted to race back home so that they could make the Christmas Eve service at church. Tim growled and Sarah whined. Ronald didn't have an opinion. Walking the malls, running the malls with Dad trying to keep up with him had been enough. Now he was asleep in this stroller.
They decided to have a bite to eat while they made their decision, they would have to eat before their return to Pekoa Bay any ways.
The decision in the end was quite simple - Dad won. At six o'clock everything would close down. The shops would close. This down town mall would very quickly become empty. Everyone wanted to be home for Christmas Eve. So why be there if there was nothing to do. Dad wanted to be at their Christmas Eve service, and if not that, at least at home. They were just finishing up, close to 5 PM, already the sky was darkening outside. Dad went to start the car and warm it up. Mom, Tim and Sarah were going to get Ronald back into his snow pants and then go meet Dad at the car.
Ronald knew how to fight. And he fought back. He kicked, he pulled his legs back, he held them together - everything he could, just to make it almost impossible to get those tight fitting pants back on. They didn't even have the pants on when Dad came back in.
"Change of plan guys..."
"What's wrong dad?"
"The car won't start. I don't know what's wrong with it - it won't do anything. I'll have to call CAA for a boost."
A pay phone was found - the call made - but more bad news. It would be at least two hours before a tow truck could come out. The cold weather had stalled many cars - and they were now at the end of the list.
"Now what are we going to do?" Tim queried.
"We'll wait in here as long as we can - at least until they kick us out. It'll be at least 7 PM before the truck comes."
And sure enough - at 5 minutes to six - store fronts rattled as their entrance grills and doors were shut down. A few stragglers remained - but by 6:15 PM, most of the lights were out - the only people that were left, it seemed, were a few security guards and the Johnston family - and then the security guards came to them and told them that they had to be out of the mall by 6:30 PM because then the mall itself would be all locked up. Dad explained about the car - but there were no ifs ands or buts - they had to be out by 6:30.
This time they all fought with Ronald to get his tight fitting pants and coat on - and this time they won. At six thirty, they went out of the last unlock door, into the dark and bitterly cold parking lot of this Toronto shopping mall. The plan was to walk around until the truck came - after all they all had warm enough clothing, Mom had made sure of that.
The wind howled around the buildings of the mall as it blew around old dirty powdery snow that stung when it hit their faces. This was no pleasant walk, they had to keep on moving to stay warm. The wind seemed to enjoy this barren parking lot, in the lights they could see the snow swirl and form mini twisters as it curled around buildings. Tim remembered back to another time when he had a snowmobile accident that he was caught in weather like this - but this seemed just a little bit colder, more barren, harder to take.
They turned the corner of the brick building where it seemed the wind howled all the more. The left over garbage from a busy shopping day - Paper cups and shopping bags flew by.
"It sure is dirty and messy here." thought Sarah.
They didn't talk much, as they walked the most they heard was their own panting breaths, and the howl of the wind and tumbling of garbage strewn on the ground and...
Sarah heard it first - something more was in the howling of the wind
"Did you hear that?" Everyone stopped.
"What?" Dad asked.
"Listen!" Sarah said. They all stood silently - listening to the howling wind - for something more. There is was again
"You hear that?" Sarah exclaimed. It sounded just like the wind, but it was more, the sound of a baby crying. Mom heard it too. And this time it wasn't Ronald.
"We need to know where that is coming from. Be quiet!" Dad pointed out.
Again, in the howl of the wind they heard it - coming from the sheltered entrance to the mall just up ahead - they hurried toward the doorway.
There huddled in a corner they found her, hiding in the shelter of the walls and the doors, a young girl with hardly enough cloths on, seated, knees pulled up to her shivering chin on the cold concrete with a small child tucked under her thin coat. She too had been sent out of the mall by the security guards - now she was stuck out in the cold - and her body was getting too cold - and the baby in her arms was getting to cold - together, mother and child were crying.
Tim stood back, he didn't know what to think about this. Sarah wanted to do something to help this girl - but she did not know what she could do. Mom and Dad looked at each other. They had been stuck in cold weather with a baby on the way once. This time it was their turn. And they knew what to do.
