Photo credit: Peace Officer Ministries, Inc.
By Chaplain Steve Lee, Founder of POM
Edits and additions (prologue & epilogue)
by Rev. Frank C. Ruffatto current Executive Director, POM
with apologies to O. Henry
“But when the right time came, God sent his Son into the world.
A woman gave birth to Him, and He came under the control of God's laws.
God sent Him to pay for the freedom of those who were controlled by these laws
so that we would be adopted as His children.”
While I have some great childhood memories of Christmas, I now very often think of the Christmases I have shared with my wife and our kids over the years. I think of being caught up in our culture’s maddening gluttony of this season and how I often would lose sight of what this season is about.
One Christmas Eve, while moonlighting as security at a large toy store, I recall just being angry over the foolishness of people clashing over the last of a certain toy or game, not to mention the folks who would run to the door as we were closing it cursing our very existence for it. But, “hey I have a family too; and, I’d like to get back to them this evening!” As a young officer, I felt I needed the extra cash the moonlighting job would bring so that somehow I could bring my family the best Christmas ever. Again, I was missing the point; as my bride and my daughters would testify, “it is being together and sharing our faith that was most important.”
Yet, I have also seen folks who seem to get it and demonstrate it in small kindnesses to each other, helping and giving to another … at just the right time.
For you officers (and chaplains) – young and old – I pray for and encourage you (especially in light of the dangerous nature of your work) to be there at just the right time for your families; it will be the best gift you can give.
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea when Herod was king. After Jesus' birth wise men from the east arrived in Jerusalem. They asked, ‘Where is the one who was born to be the king of the Jews? We saw his star rising and have come to worship him.’ When King Herod and all Jerusalem heard about this, they became disturbed.”
Gazing at the light snow just outside the dining room window Donna broke her brief reverie and looked at the account balance again. She was more than disturbed; all she could do was shake her head. No way could she buy her Travis a decent Christmas present – certainly not one that could hold a candle to her love for him. Not with his rookie deputy’s paycheck. Not after paying bills and buying groceries. Not with quitting her job. Not with the baby coming. She peeked under the checkbook perched on her tabletop of a swollen stomach, and wrinkled her nose. So much for “family planning.” When they got married, less than a year ago, she and Travis made a half-hearted attempt at birth control, but both wanted a family, and besides, she could say anything but no to Travis, and Travis, God bless him, was impulsive – especially around her, it seemed. I hope he has better sense on the street, she thought with mock seriousness, or he’ll never survive. She stuck her tongue out at her absent husband, who, being at work as usual unfortunately wasn’t available for her to harass. Just then a tiny foot poked her in the ribs, and she smiled with anticipation. Oh well, like her folks always said, “might as well have ‘em – can’t ever afford ‘em anyway.”
Travis fingered the checkering on the polished wood of the Winchester Model 70 one last time. Sure had some good times bagging bucks with this old fire stick, he reminisced sadly. Tight-jawed, he rolled up the money on the counter and stuck it in his jeans. The hunting rifle his dad passed down to him was the only real valuable he had ever owned outright. Selling it was the hardest move of his young life. The gun shop owner acted like he was doing him a favor, but Travis knew better. No way would the classic gun last very long on Christmas display. Not with its smooth as silk pre-1964 action, rare caliber size, and beautifully grained custom stock. The shop owner had just made the deal of the season, and he and Travis both knew it. Oh well, he consoled himself, I can get another rifle someday - Lord willing and the creek don’t rise - but right now I need to take care of business, and I don’t have time to hunt anyway. He felt the money in his pocket and smiled. He could save some for the baby doctor, and buy his other baby a decent Christmas gift - one to match his love, if only that was possible.
“Then Herod secretly called the wise men and found out from them exactly when the star had appeared. As he sent them to Bethlehem, he said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. When you have found him, report to me so that I may go and worship him too.’ After they had heard the king, they started out. The star they had seen rising led them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They were overwhelmed with joy to see the star. When they entered the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary. So they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod.
So they left for their country by another road.”
Donna turned off the engine, but just sat in the truck, trying to collect herself. Finally she took a deep breath and eased herself out. Slowly wending her way up to the barn door, she pushed it open, carefully, so as not to strain herself. Stepping inside, she was greeted by the familiar whinny and head toss. Feels like when I was a girl, she thought, as her heart beat faster. Just like when I first spotted the blaze forehead and white stocking feet of this classic quarter horse. As she walked over to his corner stall she thought to herself, “It’s like he owns me, instead of the other way around.” Her thoughts were abruptly stopped as she stood in front of him.
