The Johnsons are a family with four children. They live in a very modest two bedroom home in the heart of their town. The railroad tracks are two blocks away and the trains can be clearly heard all throughout the night and day. 343 Bertha Road was not the prettiest place, but it was their home.
On Dec. 14 the children found something on their doorstep. It was wrapped in newspaper. They brought it into their house and set it on the kitchen table. Mom was finishing dinner and dad was changing clothes to get ready for his night shift.
The kids started to open this mysterious package and once they got through the wad of newpaper, they found inside a ceramic piece that looked like a farm. The 7 year old boy lifted it up and said, “What is it Mom?”
Mom wiped her face, poured out the water from the potatoes and said, “I am not quite sure, but it looks like a barn to me.”
The boy then carried it over to his Dad who was tightening the belt on his shop work outfit and said, “Dad, what do you think?”
“Well, I think your Mom may be right.”
“What do we do with it,” asked the boy.
“Well why don’t we put it over by our Christmas tree?” says Dad as he points to the tree that was cut out of a cardboard box with crayon colored ornaments by the children.
The boy smiles and takes the piece over to the tree and sets it on the floor.
The next night, at about the same time, the children found another package, wrapped the same way on their doorstep. This time when they opened it, it had a small ceramic cow in it.
The oldest child said, “Oh a cow? Oh wait, so maybe the first piece was a barn! Maybe this goes with it.”
Mom agreed and asked, “Do you think we should put it with the other piece?”
“Yep, that’s what I’m gonna do.” And so the oldest walked over to their tree and placed the cow right by the barn. After doing so, he asked, “Where are these things coming from? Who is giving them to us?”
“Well, I am sure we will find out, but I kind of like this mystery,” Mom said.
For the next 9 nights, all the way up to Christmas Eve, the same pattern was repeated. Right around dinner time, before Dad had to go to his night job, the kids found a package wrapped in newspaper. After the cow came a sheep, then a horse, then a chicken, then 3 men, another man, and a woman. On this night, Christmas Eve, the children found a small wood feeding trough. This time, Mom asked if she could carry it to the tree. The children agreed and Mom carried the trough and placed it under their tree. Now they had 11 things under their tree, even though there were no wrapped presents.
Tonight was different though. Tonight, Dad and the 3 older boys were going to church to help deliver some gifts to people. They were asked to help out because Dad drove an old wood paneled Ford station wagon and could hold a lot of gifts to deliver to people. Dad’s boss allowed him to come in a few hours later so he could help out on the service project. Dad wanted his boys to participate too so they could learn the spirit of service and of giving.
While driving to church, the oldest boy who was seated in the front said, “this is kind of fun, we get to play Santa! I wish we would be able to see the faces of the kids getting the presents.”
“Yea, that would be great. But it is good enough to know that we are helping to make it happen. Right?” reminded Dad.
“I guess so.”
When they arrived at the church, there were a good number of cars in the parking lot and lots of people carrying things in and out.
The boys’ eyes opened widely as they saw all of the wrapped presents sorted in the church gym. The Dad told them not to touch anything until they were told which gifts to get.
Then one of the church leaders came up to the Dad and said, “Mr. Johnson, we are so glad you were able to come help us out tonight. It is really a blessing for us and we know it will be a blessing for the family as well.”
Dad, humbled, said, “Well we have to thank my boss, he is the one who gave me a few hours off tonight to be here. I will be sure to let him know you appreciate it.”
His boss happened to also go to the same church. In fact, he was out in the parking lot helping to load up a pickup truck with some gifts.
“Well, I have already thanked him. He is here tonight and he is out delivering a tree to someone right now.”
Dad, knowing that his time was short asked, “So what would you like us to do?”
The man directed him to a huge stack of presents over in the corner of the gym. “We have this big delivery right here that needs to go out. Can you and your boys fit that in your car?”
Dad sized up the situation, and said, “Boys what do you think?” The boys were just so excited that they got to deliver the packages that all they could say was, “Let’s do it!”
The boys enthusiastically started picking up packages when Dad had to warn them, “Be careful boys, we don’t want to break anything. Please walk slowly.”
One by one, the boys and the Dad carried the packages to their car. Dad had to do some careful arranging to get everything in and the smallest boy had to sit on his brother’s lap to make extra room for the last few packages.
When the boys were situated in the car, Dad realized that he did not have the address to deliver the packages. He walked back into the church building and as he was walking in, the church leader was walking out with a piece of paper in his hand and said, “Oh, I thought you might need the address to deliver these gifts” and he handed Dad the address.
“I thought the same thing! I was about to drive off with the boys when I realized we might need that.”
Dad looked down at the address to see if he recognized where he would be going.
The church leader said, “Let me know if you need directions.”
Dad saw the address, 843 Bertha Rd, and his heart skipped a beat. He looked up at the leader and said, “There must be a mistake. This is my address.”
The leader looked Dad in the eyes and smiled. “There is no mistake. That is the exact address that these gifts are to be delivered. Merry Christmas Tom. We love you and your family.”
Dad couldn’t move. He bowed his head, sniffed, wiped his eyes and then looked up. “Thank you,” he softly muttered in a crackled tone. “Thank you.”
