Andy Williams was right, “Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.” You can forget any political war on Christmas. That’s as dumb as it gets!

Just about now, I always feel like a kid again. This is the season to reflect on the most poignant memories of our Christmases past. Warm thoughts of childhood, parents and family.

We all remember the best celebrations, the ones where we all made it together in spite of the weather.

I remember my mother crying whenever “Silent Night” played, my dad making sure that he always found a way to get me and often my kids that special gift that we hoped for. Dad was a great guy to whom family meant everything. He taught me to remember how lucky we were. He also always reminded me that “the janitor is just as important as the chief executive officer.”

My folks did not wear their religious beliefs on their sleeves, but they sure taught me the true meaning of Christmas.

“It’s simple, Don,” they said.” Christmas is love!”

As I grew older, I understood what they meant. John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

As an only child, I especially understood the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of God’s incredible act of love.

It really is simple, isn’t it? We celebrate Christmas out of gratitude for what God did for us. We needed a savior, Christ died for us.

This knowledge, comforted and guided me during the final days of my parents’ lives. Reassuring words during my mother’s long final hospital stay caused her to jokingly call me “my son, the minister” to the nurses and to confess that she had finally found peace. As I prayed at my dad’s bed, firmly grasping his hand, he awoke, looked at me, and softy spoke, “Don,” as he passed on. It had been five years suffering from severe Alzheimer’s disease, that up to that moment, he had known no one.

More proof that God is there when you need him was provided me in June 2000. The physician’s assistant in the emergency room told me, “The CAT scan shows what we believe to be a cancerous tumor in your colon.” My wife wept, but I had a true spiritual experience. I could feel a wonderful presence there in the ER. I said to Gaby, “I am going to be all right, Jesus just told me so!” Thirteen days later, with half a colon now, I went home.

That was 13 years ago, I just had another birthday on Tuesday.

I related my experience to my old friend and golfing partner, Bob Washburn, a couple of years ago as he lay in the hospital suffering with cancer.

It was near Christmas. Now, past 90, Bob was still not a believer. He told me that it was while in college that he was convinced by his science professor that there is no God.

I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to give him my limited knowledge on the subject. He wouldn’t hear of it. Each time I visited or called him, I would try to soften his heart for God. I bought a little gold cross and took it to him.

“I don’t want to mislead you, Don, I cannot wear that,” he said. Finally I tried a new tack. He was a very intelligent man. He had common sense. I posed the question: “What if you are wrong, Bob, what have you got to lose by giving yourself to Jesus, just like he gave himself for you? Just think Bob, If I am right, you will have eternal life.” No reaction.

I’ll never forget the phone call at that midnight. “Don, this is Bob, I’m wearing the cross you gave me, I had the nurse put it on for me.”

The days that followed became tougher as the pain reached intolerable heights.

Bob would call late at night. “Why is Jesus letting me suffer so?” “I believe you are being tested by him, Bob, you are feeling the pain of Jesus on the cross,” I said. Remember God loves you, and so do I.” I added. His answer came back, “All right Don, I’m ready, I believe in Jesus, I know now that he is my savior.”

The phone rang the next morning. It was Bob’s daughter. “Dad died this morning.”

I sure miss Bob’s presence, but I will always remember that Christmas. It was my best ever, because I knew my old friend had just won the biggest bet of his life. (The one that we made together.)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Don Roberts is a former city councilor and vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta. He is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District, and a representative to the Legislative Policy Committee of Maine Municipal Association.

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