“Hello, Bucky,” she cooed, as she stroked his face and reached in her pocket. “No barrel racing today - not in my condition - but at least I brought your carrot.”
A voice twanged out from another stall, “Over here, Donna, shovelin’ y’all know what.” The grizzled face of Mr. Gentry poked out from his chores. “Been waitin’ for you. What’s on your mind?”
Blinking back her tears, she kept her eyes on her horse. “Hello, Hank,” she finally answered. She stroked the gelding’s neck as he crunched his carrot, and then continued. “You’ve been real nice to stable Buck since I got married, and I thank you.”
She paused again. “You know that Travis and I have had some changes lately…it’s kind of obvious.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “I need to sell Buck. I’ve come by to see if you’re still interested…”
Travis eagerly ran his hand over the rich leather. “This saddle work is nice,” he exclaimed. The woman knew a sale when she saw it, but decided to cinch it tight anyway, so she laid her shoulder into the sales pitch and gave a pull. “Ten percent off for Christmas,” she winked.
“Then let’s do it,” was the response. “I know a certain barrel racer who’ll make good use of it. She deserves a saddle that’ll keep up with her and her horse.” Smiling, he bragged, “You ought to see her ride old Buck. Even running priority with lights and siren, I couldn’t catch her. The only reason I’m married today is she just happened to climb down off that four-legged rocket long enough for me to tackle and cuff her when she wasn’t looking.” He winked back, and reached for his wallet.
Donna pushed the note across the counter. “I wrote it down here, along with the kind of rifle he has. It’s got to be a Leupold, and it’s got to be what he called a ‘variable.’ He needs the mounting thingies, too. I heard him talking to another deputy about it once, and he said someday he was going to get a variable Leupold three to nine scope for his rifle, if he could ever afford it, and I didn’t want to forget, so I wrote it down. He deserves the best, so I want you to show me your best, and I want you to give me your best deal, because it’s Christmas, and because I’ve got cash, and because I’ve already priced the other places in town.” That last statement and the glint in her eye made the shop owner pause and think twice about getting top dollar from this pretty young pregnant woman. She might not know anything about guns, he observed to himself, but she definitely knew something about hunting…a deal.
The Gift of Giving
“[T]he time came for Mary to have her child. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there wasn't any room for them in the inn. Shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem. They were taking turns watching their flock during the night. An angel from the Lord suddenly appeared to them. The glory of the Lord filled the area with light, and they were terrified. The angel said to them, ‘Don't be afraid! I have good news for you, a message that will fill everyone with joy. Today your Savior, Christ the Lord, was born in David's city. This is how you will recognize Him: You will find an infant wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly, a large army of angels appeared with the angel. They were praising God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those who have His good will!’ The angels left them and went back to heaven. The shepherds said to each other, ‘Let's go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.’
Travis keyed the Motorola, and radioed, “10-7, on call-out,” to dispatch. Free at last - sort of. Unless the Baxter brothers stirred it up again at the Cowboy Korral bar. You would think that swill trough could at least shut down for Christmas Eve, he grumbled.
The good news about being a resident deputy was living in the country and being your own boss. The bad news was that you were never really off duty, and you never had enough backup. And callouts always seemed to come at the most awkward times. With all the interruptions in my life, he reflected ruefully, I’m amazed I had time to become a father.
Like a horse heading for the barn, he turned onto the gravel road and wound his 4x4 around the Gentry ranch snowdrifts. After briefly stopping at the ranch house to wish Hank and Dotty a Merry Christmas, he drove on and parked the sheriff’s rig in front of his singlewide mobile. It might only be a trailer, he told himself, but it sure wasn’t trash. He and Donna took good care of their first home, and Hank and Dotty’s Diamond D was an ideal place to park it. Their landlords gave them a break on rent, and they were all friends to boot. Everybody came away a winner, even the underpaid deputy. But no more beefs tonight, he resolved. Tonight, I count my blessings from the Lord, and give Him thanks. Tonight, I’m a millionaire. Tonight, I give the best wife in the world the best Christmas present she ever had. I can’t wait to see the look on her face. He closed the door, pulled on his gun belt and headed toward the door.
She saw the headlights through the kitchen window, and her heart started to race. “I can’t wait to see his reaction,” she thought, as she scurried to the door.