“Now go deliver those packages. I know there are some children who are going to really enjoy them.”
Dad turned and walk to his car. The boys were bouncing up and down on the seats.
“So where are we going Dad, where are we going?” They barraged him until he finally looked at them and said, “We are going to deliver these gifts to a special family with some very special children.” He rubbed his eyes.
Dad turned the key on his wagon and when it finally started, he pulled out and started driving. It was not a far drive to their home.
When he turned onto Bertha Road, one of the boys said, “Wow, they live on our street! How cool is this? I bet we know them!”
As they approached their home, the boys looked toward the house and saw something glowing in their window. “Dad, what is that?” Dad saw the glow and wondered as well, but considering what happened at the church, he thought he had an idea.
“I’m not sure.” Let’s go see.
“But dad, we’ve got to deliver these gifts first”
“Don’t worry, we will.”
As Dad turned the car into the short drive and brought it to a stop, the boys exploded out of the car to start running into the house to see what that glow was behind the closed shades.
“Whoa, hold on a minute,” barked Dad. “We have got to deliver these gifts first. Start grabbing them.”
The kids looked at each other confused. “Are we going to carry them over to someone’s house?”
“Yes, we are going to carry them into our house.”
The boys were still confused, but learned to do what their father said.
Dad grabbed a few packages and walked into the house first. His guess was right. He saw Mom sitting in her rocking chair with their 8 month old baby in her arms sleeping. She was rocking back and forth with no lights on, other than those on their beautifully decorated 6 foot Christmas tree. The twinkling lights reflected off of the silver and gold ornaments and directly into Mom’s tired, but welcoming eyes.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” she spoke softly.
The boys followed in behind Dad and the youngest dropped the gifts he was carrying on the floor when he saw the tree. Dad knelt down next to Mom and gave her a small kiss on her forehead.
The youngest asked, “Is all this for us?” The boys looked at each other hoping they got the answer they wanted.
Dad nodded in the affirmative.
“Then why did Santa leave them for us at the church?”
Dad hugged the little boy and whispered, “Oh these gifts are from someone even more special than Santa. Santa will still be here, although, I think he has a very different type of gift in store for us.
The little boy thought for a moment and looked at his brothers, “Well that’s ok, I think there is already enough for us right here.”
Fighting hard to hold back his tears, Dad stands up. “Let’s get the rest of these gifts in here and then it is off to bed for the lot of you.”
After getting their gifts in, Dad takes the boys back to their room, makes sure teeth are clean and prayers said and then tucks them in and gives them this admonishment: “Don’t try to catch Santa. You go straight to sleep!” After a few feeble objections, the boys acquiesce and comply with their father. Dad shuts off the light and closes the door.
He then walks into his bedroom and opens his small sock drawer. At the very back underneath the faded and worn socks, dad finds a small figurine. He goes over to his closet and gets a small brown cardboard box and carefully places the figurine into the box. He remembers the windy October day when he found the set at a garage sale nearby. Grabbing a pen from the front of his work shirt he writes “Open Last” on the box.
He walks to the tree and pulls out all the other special and mysterious deliveries that arrived on their doorstep somehow over the past 11 nights and he arranges the scene. He places the small brown box in the middle and looks up at his wife and smiles. He gets up, kisses again on the forehead. “I love you dear. I should be off work by 7.”
Dad leaves the house and drives to work for his night shift at the shop.
Working through the night, Dad gets a call on the shop phone at 6. It is his boss. He is told to leave early to go home with his family with no loss of pay. The grateful Dad thanks his boss and hangs up the phone. On the way out, he takes an open envelope out of the trash and writes “Thank you and Merry Christmas” on the back and leaves it on his boss’ chair.
When he gets outside, he sees that a light snow had been falling for some time as there is a little accumulation on his windshield, which brushes away easily. He passes the church on his way and remembers the moment last night when he realized the gifts were for his family.
When he walks in the house, his wife and children are in the kitchen. They looked surprised as they see Dad home almost an hour early. One of them said, “You are not supposed to be here!”
“Gee thanks”, Dad chuckles.
The 7 year old comes up and reveals, “Dad, we are making you a surprise breakfast. It is your favorite!”
Dad looked over their shoulders to see toast and oatmeal. He would always tell them that was his favorite breakfast when they asked him why he ate it so much.
After joyfully and ostentatiously enjoying his favorite breakfast, Dad asked the boys, if they wanted to see what Santa brought them. Not even needing an answer, they all walked the few steps into their very small and cozy living room.
The boys noted that the scene had been moved to the front. Dad told them that Santa must have done that.
After the boys opened the presents over gleeful sounds and exclamations, Dad asked them to come sit by him at the front of the tree.
“There is one last gift for us this morning. In fact, while all the cool toys and clothes you just opened are wonderful, this gift is so much better.
“Do you know the reason we open gifts on Christmas morning? We give gifts in honor of the birth of our Savior Jesus. There is one last gift to open.”
Dad hands the gift to the 7 year old boy. “Please open this for me.”
The boy opens the cardboard box and finds a small baby. His older brother says, “I know where that goes” and places the baby in the feed trough in the middle of the scene.
He looks up at his Mom, then his Dad and says, “Merry Christmas.”
“Yes, now it is.”