Christmas is now just days away and you’ve somehow found your way to this blog hosted by Embrace Church. You’re probably expecting some sort of deep theological thought on the incarnation or maybe hoping for a final advent devotional to bring a bit of peace to the mounting chaos. I’ll go ahead and let you know that this won’t be any of those things, but it might just be something you remember. For myself, it’s about something I will never forget.
It all started on the Christmas morning of 1985 when a big square box was slid across the floor in my direction. It was neatly wrapped in Christmas paper, solid and heavy. There was no bow on it, just a nametag securely taped on that read, “To Rhinestone, From Unc”. Rhinestone – that was the special name I took on from my Mom’s brother, J.C. Ledbetter, whom we all affectionately call “Unc”. As a young boy he appropriately derived the nickname from my escapades of singing and acting out the Glenn Campbell hit song, I’m a Rhinestone Cowboy. (He still calls me Rhinestone today…but mostly “Rhine” for short.)
I ripped the paper off the box with the vigor of any 11-year-old boy on Christmas morning and with some work broke through the second seal of tape on the box. Then I pulled the two top flaps open – that’s when the angels began to sing. I found myself staring down at a huge box layered rim to rim with Black Cat firecrackers, each pack bearing a folded strand of 200! It felt like I had just opened a case of solid gold. I’m sure the thin red paper and golden eyes of the Black Cat logo were reflecting off my face. I think I remember hearing some cautious murmurs in the background from my Mom and Dad while Unc just remained quiet with a steady grin.
It wasn’t long before I was outside lighting off whole strands of 200 at a time that were hung from a tree limb near our driveway. The long powerful blasts rang through the woods of our quiet little dead end street, East University Drive. I kept up the antics through the afternoon and some of our neighbor friends joined in on the fun. But it wasn’t until after the big family dinner that night when things really got interesting.
Our whole family ended up piling into my Uncle’s brand new van he had driven up from Louisiana to ride around town to look at Christmas lights. It was pretty tricked out, a burgundy Ford conversion van loaded with captain’s chairs that swiveled around and interior mood lights running along the ceiling and floorboard. And for some strange reason I had also brought along part of my stash of firecrackers.
Now I’m not sure how it all began or if there was actual intent before our departure, but somewhere along the way a plan was hatched to light off a cool 200 firecrackers on the front porch of a few of our “friends”. To my great surprise and pleasure, this talk quickly seemed to turn towards reality and we decided to start at the home of the pastor of our church!
So let me give you the scene here. Unc is behind the wheel of his swanky new conversion van, Mom’s in the passenger’s seat. Dad, my sister Emily and I are stowed in the back, along with my great Aunt Lois who was in her 70’s at the time! We make a drive-by to case out the joint and quietly park a little further down in a more optimal getaway position. The door quietly slides open and my whole family sends me out as the runner. Crouching and moving across the lawn like Rambo, I quietly make my way to the front porch. I’m shaking by now. Remember, I’m in the 5th grade and about to light off 200 mini sticks of dynamite on the front porch of my pastor. My entire family is in the van as my getaway ride.
I stretch the payload across the threshold and after a few tries with a cheap Bic lighter the fuse is lit. I then proceed to RUN FOR MY LIFE! About four steps into my escape the blasting starts. I don’t look back and keep sprinting until I dive into the van where Unc puts the pedal to the floor as someone slides the door closed. By the time anyone gets to the front door we are around the corner and out of sight. It was all so incredibly strange and beautiful at the same time. We all laughed and cried so hard – the kind of laughing that makes you just flat out silly, with tears streaming down your face, leaving your sides hurting and cheeks sore the next day.
We made the rounds to about four other family friends that night, all in fun and some weird kind of endearing love – something I’m sure you couldn’t get away with these days. A few times Emily even snuck up to the porch with me to get in on the action. And by some miracle we made it back home without arrest or incident. Of course there were wonderful rumors around our circles of friends in the weeks that followed but we all just stayed somewhat quiet and let it die down while we smiled big on the inside.
And amazingly, the next year we did the whole thing all over again…and the year after that as well. Yes, three straight years of mischievous Christmas delight with my family that will forever be etched into my mind and story. I tell my kids some of this stuff and they look at me like I’m crazy and there is no way it is true. You might be thinking the same as well.
So while of course I don’t want to suggest any illegal behavior or anything that could cause hurt or harm, I do hope you press into the awe and wonder of the extraordinary this Christmas, maybe even in some unconventional ways. Maybe it can even be something that makes you laugh yourself silly, with tears streaming down your face and sore cheeks the next morning. I think Jesus would absolutely delight in that sight, especially on the day of his birth.
Merry Christmas everyone!