Even with his soft body armor on there was something about holding her that chased his worries to the moon, and filled him with life and hope and courage (of course he couldn’t let the guys at the station ever see the teary eyed expression he was now wearing). She succumbed for a moment, and then, impatient with excitement, broke free. “Open it,” she ordered, pointing to his present. “Santa Claus has nothing to do with this anyway. Open it now before we go to the candlelight service.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he saluted, and then faked, “I fear no man, including Santa Claus, but I’m scared to death of you.” Pulling the package out from under the tree, he sat down with her on the floor and began tearing away the wrapping. After a dramatic pause, he opened the box inside - and stopped, stunned.
She rushed to explain. “I was going to get you a scope for your rifle, but then I saw it in the display case. I had to get it back. I know how special it is to you, and I couldn’t bear for you to part with it. It’s your hunting rifle from your dad, and you can’t sell it, you precious man. We’ll be OK. We’ll cut some corners, and the Lord will provide.”
He reached out and touched the familiar checkering. Lightly rubbing it, his mind raced (and that pesky ‘teary-eyedness’ rose up in him). He quietly stammered, “But…the money…where… how?”
“Would you believe that while you’ve been working one side of the street this pregnant lady has been working the other side?” She smiled patiently at his still dumbfounded expression. “Oh, alright. I can tell you’re head-kicked, so no jokes. I sold Buck to Hank. After all, I’m not a barrel racer anymore – I’m the barrel. I was going to use the money to buy you a scope and set the rest aside for what’s ahead, but it took all I had just to get your gun back. The guy wouldn’t budge at first. But when I threatened to miscarry right there in his store, he surrendered for what I could pay.
So…I guess you’ll have to wait till next Christmas for your scope, and you’ll probably have to deliver the baby here at home, because I spent all my money rescuing your rifle.” Then she stopped and leaned against him. Taking his face in her hands, she said gently, “Travis, there’s things more important in my life now than my sweet old hay-burner, and you’re at the top of the list, right under God. I love you so much. Merry Christmas.” She kissed him.
Slowly, his eyes began to focus on her, and he started to smile. “Thanks, Sweetheart,” he told her. “I knew I had the best wife in the world. And the best deserves the best.” Taking her hands in his, he stood up and pulled her to her feet, toward the front door. “My turn,” he said. “Your present won’t exactly fit under the tree, so I need you to step outside.” Seeing her questioning look, he explained, “When I sold my rifle, I set some money aside for baby bills, and spent the rest on a new saddle for you. Funny thing was, when I went to try it out on your Buck, Hank informed me it was now his Buck. So of course I had to take the saddle back. Now, you’re the most beautiful barrel I know, but before long you’ll just be beautiful, and back in the saddle again, even if it is only your old one, because it took all the cash I had to get Hank to surrender too - maybe I can get you that new saddle next Christmas. To cut to the chase, Sweetheart, it seems my rifle is worth the same as your horse, and I guess we’re not done riding and shooting just yet. We’re back to where we started, Babe.”
Travis opened the door of their little home, and standing there were Hank and Dotty – holding Buck’s reins. “Merry Christmas, Donna,” Hank drawled. “I come to bring back your broken down mule. Your husband there done bought me off. Your swayback’s way too long in the tooth for me, anyhow. O’ course I could still look after him if you want.”
“Bucky!” Donna raced down the steps and wrapped her arms around her horse’s neck. A moment later she raced back up and wrapped them around her husband. She held him tight, and exclaimed, “Oh, my beautiful darling man, back to where we started, except for even more love!”
She sure can run fast for a pregnant lady, Travis thought. He took her in his arms, and there, in a night made warm, she kissed his problems far away, beyond the Christmas moon.
“[The shepherds] went quickly and found Mary and Joseph with the baby, who was lying in a manger. When they saw the child, they repeated what they had been told about Him. Everyone who heard the shepherds' story was amazed. Mary treasured all these things in her heart and always thought about them. As the shepherds returned to their flock, they glorified and praised God for everything they had seen and heard.
Everything happened the way the angel had told them.”
Angels reveal to shepherds the Good News of the Savior’s birth. The shepherds in turn announce the Good News to others. As you celebrate the glory of Christmas, know that the Ultimate Peace Officer whose birth we celebrate is your ultimate back up. And more, your vocation especially during this hustle and bustle season is a divine work (cf. Romans 13:4) of bringing peace at just the right time even and especially in the middle of the daily muck and mire with which you deal.
Christmas reminds us that in our changing world, God’s love remains constant.
His love that made us, bought us back from where we sold our souls.
Twice born, we joyfully give the wise man’s gift of love –
And discover it only grows when given away.
May you have a blessed Christmas!