It was the most unusual and yet maybe one of the best gifts we ever received.
But we received it after one of the worst winter disasters in Texas history: “The Great Texas Freeze” of February 2021.
Over a ten-day period, three cold fronts swept across the state that brought sustained frigid temperatures and a massive power grid failure. As a result, at various times across this period, 4.5 million Texas were without electricity.
One of them was my mother-in-law, who lived 120 miles away. I was fortunate to have power during this whole experience. Because I live one mile from a major hospital, our section of the grid is apparently a priority when it comes to power stability. Still, we muddled through ice-packed roads to retrieve NaNa so she could shelter with us until things improved.
Now, two years later, we are still learning from and contemplating this disaster.
Several hundred deaths were attributed to the cold and the power failure. Millions of dollars in property damage occurred. We saw this with family and friends. We spent a half day helping some close friends remove water-soaked carpet and valuables caused by a broken water pipe.
It took eight months to put their house back together.
A warm church
Three days into the big freeze, I got a call early one morning from the medical director of one of our hospitals. A nursing home in our city had lost power and the residents needed to relocate. The hospital would take the neediest residents, but there were about twenty-five who needed housing for a few days. He asked if our church could become their temporary home.
I gladly agreed even though I had no plan.
Within hours our church family mobilized into action. With the great efforts of our staff, our members, and the leadership of one of our members who is a nursing manager, we were able to house these tender seniors in our church.
Midway through our preparations, we received a second distress call from a second nursing home whose pipes had burst and flooded their facility. They arrived a few hours later via a bus that looked like an updated version from the 4077th MASH unit.
It was amazingly beautiful to see our worship center covered with cots, wheelchairs, canes, and walkers occupied by white, blue, and bald heads. Warm meals were provided by the Texas Baptist Men, old Western movies starring John Wayne played on the big screen, and the McKinney mayor and his wife came to sing for the group one night.
It was a powerful adventure of the church being the church.
A comforting gift
Two weeks later, I received a heavy box of what I thought were books from the weight of it.
When I cut into the top, I was shocked to find brand-new pillowcases. I couldn’t imagine why we ordered pillowcases. Looking further into the box, we discovered that these were special, super-soft pillowcases made of refined cotton. We also found a note that gave a brief explanation.
The pillowcases were a gift to our staff from one of the seniors who’d “camped out” in our church for a few nights. The comforting pillowcases were his way of thanking us for the comfort we’d extended to him and the other chilly seniors seeking warmth and safety.
That pillowcase comforted me to sleep last night as it has for almost two years now.
I’m grateful for comfort whenever it comes and from whatever source. I’m grateful for Eli Whitney and his cotton gin. I’m grateful that God created cotton. I’m grateful for our senior guest and his unique gift of thoughtful comfort.
Christmas is God’s gift of ultimate comfort.
A word of comfort
Seeing his beloved people and world covered in the dark abrasiveness of sin, God sent Jesus to be our comfort. Isaiah is the prophet of God’s comfort. He foretold that “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV).
He went on to describe the comforting king who would come with these now familiar words: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
Just today I heard an unnamed radio preacher explaining how we desperately need the insightful truth that only a divine counselor can give. We need a fully powerful God who can make and keep his promises. To have real comfort, we need a permanent father, not a passing fad. And only a savior with the noble character of a prince would bring us the comforting peace that is longed for the world over.
I’d never heard it that way before. Those brief words based on God’s word and spoken by God’s man brought me real comfort.
That is the grand privilege of being a pastor at Christmas time and every week. To know God and to speak, not just about him or for him but from him, and about his unconditional, unlimited love and grace for sinners.
“The God of all comfort”
Recently, I toured a crisis pregnancy center. This renewed ministry is saving the lives of the unborn and their parents daily.
Just inside the door of this front-line ministry, a profound piece of art carries this message: “God brings beauty out of brokenness.”
To our brokenness, he brings the beauty of Christ’s eager service and sacrifice for us. As pastors and servants, broken ourselves yet in the process of being fully reborn by grace, we get to point other broken sisters and brothers to the healing comfort God provided that first Christmas and every Christmas.
You know these powerful words of comfort and invitation: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).
Will you ask God to bring his comfort through your words and actions this Christmas week?
When you do, you’ll be fulfilling the prophetic words of Isaiah, who also wrote, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1). As you do, God will work through you to help your hearers “mount up with wings like eagles” (vv. 28–31).
One last thought
My friend and fellow pastor Gerald Griffin at Preston Ridge Baptist Church in Frisco, Texas, was working on his Christmas message a couple of days ago. He sent me this quote by John Piper from his preparation. It was worth sharing and might be useful for you this week.
The incarnation is the preparation of nerve endings for the nails. . . . The incarnation is the preparation of a brow for thorns to press through. He needed to have a broad back so that there was a place for the whip. He needed to have feet so that there was a place for spikes. He needed to have a side so that there was a place for the sword to go in. He needed cheeks, fleshy cheeks, so that Judas would have a place to kiss and there would be a place for the spit to run down that the soldiers put on him. He needed a brain and a spinal column, with no vinegar and no gall, so that the exquisiteness of the pain could be fully felt.
Better than the other side of your pillow, his cradle, cross, and crown are our true and overflowing comfort!