A Christmas Mystery


“Authorities are investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of well known humanitarian, 86 year old Patrick Joseph O’Reily whose body was discovered in his home by police early Christmas morning. They were alerted by an observant snow–plow driver who reported O’Reily’s front door was wide open, and the house lit up like a hundred Christmas Trees.”

“Although he apparently died of natural causes, police have not ruled out the possibility of foul play. There were no footprints in the foot of fresh fallen snow within a hundred yards of his home. However, evidence indicates O’Reily entertained at least five people for dinner shortly before his death. The open door showed no sign of being forced. Family members insist O’Reily would never leave the door unlocked at night, and as far as they knew he had expected only one guest for dinner. They also stated it was highly doubtful the guest would attend.”

“Reported missing and unaccounted for was a little girl’s red winter coat which he kept for sentimental reasons. Everyone authorities interviewed said he would never willingly part with that particular coat. Evidence at the scene indicates O’Reily was crying profusely when he died. Mental health professionals theorize O’Reily’s death was a classic example of an old man who died of a broken heart. Although the Christmas day issue of the Burlington Free Press contained numerous articles, this one really captured the attention of most people.”

The son of Irish immigrants, Pat had worked many years at the University of Vermont until he retired when he turned sixty- five. Together with his wife and childhood sweetheart Molly, they raised four children through whom they were blessed with eleven grandchildren and twenty-three great grandchildren. They lived in a modest home on Winter Berry Lane in Champlain, Vermont.

One night a week after celebrating their sixty -third wedding anniversary, Pat and Molly kissed goodnight as they customarily did before going to bed. The next morning, a morning Pat would never forget, he awoke to discover that Molly his best friend for most of his life was in Heaven. His loss was compounded exactly two months to the day later when little Peggy, the youngest of his great grandchildren was suddenly rushed to the Fletcher Allen Health Care. Six hours later, God called her home to Himself. Pat was heart broken and was as grieved as he had ever been before. By the grace of God he was able to accept these losses as being ordained by He who is perfect in love and infinite in wisdom.

Although the separation was painful, Pat was never lonesome. He spent lots of time with family and visited folks in the hospital and nursing homes. He drove neighbors to doctor’s appointments and somehow even found time to visit imprisoned neighborhood youth who had all too often been referred to as losers. To Pat they were like the rest of us, fallen human beings created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore, persons to be loved.

Christmas was fast approaching and Pat’s thoughts returned to a certain Christmas Eve many years ago when he was twelve years old. He recalled reading the Biblical narrative concerning the birth of the Christ Child, and marveled at all the supernatural happenings. There were angels, shepherds and sheep, dreams, wise men and a wondrous star. The cast of characters included Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Joseph, Mary, Caesar, Augustus, Quirinius, King Herod, a prophetess named Anna and a devout old man called Simeon.

The account of the Lord’s unique blessing of Simeon was something that was destined to stay with Pat the rest of his life. One verse in particular seemed to leap off the page and embed itself deep into his heart. “It had been revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ” (Luke 2:26). This verse had made such an impression on Pat that he memorized it immediately. For some unexplainable reason he was to recall it daily for the rest of his 86 years on earth. He wished God would bless him in the same way He had Simeon some 2,000 years previously. Not a day went by that Pat didn’t lift up this particular desire in prayer.

He never got discouraged despite the fact that many a Christmas came and went without him seeing Jesus. He had learned many years ago to accept God’s timetable and trusted Him to do what He alone knew was for Pat’s ultimate good and His own glory. As he grew older and realizing his days were coming to an end he prayed more fervently.

The first Christmas without Molly and Peggy was five days away. The closer it came the more Pat’s thoughts wandered back to the Lord’s blessing of Simeon. Then a strange thing happened. Faint at first but nevertheless unmistakable, Pat got the distinct impression that the Lord was about to grant him his heart’s desire after all these years. With each passing day the feeling became more intense.

