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Reflecting on the impact of 81 Christmases

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12 Views of Christmas: Guest column by Gene Waggoner

Christmas started off for me in the Depression era: A red fire chief truck and toy soldiers.

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Years later after high school, a letter from the local draft board in Ashland arrived and I was a real soldier.

I was 21, sent to Korea in an infantry unit working in ordnance.

I remember Dec. 24, 1952. If you had been there too, you would have wondered at such a sight. Unshaven men, haggard, dressed in battle-grimed winter clothing. Many had been on patrol and outpost duty the night before and many would go on similar duty as soon as darkness fell on the front.

I was there. A young Billy Graham was there to speak. I had sensed a call to ministry in high school but wanted no part of it. My running from it had landed me in Korea. But that Christmas Eve, I surrendered to that call.

I became a chaplain’s assistant. On the front lines now, I worked in the bunkers and the first aid station.

Fourteen months went by. Then one day, out of the punch bowl, I headed home.

Then came college and seminary in Kentucky: Seven more years of education. For 45 years, I was a full-time pastor. Thirty-five of those years were at Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff.

I called myself a helper in the gospel ministry. She lived only a few blocks from me. We had attended the same schools and the same church.

On Aug. 30, 1953, Mary Jane Hopkins became my wife. That was 59 years ago.

It’s not easy to be the wife of a preacher. She’s his cheerleader, counselor, critic and comforter. She has all the problems that he has — and him.

Oh, but how she has led me in the faith, supported me in serving truth and shown me the meaning of love.

The best part of Christmas is having someone to remember things with.

Then, one by one, our precious girls were born: Rebecca, Robin, Rhonda and Rene. What a joy they are to us. During those years, we loaded up the car and went to see the grandparents in Ashland at Christmas time. Great memories.

Janie and I have gone from two to 28, now with nine grandchildren, including two from China, and six great-grandchildren.

I like Christmas. Cards, candles, cookies, candy, choirs, carols, cantatas, charity, children, contemplation, communication, commitment, Christology. Christ is crucial to Christmas.

Take time this Christmas to really read your Christmas cards. Don’t just look to see who they came from. Read them. The message, the artwork, pause and reflect.

What would the world be like if Jesus Christ never had been born?

Did you know in the Bible, after the birth of Christ is recorded, we’re never told about anyone else being born anywhere?

It would seem an easy assignment to prepare a Christmas sermon, but after so many years it becomes difficult.

Here are some of my Christmas sermon titles: Angelic Announcements, Christmas Eve in Heaven, Don’t Miss Christmas this Christmas, How to Handle the Holidays, Jesus: His Virgin Birth, The Amazing Child Who Was God, the Babe of Bethlehem, The Christ of Christmas, The Loneliest Night of the Year, The Mystery of the Manger and The People Who Missed Christmas.

As I grow older and still prepare sermons, the next time I preach I plan to bring a message on what is now my favorite subject — Heaven: The place, the people, the pageantry, the preciousness.

I am really interested in heaven. I can hardly wait. Resurrection means recognition.

2012: 81 Christmases. Wow! I believe.

Gene Bronston Waggoner, who lives in Elizabethtown, is a retired Baptist minister who served 35 years as pastor of Stithton Baptist Church in Radcliff.