"Tim - here's the keys - go to the car now and get dad's emergency parka. Sarah, take that big shopping bag - in it you will find Ronald's Christmas present - unwrap it while I take the snow suit off of Ronald." With that - Mom set to work. Within a minute, she had the top part of the old snow suit off of Ronald and was putting the warm suit on the baby. Now Ronald was crying too - he wanted to keep the old snow suit on because it was warm. But as usual, it came off a lot easier than it went on. Sarah got the job of putting the new, bigger suit on Ronald - he didn't like it much, it was cold but quickly it became warmer.
The young girl looked with amazement at these strangers who were dressing her baby with something warm. Tim came with the heavy parka, like her baby she swam in it - it was way to big for her - but it was warm - soon the baby stopped crying and so did she.
Dad introduced himself and mom and the family. And then he took the time to ask a few questions like
What's your name? "Charmaine."
And the baby's name? "Joelle."
"Do you have a place to go to where its warm?"
There was no answer to the last question - she started crying again. It took a long time for her to answer - a painful answer - someone she thought was a good and loving friend had kicked her out the day before - she had no where to go.
Right then the tow truck came and interrupted the conversation. As he tried to give Johnston family car a boost, he noticed the loose battery connection - tightened it - and bruum - their car started like nothing was wrong. Dad drove the car to the door where they were all standing around Charmaine and her baby - and they all piled into the car - Charmaine and Joelle too. It was a tight squeeze - but it was nice and warm.
With a few telephone calls, they found a women's shelter, and brought Charmaine and Joelle there. There she was welcomed with people who could provide for her and help her with the many problems she was facing. After spending a couple of hours there making sure Charmaine was secure and her baby comfortable, it came time to say goodbye.
Sarah had bought a nice big teddy bear for Ronald. Instead she gave it to Joelle and Charmaine. She could get Ronald another one. They gave her the parka and the snow suit. Charmaine cried when they said goodbye. She said "You were just like angels with shopping bags." And then the door closed.
Way to late to make the evening service, they simply drove home. But it had been a wonderful Christmas Eve. Sarah remarked how wonderful it was to give something like clothing to a person who really needed it.
Dad knew they had totally missed the Christmas Eve service so, while driving the car, they choose to sing a few Christmas carols and then he asked some trivia questions.
"What clothing did Mary put on Jesus?"
And then came a really hard question?
"What clothing did Jesus come to put on us?"
They were stumped.
"Let me give you a hint. We really need this clothing. Unless Jesus gives it to us, like Joelle, we would have died."
They were still stumped.
"Let me give you one more hint," Dad said. "In the bible we learn that we are sinners, and that sin is like clothing that we wear - but Jesus came to give us different clothing. Do you have any idea what it is?"
With hesitation - Sarah said - "Well it must be clean and white - because Jesus came to earth to wash our sins away."
Mom finally helped Tim and Sarah and Ronald out - "Dad - that's to hard for the kids - you mean the righteousness of God don't you. Jesus came to give us the purity and sinlessness of God, so that we can have eternal life. John - you have got to come up with better illustrations than that."
"But the point is" - Dad said - ‘Just like the clothing that we gave to Charmaine and Joelle were life savers - so the clothing that Jesus came to give us saves our lives from sin when we believe in him."
And then together they remembered how when Jesus came - angels came to, to announce the good news that God was giving to all of us a Savior, Jesus - who would save us from our sins. On that evening, they understood Christmas just a little bit better.
On that Christmas Eve, just before Tim and Sarah and Ronald fell asleep for the rest of the trip, Tim asked - "What was wrong with the car dad?
"Just some loose connection - but I just had the car serviced last week - and they told me everything was fixed and in excellent working order. I can't understand how that connection could have come loose..."
"Just imagine if it had not come loose..." Sarah wondered as she drifted off to sleep. And as her wondering turned to a dream, she saw Charmaine and Joelle together in a warm bed safe and alive with some new clothing laying on a dresser in the corner.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.