Try as he might Pat was unable to shake it. At first, he attributed it to wishful thinking and so did not mention it to anyone lest they think he was a fool. Nevertheless, Pat still prayed each day for this special blessing. The more he prayed, the more he became convinced God would let him see Jesus this Christmas Eve as He had Simeon a long time ago. And, that wasn’t all! Pat somehow knew that Jesus would have dinner with him as well. “How can this be?” he asked the Lord repeatedly. The Lord’s response was always the same, “Trust Me”. And Pat did.

By now he was emboldened by his God given faith. His spirit soared, prompting him to share this good news with anyone willing to listen. Some folks brushed Pat off as an old religious fanatic and warned their children of the consequence of getting mixed up with religion. “It will make you crazy,” they said. Others believed the recent loss of Molly and Peggy was more than he could handle and had finally driven him over the edge. They felt sorry for the poor old guy.

His family know differently. They knew he had a strong, mature faith. They had seen it in action many times. It had been an inspiration to them. They marveled at it. Nevertheless they pointed out to Pat the fact that Jesus had told His disciples that no one except God the Father knew when Jesus would return. And that included Pat they reminded him. “You’ve got to use your head and not rely on feelings, Dad. We must always interpret our feelings, in the light of what God has reveled to us in the Bible,” they pleaded. Pat had drilled this truth into each of them for as long as they could remember, and now here he was hearing one of his own sermons being preached to him.

Pat’s children insisted he not spend Christmas Eve alone. “No one should be alone,” they reasoned. “I won’t be alone,” Pat assured them. “Look,” said Pat. “I’ve been praying for the Lord to bless me like He did Simeon for a long time now. I started asking God for this blessing before any of you were born. I prayed it before I met your mother. I pray it every day. And now just as the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the same Holy Spirit had revealed to me that this Christmas Eve I will see Jesus and have dinner with Him to boot. “You know what?” Pat asked them. “This Christmas Eve will be the high point of my life. And you kids want me to pass it up? No way,” he added.

Try as they might they were unable to move him. When word got back to them that their father was seen in the supermarket buying groceries for a Christmas Eve dinner for his special guest Jesus, they became embarrassed for him. But they knew they couldn’t persuade their dad to change his mind. “As long as no one gets hurt we might as well leave him alone with his dream. What harm can come to him or anyone else for that matter?” they thought.

Christmas Eve arrived and Pat was busy in the kitchen preparing the dinner. The table was set for two and looked as nice as any of the tables Molly had set all those many years. Oh how he missed her and Peggy. He wished they could be here with him, but knew it was impossible. He took a break and sat down in his rocker next to the window; looking out to see if there was any sign of Jesus.

The freezing December day had given way to evening. A beautiful starlit sky illuminated a foot of fresh fallen snow, which with the absence of any wind lay exactly where it had tumbled down from the heavens. The street was deserted. The plow hadn’t been down and from past experience probably wouldn’t make a pass for several more hours. They always got to the secondary roads last. “It will be tough going for any one out tonight”, he thought. “Tough that is for anyone except Jesus.”

Inside Pat’s home the aroma of baked ham and cloves, Brussels sprouts and candied yams and apple pie sprinkled with cinnamon permeated the whole house. Steam from the pots and pans on the stove -top fogged up the windows. Pat wiped a pane clear and looked out again for any sign of Jesus. The big hand on the old kitchen clock was approaching 6, the time he had planned to serve dinner. His eyes darted from the stove to the clock and then once again out the window. He was as full of eager anticipation as little children about to open their presents on Christmas morning.

The old clock started to chime. He looked out the window and saw the figure of a person wading through the snow with something clutched in its arms. The person was headed directly towards his house. At the exact sound of the sixth chime on the old kitchen clock, there was a knock on his door. Pat’s heart leaped for joy. He quickly opened the door and got the disappointment of his life.

A young woman, obviously tired and exhausted, stood just outside his door. “I’m sorry to bother you mister. We’ve been making our way through the snow for over an hour. We’re on our way back from the doctor’s office. I couldn’t go any further without stopping somewhere to rest. Would you mind if we just stayed out here on your porch and sat awhile? We won’t be any trouble.” “Of course I mind,” said Pat. “That’s no place to rest. Come on in where it’s warm.” The woman accepted his invitation. Once inside, she removed the blanket revealing a very little girl the woman called Annie. “She’s just about the size of my Peggy,” Pat thought to himself.

“Why don’t you folks sit over here until you’re warmed up?” Pat suggested. “Are you sure we’re not intruding?” the woman asked as she glanced at the table and stove. “Of course not,” answered Pat. “I’m hungry,” said Annie. “Hush,” said the woman. “It’s all right,” said Pat as he once again returned to the window to see if there were any sign of Jesus.

He peered out of the cleared off window and to his surprise saw a car slowly inching its way through the deep snow. It got stuck right in front of Pat’s home. Two men got out and started pushing the car from the rear. The engine roared and the tires spun furiously. Pat asked the woman to watch the stove. He grabbed his hat and coat, a bucket of sand and a shovel, and then scurried through the snow as fast as his 86-year-old legs would take him.

Upon reaching the car he asked the men if he could help. They gratefully agreed. Pat quickly put the shovel and sand to work and had the car out of the rut in no time. They thanked him and got back into the car, which moved a couple of feet before the engine conked out. After several futile attempts to restart it, they looked at each other and then at Pat, seemingly at a loss as to what to do next. It was a familiar scenario for Pat. Throughout the years many a car had run into problems in front of his home. This evening was different however. It was Christmas Eve, and there would be a long wait before Pat would be able to get them assistance. “It’s going to be some time before I can get you folks any help. There’s no sense in standing out here in the freezing cold,” he added as he invited them in. “In fact why don’t you stay for dinner?” “Jesus would understand,” Pat reasoned silently.

Pat’s guests enjoyed the dinner he had prepared. Still thinking and hoping Jesus would arrive soon, Pat ate very little. He decided not to tell them about his expected visit from Jesus. “No point in putting a damper on their dinner,” Pat thought. The conversation was pleasant. It seems the three stranded travelers were on a special assignment for their boss. A coworker of theirs for whom the boss had a very special warm spot in his heart was in need of some company this Christmas Eve. “What a nice gesture,” Pat said. The men agreed. “No one could work for a better boss,” they added.

Later when they had finished dinner, the driver stole a quick glance at the old kitchen clock and gave the signal to his two companions who nodded in agreement. “We better be going,” the driver said. “But the car won’t start,” Pat protested. “I got a feeling it will,” the driver replied. “How can you possibly think that?” Pat asked. “Have you ever had a strong impression God was about to answer a particular prayer of yours, Pat?” the driver asked. “Yes I have,” Pat replied. “But I always confirm my feeling by what God says to us through the Bible.” “Have you ever been wrong Pat?” the taller of the men asked. “No, I haven’t”, Pat answered. “Well, neither have any of us,” the driver added. Pat dropped the subject.

The men offered the woman and Annie a lift, which was readily accepted. “Is it still cold out there?” Annie asked no one in particular. “It’s colder than before we came in,” one of the men replied. “I don’t want to be cold anymore,” Annie said. “I’ll wrap you up in your blanket again,” the woman said. “No need for that Annie” Pat chimed in. “I would like to give you this red coat,” he added. “It’s a really good one. It will keep you warm, and you will surely look pretty in it?” The woman and Annie quickly accepted his offer. “Now I know why I could never bring myself to give Peggy’s coat away. I always knew I should hang onto it,” he said to himself as he removed the coat hanging from the hook next to his own near the front door. “Allow me young lady,” Pat said as he held the coat up to assist her. “Wow, she looks almost as nice as my Peggy did,” Pat thought.

He escorted his five guests to the door and wished them God speed and a Merry Christmas. The last one out was the taller of the men. As he shook Pat’s hand, he reached over and unseen by Pat flicked the button on the door lock so that when he closed it behind himself it wouldn’t lock. Pat was none the wiser. By now he was too tired to notice.

Pat went over to the front window and sat in his rocking chair. He wiped the steam from the window and watched his guests get into the car. He was surprised the engine started right up. For the life of him he couldn’t figure out how this could happen. But happen it did and Pat was happy for them. He watched as the car moved through the snow and slowly made it’s way out of sight.

Pat opened his old Bible and reread the account of Simeon. Then his thoughts returned to Jesus. “Where was He?” Pat wondered. He looked at the kitchen clock. If Jesus were to visit him tonight, it would have to be soon. Time was running out. He was beginning to have some doubts. “Have I done something wrong? Was I being presumptuous? Am I really what some folks are saying about me? Am I a deluded old man whose best days are behind him? Lord I prayed exactly as you taught me in your Word. I don’t know where I went wrong. Please help me to understand.”

Immediately the room lit up with what seemed to him like silent fireworks. Kaleidoscopic stars sparkled throughout the room. In the midst of this spectacular display his five dinner guests suddenly reappeared. They looked at Pat tenderly and each gave him a mischievous smile as if to say “Don’t you recognize Me?” Then they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Pat was astonished. “Lord what’s happening?” he prayed. I don’t understand what’s happ.. Before he could finish the sentence the floodgates of his memory burst open and released treasured passages of Scripture which he had hidden in his heart throughout the years.

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2-3).

“Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).

“Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34).

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart”(Psalm 37:4).

“…whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24).

Pat was thrilled as his mind absorbed this spiritual nourishment. He could hear the beating of his racing heart. And then, unable to restrain himself, he broke down and cried like a hungry baby. Tears of joy ran profusely down the wrinkles of his face, spilling over onto the pages of the old ragged Bible lying on his lap.

Then the visions came. Pat saw the first truly good deed he had ever done, followed by all his other works of mercy, kindness, compassion, and generosity each of which God had prepared in advance for him to do. He knew that none of his works would earn him entrance into Heaven. Rather, he trusted in the Savior’s atoning death on the cross, and that sacrificial act of love alone. He knew all his good works without exception were simply the natural result of God removing from him his heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh, and indwelling Pat with His Holy Spirit to incline him to follow His Son Jesus.

Meanwhile outside his home, a single gust of God’s wind observed by nothing human including the Weather Bureaus radar swirled the powdery snow in such a way as to fill in the car’s tire tracks and footprints. The blanket of snow had been restored to its original condition. One final puff of wind blew open Pat’s unlocked door, and then left as silently as it had appeared.

Instinctively he quickly turned to see what was happening. A dagger like pain streaked across his chest and down his left arm. A split second later Pat was looking at himself slumped over in his rocking chair.

His dinner guests instantly reappeared. “It’s time, Mr. O’Reily,” little Annie said. “We’ve been assigned to be your escort, Pat. Let’s not keep the Lord waiting,” said the tall man. “You can hold my hand,” Annie added. Then like a bolt of lightning piercing the darkness of the Christmas sky they headed toward what to Pat sounded like a distant rumbling. As they drew closer, he realized it was actually thundering applause. A comet displaying an iridescent tail upon which was written “WELCOME HOME PAT” streaked in front of them. His heart leaped for joy.

Then he saw them. Molly and his great grand daughter Peggy, together with a multitude of loved ones excitedly waving to him from the edge of the Celestial City. Folks he had never before met including an old man named Simeon, were applauding Pat wildly. The Angelic Choir with Heavenly voices was singing praises to God in the highest. Suspended in mid air in the center of the jubilant throng, was a huge open red scroll proclaiming in dazzling gold letters; “Patrick Joseph O’Reily: The pleasure of your company is requested at a Christmas Banquet to be given in your honor.” It was signed, “Jesus Christ, The Servant King.”

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

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December 25, 1999 Posted by Categories: Stories Tagged with:

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